March 13

This Day in History

Literary

Mar 13, 1891:

Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts opens in London

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen had written his play Ghosts in 1881. The play, which dealt with syphilis, was swiftly and universally reviled by conventionally minded critics. However, Ibsen's works had caught on with progressive theater companies across Europe. A decade after it was written, the play opens in London, where it continued to be treated harshly by critics. Today, however, the play is one of Ibsen's most commonly performed works.

Ibsen was born in Norway in 1828 in a small logging town. The eldest of five siblings, the young Ibsen showed an early interest in drama, performing puppet shows and magic tricks for his family and neighbors. His merchant father went bankrupt in 1835. When Ibsen was 15, he went to work as an apothecary's assistant in Oslo while studying to enter the university. However, his childhood interest in the theater overpowered his academic endeavors. He wrote his first play, Cataline, at the age of 22 and at age 23 was hired as stage manager of a theater, where he soon became director and playwright, expected to write one play a year.

Ibsen went to Italy in 1864 and continued to live abroad for 27 years in Rome, Dresden, and Munich. His long dramatic poem Brand (1866) and his play Peer Gynt (1867) both met with great success in Norway.

In 1879, Ibsen wrote A Doll's House, which portrayed a bleak view of a woman's disillusionment with her marriage and upset critics with its unhappy ending. Ghosts (1881) also upset critics, but Ibsen increasingly gained momentum with such plays as An Enemy of the People (1882) and The Wild Duck (1884). The plays he wrote during this period established his reputation as a world-class writer and playwright. In 1891, he returned to Norway, where he suffered a series of strokes and died in 1906.

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