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 drama. This kind of drama emphasizes believability, yet there is no attempt to achieve the comprehensiveness of photographic reality; rather, realism is selective and strives for representative examples in recognizable human experience. Through selectivity, realism implicitly assumes a critical stance. Thus the Helmers’ domestic crisis had, and still has, an immediate impact on theater audiences for being potentially true of the audience as well. Drama changed radically after A Doll’s House, for which reason Ibsen is called the father of modern drama.
Ibsen’s influence on twentieth century drama was twofold, for he combined both technique and content in the realism of A Doll’s House. Specifically, Ibsen elevated playmaking to a level above mere entertainment by validating the respectability of plays about serious social issues. One of the most volatile issues of his day was...
(The entire section is 969 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A Doll's House Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!