In a letter accompanying the manuscript for The Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen wrote to his publisher, ‘‘This new play in many ways occupies a place of its own among my dramas; the method is in various respects a departure from my earlier one. . . . The critics, will, I hope, find the points; in any case, they will find plenty to quarrel about, plenty to misinterpret.’’ Ibsen, however, was disappointed in these early expectations. When the play opened in Scandinavia early in 1885, critics paid relatively little attention to it. The play soon traveled throughout the continent. While a few luminaries commended it—notably the playwright George Bernard Shaw and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke—most early critics found the play incomprehensible and incoherent. Audiences, as well, showed little positive response to The Wild Duck.
In ensuing years, however, and as people began to understand both Ibsen’s notion of ‘‘tragi-comedy’’ as well as his insightful characterization, the play began to develop the fine reputation it still holds today. Now popularly regarded as one of Ibsen’s more important works, The Wild Duck gains further eminence in its issuance of Ibsen into a new era of writing, one in which symbolism and characterization- as opposed to social realism-gained prominence. With The Wild Duck, an already esteemed playwright showed his continued interest in exploring new interests and concerns through his work.