Although Henrik Ibsen was already a respected playwright in Scandinavia before the premiere of A Doll’s House, it was this work that catapulted him to international fame. The earliest of Ibsen’s social-problem plays, this drama must be read in its historical context to understand its impact not only on twentieth century dramaturgy but also on society at large.
Most contemporary theater up to the time, including Ibsen’s earlier work, fell into two general categories: the historical romance and the so-called well-made (or “thesis”) play. The well-made play was a contrived comedy of manners revolving around an intricate plot and subplots but ultimately suffocated by the trivia of its theme and dialogue as well as by its shallow characterization. There was also the occasional poetic drama—such as Ibsen’s Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867)—but poetic form was often the only distinction between these plays and historical romances, as the content tended to be similar.
Into this dramaturgical milieu, A Doll’s House injected natural dialogue and situations, abstained from such artificial conventions as the soliloquy or “aside” and observance of the “unities” of time and place, and insisted on the strict logical necessity of the outcome without attempting to wrench events into a happy ending. These theatrical innovations constitute Ibsen’s fundamental contribution to the form of realistic...
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