Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Henrik Ibsen and Realistic Dialogue

Today is the birthday of the great Henrik Ibsen (1828). Aside from sporting some of the finest mutton chops in literary history, Ibsen wrote plays that changed the world of literature, and we revere him as the "father" of the modern prose drama.

For years I've taught Ibsen's play A Doll's House, and each year I find it a bit more satisfying, simply because Ibsen's powers of observation make it a timeless study of human foibles. What impresses me even more is the way that Ibsen's writings from the latter part of the 19th Century can still have such an impact on young women of today. There are always a few girls who are simply bowled over by A Doll's House and what it suggests, not only about relationships between men and women, but about the notion of justice.

Ibsen once wrote:

"... And what does it mean, then, to be a poet? It was a long time before I realized that to be a poet means essentially to see, but mark well, to see in such a way that whatever is seen is perceived by the audience just as the poet saw it. But only what has been lived through can be seen in that way and accepted in that way. And the secret of modern literature lies precisely in this matter of experiences that are lived through. All that I have written these last ten years, I have lived through spiritually." ('Speech to the Norwegian Students, September 10, 1874, from Speeches and New Letters, 1910)

Ibsen changed drama in many ways, and one important one was in his use of realistic dialogue. Ibsen felt that drama should reflect the conflicts of humanity, and therefore he wrote words that sounded human, that made his characters come alive in a way that dramatic characters had never been expected to come alive before. Previous to Ibsen, there were tragic heroes with tragic flaws. With Ibsen, characters had real flaws and were not necessarily heroic at all.

image: http://stadt.heim.at/london/162236/literaturwelt/ibsen.jpg


Jess Lourey said...

Hahahaha! Them are some fine muttonchops. :) Great post.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks. And don't think those mutton chops aren't going to make a comeback in a big way. I'm thinking around 2012.

Anonymous said...

they didn't :)