Critical Context

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A Doll’s House is an important play both for its subject matter and for its method. Frequently anthologized and often revived, its subject matter, the exploration of a marriage, carries universal interest. Along with Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (1890; English translation, 1891) and Gengangere (1881; Ghosts, 1885), the focus on the behavior of a specific woman helped to pave the way for plays in which women in major roles think and behave as complex human beings rather than as cardboard figures.

Ibsen’s method is equally notable; he achieves his effects through plainness and economy. The dialogue in A Doll’s House is spare and conversational and true to each character. There are no long bombastic or poetic speeches; each exchange carries the action forward. Much of the emotional progress is nonverbal; the slamming of the door in the final moment is truly eloquent.

Ibsen chose a three-act, linear, climactic structure, almost classic in its regard for the Aristotelian elements of time and place but also a model for the realistic movement, with its emphasis on everyday, domestic details. The time span is three days, specifically Christmas Eve through the day after Christmas. The setting, a room in the Helmer household, is carefully described, with furniture and objects that help to delineate the characters.

A watershed, A Doll’s House marked the beginning of Ibsen’s greatest period of creativity, as well as a new direction for theater itself.

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A Doll’s House