What were reactions to A Doll's House at the time it was originally performed?
While the modern popularity of the play is centered on its Feminist message, the original reaction was much more politically powerful. Ibsen had to go to Denmark, because him homeland, Norway, was antagonistic toward the new (1887) realistic drama style sweeping Europe. Chamber theatre, by which is meant small private venues with a realistic set design and dealing with real social issues, a departure from the artificial theatre fare of the 19th c., was exploding in Britain with Shaw, in Sweden with Strindberg, in Russia with Chekhov, etc. The controversy stemmed from the reaction of governments opposed to more freedom, more social mobility, more individualism in all the citizens, not only women. The canvas of social unrest was much broader; every kind of servitude, not just domestic, was being challenged, and Ibsen’s plays were tinder in the social fire. Example: Enemy of the People, which was the first play to challenge industry’s disregard of long-term health risks of pollution. His plays were welcomed by those who sought to stir up European society to act. A Doll’s House, when read without concentrating on the superficial metaphor of domestic imprisonment, is a very strong statement against all kinds of social stricture. The whole world of finance, as exposed in the main action of the bank’s management, is being criticized – a much more politically daring statement by Ibsen than Feminism: "My duties toward myself.”
A key line in Nora’s response to Torvald, when he claims her being a wife and mother is her most important responsibility, is: Nora. “That I no longer believe. I think that before all else I am a human being, just as much as you are--or, at least, I will try to become one.” This is what made Ibsen so popular–and so dangerous.