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MonkeyNotes-Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

Henrik Johan Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright and poet. He was born in Skien, Norway, on March 20, 1828. He had three brothers and a sister who was born after him but Henrik was the one who showed promise. Because his father's business failed, Henrik had to spend his childhood and youth in abject poverty. In 1844, he left Skien to go to a provincial village Grimstad to become an apothecary's apprentice rather than to study medicine, which had been his original goal. It was here where he first began interested in literature and in his spare time, he read voraciously and even attempted a drama in verse based on a character of Cicero's named Catiline. He completed this first play Catilene when he was twenty-two. A year later, he joined a theater company and wrote several plays, directing some of them. Also, he designed costumes for the stage artists. After six years in Grimstad, he saved enough money to move to Christiana, the capital city of Norway. While there, he hoped to gain entry to the university but failed the entrance examination.

It was during this time that Norway was experiencing an awakening to its heritage. Freed of Danish rule in 1818 after four hundred years, many of the young poets and playwrights turned towards Norway's previous glorious ages. A Norse theater was founded at Bergen and many Norwegians welcomed the return of native culture to their soil. Ibsen was appointed stage manager of this theater and later in 1857, he became a manager of a new theater that opposed the Danish National Theater in Christiania.


In 1858, Ibsen married Susannah Thoresen and had a son by her named Sigurd. In 1862, after a dry spell, he wrote Love's Comedy, a drama in epigrammatic verse. The play received bad reviews despite its innovative point of view. The theater for which Ibsen was working also went bankrupt soon afterwards and he could not stage any of his plays. In 1863, he wrote The Pretenders, which was a stage successful in 1864. This also led to a scholarship from the government that allowed Ibsen to travel throughout Europe.

Ibsen left Norway for Rome where he lived for four years, producing two plays that would bring him renown, the epic Brand (1866) based loosely on the Prussian-Danish war, and the fantastical Peer Gynt (1867). These plays established Ibsen's reputation as a well-known dramatist. In 1869, he wrote The League of Youth, a prose play, after which he abandoned dramatic verse for quite some time. He then lived in Munich and Dresden where he produced many of his greatest plays, which increased his reputation at home and abroad.

In 1877, Ibsen wrote The Pillars of Society. This play is regarded as the first of his twelve great modern plays. It made him famous in Germany and was translated into English. This play became his first drama to be staged in London. Ibsen returned to Rome in 1878 and completed A Doll's House in 1879. This play firmly established Ibsen's international reputation and was staged in London in 1889. Ghosts, written in 1881, created considerable difficulties and controversies. The booksellers returned the copies of the play to the publishers and the theater-owners rejected producing it. The first performance of this play was in Chicago. Later, it was staged in different parts of Europe in small avant- garde theaters. An Enemy of the People (1882), The Wild Duck (1884), Rosmersholm (1886) and The Lady from the Sea (1888) are some other widely acclaimed plays of Ibsen. His other plays such as Hedda Gabler (1890), The Master Builder (1892), Little Eyolf (1894), John Gabriel Borkman (1896), and When We Dead Awaken (1899) were written in Norway where he had resettled in 1891.

Ibsen's seventieth birthday was celebrated in 1898. A year later the National Norwegian Theater was dedicated in his honor. In 1901, Ibsen suffered a paralytic stroke and died on May 23, 1906, at the age of seventy-eight.

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