Immensely popular when first published, the verse drama Brand—a play in poetry—took the whole Scandinavian world by storm and launched Henrik Ibsen’s European fame. Four editions appeared in the year of its publication; by 1889, the eleventh edition had appeared. Four translations were published in Germany between 1872 and 1882. Though not intended for the stage, the work’s fourth act was played repeatedly (only in Sweden has the whole drama been performed). The play was written in Italy, where the author had exiled himself in protest against Norway’s national shame in remaining neutral and failing to support Denmark in its war against invading Prussia. From Italy, Ibsen was able to catch in clearer perspective the strengths and weaknesses of his native land. The writing of Brand seemed to be a personal catharsis, and he was able thereafter to return to his northern home and produce in regular succession, almost every two years for the rest of his life, his original and stirring dramas. Though Brand is addressed to the people of Norway, it is universal in its appeal, depicting the never-ending and tragic struggle of the soul in its search for uncompromising truth.
Brand was written in the first phase of Ibsen’s career, when his plays dealt mainly with historical themes, folklore, and romantic pageantry, and before the playwright turned to prose and social issues in the second phase of his career. Brand was the first of Ibsen’s masterpieces, foreshadowing his best-known plays of social criticism. The play vitalized the Norwegian theater, which had been languishing under the shadow of the Danish theater in Copenhagen even after Norway’s separation from Denmark in 1814. Brand thus has historical significance as well as artistic importance.
The play combines poetry and moral passion in a grim Norwegian landscape of jagged mountains, deep-fissured valleys, and cruel cold. The setting is an apt complement to the solemn, tragic atmosphere of the play and to the dour cynicism of many of Brand’s parishioners and fellow villagers. Indeed, gloom pervades the play. At the beginning of the play, Einar and Agnes appear to Brand as symbols of lightheartedness that the priest deplores as evil. Soon after, Agnes breaks off her...
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