Henrik Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt in 1867. He never intended that the work be performed on stage; instead, Ibsen envisioned his work as a poetic fantasy to be read. However, Peer Gynt quickly became recognized as a masterwork of Scandinavian literature, and in 1876, Ibsen adapted his work for the stage. One reason for the work's popularity derived from Ibsen's use of Norwegian fairy tales, particularly, Asbjornsen's Norwegian Fairy Tales. But Ibsen was also poking fun at some of the popular new ideas, including the emerging trends about getting back to nature and simplicity, ideas also popular in the United States since Henry David Thoreau espoused them. Since Ibsen originally intended this work to be read, he had little concern about including Peer's travels or about creating situations or locations that would later prove more difficult to translate to a stage performance. Obviously, he also had little concern about the poem's length, since there are no such restrictions on printed verse. But adapting the lengthy fantasy poem into a play presented some challenges, with Ibsen ultimately forced to cut the work by about one third. Instead of simply removing a large section, such as the adventures that occur in Act IV, Ibsen cut almost every scene by a few lines.
As a play, Peer Gynt consists almost entirely as a vehicle for Peer's adventures. He is a character who runs from commitment, and who is completely selfish, having little concern for the sacrifices that others are forced to make in accommodating him. Ibsen's use of satire and a self-centered protagonist suggests social implications for nineteenth-century society, a topic that always interested Ibsen.