When We Dead Awaken

by Henrik Ibsen

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Places Discussed

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Seaside resort

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.


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Durbach, Errol. “Ibsen the Romantic”: Analogoues of Paradise in the Later Plays. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982. An exploration of the lingering presence of romantic elements in Ibsen’s later plays. Provides an interesting discussion of the relationship between man and woman in When We Dead Awaken.

Holtan, Orley I. Mythic Patterns in Ibsen’s Last Plays. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970. A study of the mythic content in Ibsen’s last seven plays, the book offers valuable insights to beginners and to more experienced readers. The chapter on When We Dead Awaken is focused on the resurrection myth.

Lyons, Charles R. Henrik Ibsen: The Divided Consciousness. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972. A study of how many of Ibsen’s protagonists are simultaneously drawn to a life of thought and one of sensuous experience. Good chapter on When We Dead Awaken.

Meyer, Michael. Ibsen: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A standard biography of Ibsen, it contains a chapter on When We Dead Awaken that is a good introduction to the play and a useful summary of various critical attitudes toward it.

Weigand, Hermann J. The Modern Ibsen: A Reconsideration. New York: Henry Holt, 1925. Long a standard in Ibsen criticism, this volume covers each of the twelve last plays and presents a careful reading of Ibsen’s final drama.

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Critical Essays