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Social and Historical – “A Dolls House”

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 941
  • Category: Play

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“A Dolls House” was first published in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 1879. The first edition of the play flew of the shelves with 8000 copies sold within the first month. The play was then staged at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre on the 21st of December of the same year. This allowed people who had read the manuscript (men), as well as those people who could not read (women), the chance to see Ibsen’s visual representation of his play. Women were less likely to read as they were less likely to attend school. Therefore, when men and women attended theatres a difference of opinion arose. Women were for the independence of Nora whilst men found it scandalous.

However, both genders found elements of the play scandalous such as the lack of a happy ending, a sign of naturalistic drama of which Ibsen was a master. Most other playwrights of the time were still writing plays which adhered to the conventions laid out by Ancient Greek tragedy: the play must be in verse and about people of high social status. “A Dolls House” featured simple prose and was about people of different statutory. The Royal Theatre was frequented by both people of high status and low status. This only scandalised audiences even more as the higher status audiences were disgusted whilst lower status audience members applauded Ibsen.

“A Dolls House” was the centre of conversations in Copenhagen and soon news of the scandalous play travelled across Denmark and beyond. By the following year the play had reached audiences in Europe whilst by 1990 the play had appeared in most continents of the world.

The shocking nature of the play meant that not all conversations related to “A Dolls House” were good. This can be seen in the array of critical commentary the play has received. Such commentary was fuelled by Ibsen when in 1898 he denounced that he wrote the play with the women’s rights movement in mind: “To me it has seemed a problem of mankind in general”. Others believed this too, such as Zelda Fichandler working for the Washington Post who wrote: “Women’s rights…is too limited a subject to be the stuff of art”.

With the freedom of women now dismissed as Ibsen’s goal, critics began to draw up their own conclusions as to what the play was about. Michael Meyer wrote: “Its theme is the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person”. This comment is regarded in today’s world as quite valid. Modern audiences can accept that Ibsen’s focus was not just on women, but that the play could be applied to both sexes. Meanwhile, audiences of the past could not accept this which lead to some alteration of the text and its production.

The play was altered by directors and producers for two main reasons: either the producers were disturbed by its content or they were trying to stage the play in a new way. The ending of the play was changed in Germany when the actress cast as Nora said that she could never leave her children. Ibsen saw the changes as “a barbaric outrage on the play” but could not do anything due to the lack of copyright. The changing of the end brought about public outcry and the ending was reverted to its original. Another person to change the script because of children was Eleonora Duse but she changed the script as she found it difficult to bring child actors on tour from Italy.

The play was also staged in several different ways. Meyerhold’s set of the play was changed from comfortable to cramped. He included rickety furniture with a long red drape hanging over the window to express his idea that “everything was collapsing … going to the devil.” This view is, in my opinion, very true. It is not only Nora who is collapsing under the strain of her lies; the relationships and trust is collapsing too. The play was again staged differently by director Peter Ashmore who placed rooms mentioned in the stage directions and areas beside the living room and master bedroom in his production.

Not everything associated with the play was altered; some characters were representations of real life people. Nora is actually based upon a friend of Ibsen called Laura Kieler. Laura’s husband, like Torvald, became ill forcing the couple abroad. Nora arranged a loan with the help of a friend so that her husband did not know anything. Once her husband got better she wrote about her ordeal and tried to sell the story in the form of a novel to pay for the debt. She asked Ibsen for his assistance with this but he wrote back to Laura and advised her to take up the matter with her husband. Ibsen believed that Laura was hiding something from the husband and believed that the husband should take responsibility for her troubles.

Laura had not told her husband anything about the loan as she was too scared. When she received the letter from Ibsen saying he would not publish the novel she forged a check to pay back the loan. However, the forgery was discovered and Laura was forced to tell her husband everything. Laura’s husband was enraged and filed for separation. As a result, Nora suffered a mental breakdown and had to go to a mental hospital. When she was released from the institution she begged her husband to take her back. I believe that there are obvious parallels here between Nora and Laura

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