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gilgamesh's avatar

Where to start with Henrik Ibsen?

Asked by gilgamesh (227points) April 22nd, 2009

My son just purchased a book of four plays by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. I was wondering which is a good introduction play to Ibsen’s powerful themes? I was thinking a Doll’s House or Hedda Gabbler or something else.

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11 Answers

upholstry's avatar

Doll’s House

Duh! :) Of course, if there’s one play a teacher is going to make you read by Ibsen, it’s that one.

cwilbur's avatar

Unless you’ve got a lot of theater experience, I’d watch the plays rather than reading them. Reading plays is like reading the score of a symphony—unless you’re really good at imagining it, it’s likely to be more frustration than pleasure.

Jeruba's avatar

If he’s had opportunities in school to gain some experience reading plays, and he’s ready to tackle Ibsen, I say good for him.

I would advise him to read the preface to this edition and the introduction, if any, and consider the comments of the editor (probably an academic) who put it together. And I would also imagine that the editor has given some considerable thought to the selection and sequence of the plays and has arranged them as they are for a reason. So in the absence of some argument to the contrary, I would recommend reading them in the order in which they appear.

upholstry's avatar

@cwilbur not to sound too antagonistic, but that’s BS

People write plays all the time without any intention of them ever being performed. Sartre did this, for example. Not to mention it’s incredibly common to read plays, whether you’re a young or an experienced reader.

YARNLADY's avatar

Cliff notes?

aprilsimnel's avatar

Personally, I’d start him with Peer Gynt. It’s a verse play and the big theme is the life lived without risk. I suppose in school, students are more likely to read A Doll’s House, but Ibsen’s 2nd big play is considered a masterpiece. And you can get Grieg’s music that he wrote for the play to round out the experience! In the Hall of the Mountain King, anyone?

sdeutsch's avatar

If he’s just getting into Ibsen, I’d definitely start with A Doll’s House – it’s the most straightforward of the bunch. An Enemy of the People is good too, though – can you tell us which four plays are in the book he bought?

@Jeruba has a point about the editor’s choice of arrangement – the first play in the book is probably a good one to start with. Most volumes of Ibsen’s plays start with Doll’s House, Enemy of the People, or Ghosts – Ghosts is pretty heavy, though, so I wouldn’t start him with that one…

If he’s really interested in Ibsen, I’d definitely recommend that he find Brian Johnston’s translations of the plays. He’s one of the world’s foremost experts on Ibsen, and I’ve found that his translations are much easier to read and more interesting than most others – I think because he keeps the flavor and spirit of the plays as they were written, whereas some other translations fall a little flat.

(And if your son finds that he’s really into Ibsen, Brian’s also written some really interesting in-depth articles and books – Text and Supertext is particularly interesting – but only if you really like Ibsen!)

nebule's avatar

I loved Doll’s House but haven’t studied any others… so I can only advise on Doll’s House…

Darwin's avatar

We had to read Hedda Gabler in high school, so that is what I started with.

gilgamesh's avatar

A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder

sdeutsch's avatar

Yeah, then I’d start with A Doll’s House – of those four, it’s the best to sort of ease your way into the others. Plus, the editor put it first, so that’s probably what he thought too… ;)

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