History of the Text

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Reception History: The conclusion of A Doll’s House was heralded as “the door slam heard all around the world.” The initial staging of the play caused major controversy when first published and presented in 1879. Critics were most upset by Nora’s perceived “abandonment” of her children, which directly challenged the notion that female identity was inextricable from the role of child-bearer and mother. The ending was so controversial that one of the most famous actresses at the time, Hedwig Niemann-Raabe, refused to play the role unless the ending was rewritten. 

  • Despite Ibsen’s initial refusal, the news that Neimann-Raabe’s production was rehearsing with an ending they had rewritten themselves forced him to begrudgingly produce an alternate ending. This “happy” alternative saw Nora choosing to remain with Torvald for the sake of the children. Most modern productions today choose to perform Ibsen’s original ending. 

Theatrical Realism: Ibsen is often considered the pioneer of theatrical realism in the 19th century. In realist drama, the stage is dressed to represent an accurate depiction of reality, and dialogue is written to closely resemble everyday speech. Realism—not to be confused with naturalism, another theatrical movement of a similar time—portrays a contemporary world where complex characters are often driven by subconscious and conflicting motivations. Ibsen’s original audience members were, for the first time in the theater, seeing a mirror held up to their daily lives. 

  • In realism, characters are everyday, middle-class people with complex psychology driving the play’s action, motivated by internal conflict. The stage’s props are lifelike and recognizable to the audience. However, realism is less faithful to absolute reality than naturalism and uses more conventions of the theater and thematic elements in order to tell a story. The result is that many aspects of the play are not what they seem, emphasizing the role of deception in a realist play. 
  • Naturalism, though related to realism, is its own distinct movement. Naturalism prefers to stay as connected as possible to the real world, and plays in this movement don’t just mimic everyday dialogue but they often lack theatrical “meaning”—no big dramatic moments or thematic events. Typically, action takes place in one area and without significant time jumps; characters are often lower class victims of circumstance, controlled by external factors.

Women’s Movement: Ibsen was intensely critical of the marginalization of women in 19th-century Scandinavian bourgeois society. With A Doll’s House, Ibsen produced a scathing critique of the confining roles that society imposes on women, particularly targeting the Victorian expectations on women’s roles as mothers and wives. Ibsen’s views were incredibly progressive at the time, when husbands were expected to be the primary breadwinner, and female roles remained relegated to the domestic sphere. Ibsen’s play was significant in the feminist movement both in Norway and internationally at the turn of the 20th century. 

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