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Critical Overview

(Drama for Students)

Brand has always been a work that invites many interpretations, beginning with its stormy reception in Norway in 1866. In F. L. Lucas's 1962 book, The Drama of Ibsen and Strindberg, Lucas notes that "its effect on Norwegian pietism was like pitching a millstone into a small pond.’’ Likewise, in his 1969 book, Ibsen: A Portrait of the Artist, Hans Heiberg notes that "all over Norway the controversy raged, becoming the subject of sermons from pulpits, as well as social debate.’’ However, while many Norwegians took Ibsen's attacks personally, in Denmark, Heiberg says that the book was considered by critics "a sensational break-through of Norwegian literature.’’ The book was a popular success, and Heiberg notes that it was reprinted three times within the same year, "an almost unheard-of sales success.’’

With the success of Brand, which he wrote while on a self-imposed exile in Italy, Ibsen also achieved financial freedom. Though early reactions were mixed, the play is generally been received well now, although interpretations throughout the years have differed greatly. In 1889, Edmund Gosse of the Fortnightly Review called the play a ‘‘beautiful Puritan opera,’’ whereas, in 1931, in his book, The Life of Ibsen, Vol. 2, Halvdan Koht says that Ibsen's intended meaning of the play "was that it was not honest or worthy of a human being to do anything else than to stand alone, to be one's self.'' There was a massive amount of scholarship on Ibsen and his works in the 1960s, when critics focused on many different aspects of the play. In his 1961 article in The Lock Haven Bulletin , Irving Deer identified a sharply divided critical argument that had sprung up by that point: "Simply stated, the controversy boils down to whether Ibsen intended him to be a hero or a villain.’’ Likewise, a year later, in 1962, Lucas notes only one aspect of the play, the ambiguous voice at the end of the work, spawned at least five different interpretations by critics, including that"this voice is the Devil's,’’ it is ‘‘the voice of God’’ either condemning or welcoming Brand as a result of his adherence to his rigid faith, it is the ‘‘real or imagined’’ voice ‘‘of the dead Agnes,’’ it is ‘‘the voice of Brand's own soul,’’ and it ‘‘is what Ibsen says it is—simply a voice.’’ This assessment is...

(The entire section is 580 words.)