Seaside resort. Spa on the coast of Norway where the play opens. The artist Rubek and Maia, his wife of four years, are there to rest from travel and to escape the fame Rubek has achieved through production of a sculptural masterpiece. Rubek discovers that he cannot retreat from his role as an artist. The presence at the spa of Irene, the woman who modeled for his masterpiece, helps him realize his destiny. At the same time, Rubek’s wife becomes enamored with the sportsman Ulfheim, who invites her to hunt with him in the mountains. Restless by the seaside, she agrees to join him. Rubek, too, goes back into the mountains where he lived earlier.
Norwegian mountain resort
Norwegian mountain resort. The final two acts of the play are set on a mountain. There Rubek is reminded that he promised both his wife and Irene that he would take them “up a high mountain” and show them “all the glory of the world.” On the mountain, Rubek realizes that this is the symbolic journey the artist makes, but he finds he is unable to share this glory with either of them; his commitment is to his art, not to relationships with others. Maia leaves with Ulfheim to descend to the valley, suggesting that she is abandoning art for a life of pleasure. Irene stays with Rubek, and their death in an avalanche is less a catastrophe than an acknowledgment that the artist, as artist, cannot survive outside his art.