Henrik Ibsen: The Father of Modern Drama
The art of theater has evolved and grown throughout the years, and these changes are usually made when someone thinks "Hey, what would happen if we did this instead?" and forges a new path. We learned about one such person when we talked about Aeschylus, and I want to add another name to the list of leaders in the theatrical world. His name is Henrik Ibsen, and he's the Father of Modern Drama. Born in Norway on March 20, 1828; Ibsen lived with his mother, father, and four younger siblings. Ibsen's father was a merchant, and his mother was an artist and musician who loved to attend the theater. She inspired Ibsen to become an artist, but those dreams were put on hold when the family was thrown into poverty when Ibsen was eight-years-old. As he grew up, Ibsen spent much of his time reading, painting when he could, and performing magic tricks. He dropped out of school when he was 15 and became an apprentice at a nearby apothecary. He worked there for six years and used his free time to paint and write poetry. His first play was titled Catilina, and it was a drama written in verse that was modeled after one of Ibsen's greatest influences: William Shakespeare. A University friend offered to publish Catilina, but it didn't receive much attention at the time. In 1851, Ibsen met Ole Bull, a violinist and theater manager. Bull offered Ibsen a job as the writer and manager of the Norwegian Theatre in Bergen, a job which proved to be an invaluable lesson of all things theater. Ibsen's first real claim to fame came about when he published Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867), traditional romantic dramas that were acclaimed across Europe. Tired of the traditional roles, Ibsen then branched out with his play A Doll’s House (1879). A Doll's House follows the story of Nora, a woman who's struggling to balance the role of housewife and mother with her own need for self-exploration. This play caused a stir throughout Europe because, at that time, women were seen and not heard. Ibsen challenged this way of life and brought a well-known secret to the stage. This play was so realistic in its portrayal of every-day struggles that it helped launch a new wave of "thinking" plays: modern plays that presented complex moral dilemmas instead of frivolous entertainment. Ibsen went on to create Ghosts (1881) and An Enemy of the People, two more plays about his unrest with society. Because of their controversial nature, no mainstream theater wanted to perform such modern and hard-hitting plays, so theaters sprung up for the sole purpose of performing Ibsen's works. According to Writer's Theater, this demand for Ibsen's work was caused by his use of "colloquial dialogue, objectivity, and tightness of plot. His creation of settings, characters, and narratives that were recognizable and relatable to his audiences was a monumental breakthrough. The plays, categorized as “Realism,” tapped into the intelligentsia’s discomfort with the hypocrisy between conventional moral values and the foundations and consequences of a post-Darwin, industrial-capitalist society." Henrik Ibsen died on May 23, 1906. He had become a titan in the literary world, was labeled as a feminist, a playwright of ideas, and a social philosopher. It's because of Ibsen that we have playwrights like August Strindberg and Anton Checkov, as well as the modern drama that is so popular today. To learn more, visit Best Colleges Online, Biography.com, The Modernism Lab, and The Writer's Theater. The photo came from the Writer's Theater.