Little Bits of History

May 23

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2017

1906: Henrik Ibsen dies at the age of 78. He was born into a prosperous merchant family in Skien, Grenland, Norway. The family ancestors were Danish ship captains who settled in the port town and became merchants. When Henrik was seven, his father lost most of the family fortune and they were forced to move into their rural summer house and sell off most of the family holdings. The family’s misfortune would later turn up in several of the playwright’s work. Henrik’s father married into his step-father’s family and Henrik was also intrigued with what he called their “strange, almost incestuous marriage” which also became a topic for later plays.

When he was 15, Henrik was forced by economics to leave school and become an apprentice pharmacist in Grimstad. He would never return to his home town. He also began writing plays at the time. At age 18, he fathered an illegitimate child who he monetarily supported but never saw. Instead, he left for the big city, what would eventually be called Oslo, and hoped to matriculate into university. He was unable to pass the entrance exams and so continued writing plays. His first play was published under a pseudonym in 1850 when he was 22. It was never performed. His first play to make it the stage was also in 1850 and it was not a hit. He continued writing, without much success.

Ibsen was employed at Det Norske Theater for the next several years and was part of 145 plays as writer, director, and producer. During the time, he published five more unremarkable plays. Although still not a writing success, he gathered experience of the theater which would be useful later. He returned to Oslo for a job at Christiania Theatre, married, and his son was born. Still unsuccessful, he moved to Italy to begin a 27 year self-imposed exile. In 1865 he finally wrote his first acclaimed play, Brand. Two years later, Peer Gynt, influenced by his reading of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, was produced. With success, Ibsen began to include even more of his own beliefs and judgments into what he called the “drama of ideas”.

He went on to write many impressive and still performed plays. Shakespeare is the only playwright with more plays still being performed. During the 20th century, the most performed play was A Doll’s House which Ibsen wrote in 1879. The controversial play explored women’s roles in marriage and allowed the wife/mother an escape from her bonds in order to find her true self outside the confines imposed by society. Many of his later works were considered scandalous at the time. Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891, but it was not the same place he had left decades before. Life was modernizing. He suffered several strokes during the 1900s and succumbed to the accumulative effects, on this day.

A forest bird never wants a cage.

A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.

Never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.

Castles in the air – they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build too. – all from Henrik Ibsen

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