Peer Gynt, a poetic, contradictious, and intriguing character made of the stuff of legendary heroes and sometimes confused with them in his own mind. He is one of the playwright’s greatest character creations and the least Victorian. As Peer himself would have wished to be, he is a citizen of the world. A youthful braggart, idler, brawler, and dreamer, he is a ragged, lying outcast from village life, the joy and despair of Aase, his mother. After stealing a bride from her unwelcome groom, he flees from his village, but he quickly abandons the stolen bride because he has fallen in love with Solveig, an innocent young girl whom he met at the wedding festivities. Later, bewitched by the Troll King’s daughter, he promises to marry her and inherit the Troll Kingdom. He puts on Troll clothing and the Troll King’s Sunday tail, eats the repulsive Troll food, and drinks the Troll mead, but he demurs when the Troll King wants to scratch one of his eyeballs so that he will see ugly as beautiful and beautiful as ugly. Escaping, he encounters the Great Boyg but is saved from that monster by the ringing of church bells. After his mother’s death, he becomes wealthy by slave trading in America and by shipping to China idols and missionaries that counteract one another. When his ship is commandeered off the coast of Morocco, he asks God to “Make something go wrong with the works! Do listen! Leave other folk’s matters alone! The world will look after itself while you do.” His prayer is answered and the vessel sinks, leaving Peer safe ashore. He poses as an Arab chief; is fleeced by Anitra, a dancing girl; becomes emperor of the insane asylum in Cairo; survives a shipwreck off the coast of Norway; encounters the Button Moulder; meets the Troll King again; tricks the Devil; and at last finds Solveig, who tells him that his real self exists in her faith, hope, and love. Peer’s reverence for Solveig and his whimsical devotion to his mother, whom he alternately teases and cherishes, are evidence of gentleness and tenderness underlying his selfish behavior. Inferior as a stage play because of the diffused action, Peer’s story is an imaginative dramatic poem that in power of language, humorous insight into human foibles, liveliness of dialogue, and creation of character reaches heights that many of Henrik Ibsen’s later plays never attempt.
Aase, Peer’s devoted, exasperated mother. A lively and pathetic character, she symbolizes maternal love. Her love permits her to scold Peer but will not allow anyone else to criticize him. As a youth, he sets her on a mill rooftop while he runs off to a wedding. After his escapade of bride stealing, Aase and Solveig cause the church bells to ring, saving him from the Boyg. When Aase is old and dying, Peer returns, and they play a game in which he pretends that he is driving her on a sleigh to a great party at a castle. God the Father is waiting and overrides St. Peter’s refusal to let her enter. With Peer’s arms around her, Aase rides happily into eternity.
Solveig, Peer’s ideal love, always beautiful and always patient. Although she grows old and almost blind while waiting for Peer’s return, she has power to defy the Button Moulder by her belief that her faith and love reveal the real Peer. She seems to represent love, holy and remote but everlasting.
Ingrid, the daughter of the owner of Haegstad Farm, the bride whom Peer steals on her wedding day.
(This entire section contains 1296 words.)
Mads Moën, Ingrid’s bumbling, cuckolded groom.
Aslak, a young blacksmith who voices the ridicule and dislike that most of the villagers show toward Peer.
Three Cowherd Girls
Three Cowherd Girls, who take Peer Gynt into their beds after he has abandoned Ingrid.
The Woman in Green
The Woman in Green, the daughter of the Troll King and the mother of Peer’s lame, ugly child.
Brosë, the Troll King of Dovre. He tells Peer that the Troll motto is “To thyself be—enough.” Although Peer later believes that he has left Trolldom behind him, this motto is his philosophy in his subsequent adventures in many parts of the world. After the Button Moulder gives Peer leave to find witnesses to prove that he has always been himself, he and the Troll King meet again. The Troll King refuses to testify to a lie; he says that Peer has been a Troll in secret ever since he ate and drank with the Trolls and took away their motto graven on his heart.
The Great Boyg
The Great Boyg, a grim, impassable monster, identified only by a voice in the darkness, who says that he conquers though he does not fight. His advice is, “Go round about, Peer.” He typifies the riddle of existence.
The Button Moulder
The Button Moulder, an agent of God who is waiting for Peer when he returns, as an old man, to Norway. He intends to take Peer’s soul and melt it down with other worthless ones, neither good enough to merit Heaven nor bad enough to deserve Hell, and he carries a huge casting ladle with him for this purpose. To Peer’s surprise and indignation, the Button Moulder tells him that he should not mind dissolution because he has never been himself. The Button Moulder grants Peer leave to find witnesses that he has always been himself, to find a witness who will testify that his sins are great enough to merit Hell, and to set his house in order. At the end of the play, though the Button Moulder waits at the next crossroads, Solveig ignores his call while she holds Peer’s head in her lap and sings him a lullaby.
Kari, a cotter’s wife and Aase’s friend.
Herr von Eberkopf
Herr von Eberkopf, and
Herr Trumpeterstraale, the men who commandeer Peer Gynt’s ship in the hope of obtaining his gold. They are destroyed when the vessel blows up after Peer’s prayer to God.
A Moroccan Thief
A Moroccan Thief and
a Receiver of Stolen Goods
a Receiver of Stolen Goods, who flee at Peer Gynt’s approach, leaving behind them an emperor’s stolen robe and charger. With these, Peer impersonates an Arab chieftain.
Anitra, an Arab dancing girl. While Peer Gynt is singing and dancing to show her how young and vigorous he is, she rides away with his horse and moneybag.
Professor Begriffenfeldt, the keeper of a lunatic asylum at Cairo. He introduces Peer to the mad inmates as their emperor.
Huhu, a language reformer from the Malabar coast.
Hussein, a minister of state.
A Fellah, carrying a mummy, who imagines that he is King Apis. He, Huhu, and Hussein are inmates of the asylum.
A Stranger, who encounters Peer Gynt on a ship off the Norwegian coast. He asks Peer for his corpse.
The Ship’s Cook
The Ship’s Cook, whom Peer, to save his own life, pushes off the keel after the ship capsizes during a storm.
A Thin Person
A Thin Person, the Devil dressed in a priest’s cassock, whom Peer meets while trying to find someone who will testify to his fitness to enter Hell. Unimpressed by this stranger’s recital of his sins, the Devil says that he is searching for Peer Gynt. Peer sends him off to the Cape of Good Hope on a useless search. Fooling the Devil gives Peer a momentary pleasure.
Peer Peer is the central protagonist in this play. When the play opens he has no plans, no future, and no money. He seems not to care about not having these things, and it is his mother who berates him for his lack of ambition. Peer kidnaps Ingrid on her wedding day, but it does not appear to be from love. Instead, he wants her for her dowry, and he really just takes her because he has been denied her. Rather than work for what he wants, Peer simply takes what he thinks he should be given. Peer has many adventures after he abandons Ingrid, but in all of them, he is completely selfish and selfcentered, thinking only of what he wants or what will benefit him. Although he finds great wealth, and much of it dishonestly or at least dishonorably, Peer loses what he has several times, and when he finally returns to his home, he brings no riches home with him. Instead, Peer finds the greatest riches of all, the love of Solveig, which was always there for him to discover.
Ase Ase is Peer's mother. She loves her son very much and makes many sacrifices for him. But from Peer's words at her death, it is also apparent that she was willing to punish, even beat him, if necessary. Ase wants to believe in Peer, and so, when he tells her his stories, she initially believes him. She pushes Peer to make something of himself, even berating him and calling him lazy when she must. When Peer is banished, she is the one who is fined and who loses everything she has. But in spite of all that she suffers, Ase is happy to see Peer when he appears at her deathbed.
The Button Moulder The Button Moulder represents Peer's future. In a sense, the Button Moulder is death, who has come to claim Peer. Peer is neither bad enough for hell, nor good enough for heaven. So the Button Moulder has come for Peer, to melt him in his ladle. Peer is destined to become just one more of the lost souls, indistinguishable from the others who are sent to this nonentity of existence. The Button Moulder is turned away by Solveig whose love for Peer proves that he must be worthy of such devotion.
The Great Boyg The Great Boyg represents the riddle of existence. He is a shapeless, frightening monster, who cannot be conquered. He blocks Peer’s way up the mountain, and he tells him that although he never fights, he is never beaten. When it seems that the Boyg will take Peer, the sound of a woman singing sends him away. The Boyg cannot beat a woman.
Ingrid Ingrid is the bride kidnapped by Peer. Since she is hiding from her bridegroom at her own wedding, it does not appear too unlikely that Peer is really rescuing her. In fact, when Peer abandons her, Ingrid is very angry, wanting to continue on with him.
Mountain King’s DaughterSee Woman in green Old Man of the Mountain The father of the woman in green, whom Peer seeks to marry. He has a number of tests that Peer must go through to prove that he can become a troll, and thus, worthy of his daughter.
Solveig Solveig is a young farmer's daughter who Peer meets at Ingrid' s wedding. She is initially interested in Peer, but she is warned off by her father. After Peer runs away with Ingrid, Solveig joins Ase in searching for him. And when Peer is banished, Solveig chooses to leave her sister and parents and join Peer in living an isolated life in the forest. After only a brief time together, Solveig is left alone while Peer, who has left to pick up firewood, leaves for good. She promises to wait for him and she does so, even though the wait has lasted many years. Solveig's love for Peer is far greater than he deserves, but it is her love that saves him and gives meaning to his life.
Woman in green Believes Peer's lies and agrees to marry him. He abandons her, and later she reappears with a trollchild, whom she identifies as Peer's child. Her threats to destroy Peer's happiness with Solveig cause him to run away.