The "well-made play" structure is independent of the number of acts in a play and refers to the essential dramatic...
In his 1879 play, A Doll's House, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) employs the dramatic structure of a "well-made play," which was originated by French dramatist Eugène Scribe (1791–1861).
The "well-made play" structure is independent of the number of acts in a play and refers to the essential dramatic elements of the play: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (or denouement).
The exposition is the introduction of the information that the audience needs to know to be able to follow the action of the play.
In A Doll's House, the exposition includes Nora's conversations with her husband, Torvald Helmer; with her school friend, Mrs. Linde; and with a bank employee, Nils Krogstad.
Scribe believed that a "secret" held by one or more characters in a play was essential to help build the audience's interest, and that criteria is fulfilled by Nora secretly securing a loan used to pay for Torvald's recuperative vacation to Italy.
The rising action develops and expands the information presented in the exposition and involves complications that often include some kind of intrigue that causes conflict between and among the characters. Scribe believed that this increases suspense for the audience.
The rising action in A Doll's House includes the events leading to Krogstad's revelation to Nora that he's the source of her secret loan. A complication ensues when Krogstad attempts to blackmail Nora. He demands that Nora intercede for him at the bank so he won't be fired, or he'll reveal the source and circumstances of the loan, including the fact that Nora forged her father's signature on the bond for the loan.
Further complications involve Nora's failed attempts to change Torvald's mind about firing Krogstad and to solicit Dr. Rank's help in the matter. Krogstad is fired, and he decides to send a letter to Torvald in an attempt to blackmail Torvald into keeping him employed at the bank, or he'll reveal the circumstances of Nora's loan and her forgery and thereby destroy Torvald's reputation.
Nora does everything she can think of to delay Torvald's reading of the letter, but Torvald eventually reads it.
The climax of a play occurs when the dramatic action of the play can go no further before something must occur that points to a resolution of all of the conflicts and complications in the play. The climax is the emotional high point of the play.
As for the climax of A Doll's House, this is where an analysis of Ibsen's "well-made play" structure gets really interesting. Ibsen essentially offers two different climaxes from which to choose.
The first choice of climax occurs when Torvald reads the letter and confronts Nora about it. Scribe referred to this scene as the scene á faire, when a confrontation long anticipated by the audience finally takes place.
The falling action is everything that occurs from this point forward to the end of the play, including the resolution of the dramatic action of the play, which is Nora's decision to leave her husband and children and venture into the world on her own.
An argument against the reading of the letter and the confrontation between Torvald and Nora being the climax of the play is that all of the conflicts and complications developed in the play are not resolved.
The second choice of climax is the true emotional high point of the play: Nora's decision to leave her family. Everything leading up to that decision is therefore still part of the rising action. Torvald's reading of the letter and the resulting confrontation between Torvald and Nora are further complications and additional conflict leading toward Nora's decision.
The falling action moves quickly from the climax to the end of the play and includes the short discussion between Torvald and Nora that occurs after Nora makes her decision. The resolution of the play, the denouement, is when Nora closes the door behind her, resolving all of the conflicts and complications of the play.
But A Doll's House doesn't simply end at the sound of the door closing behind Nora. Torvald is confused and in the depths of despair when he remembers something that Nora said just moments ago.
HELMER. Nora—can I never be anything more than a stranger to you?
NORA. Ah, Torvald, the most wonderful thing of all would have to happen.
HELMER. Tell me what that would be!
NORA. Both you and I would have to be so changed that—. Oh, Torvald, I don't believe any longer in wonderful things happening.
HELMER. But I will believe in it. Tell me? So changed that—?
NORA. That our life together would be a real wedlock.
Ibsen ends the play with a question, leaving the resolution of the play slightly in doubt.
HELMER. The most wonderful thing of all—?