Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Plays of Henrik Ibsen

My hardback 1925 edition is a collection of nine plays included "Ghosts," "An Enemy of the People," "A Doll's House," The Master Builder," "Pillars of Society," "Hedda Gabler," "The Wild Duck," "The League of Youth," and "Rosmersholm." And even though plays are meant to be seen, not read, I enjoyed the dramatic style of Ibsen and the things he seemed to be trying to say.

I thought "Ghosts" was a little shallow, the plot predictable--a son worried about following in his evil father's footsteps--and the characters stock, but "A Doll's House" was much more thought-provoking and engaging. The plight of a woman kept as a toy in her husband's house (figuratively) seemed rather forward-thinking for 1879 and had characters who really moved and felt and thought and sometimes changed. As for "An Enemy of the People," I had read it as a freshman in high school but enjoyed it even more the second time.

"Pillars of Society" too was enjoyable but I have to admit I skipped over "The League of Youth" after the twentieth political speech put me to sleep. "Rosmersholm" was odd and felt as if it had to be placed in historical and geographical context for full appreciation.

Last week on NPR there was a piece about a production of "Hedda Gabler" in New York and the commentator summarized the plot by saying it's a play about a woman who marries a man she doesn't love because he buys her a house and when the man she really loves returns she kills herself. This is accurate but paints Hedda as a sympathetic character. I thought her shallow, vulgar, indecisive, temperamental, manipulative, greedy and downright unpleasant--any woman who'd marry for money deserves what she gets and Hedda's no exception. I didn't read it as an expose on the brutality of marriage so much as a picture of one nasty lady who doesn't know what she wants because she's been so darn spoiled all her life.