Henrik Johan Ibsen, (1828-1906), Norwegian dramatist, whose well-constructed plays dealing realistically with psychological and social problems won him recognition as the father of modern drama.

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Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828, and schooled in Skien. He briefly assisted an apothecary and began medical studies before beginning a lifetime association with the theater. He was stage manager-playwright at the National Theater at Bergen from 1851 to 1857 and later director of the theater at Christiania (now Oslo) from 1857 to 1862. During these years of practical theater work he wrote his first plays. From 1863 to 1891 Ibsen lived chiefly in Italy and Germany. He subsisted first on a traveling scholarship and later on an annual pension, granted by the Storting, the Norwegian parliament. In 1891 he returned to Christiania; he died there May 23, 1906.

Ibsen's early work included two verse dramas. The first, Brand (1866; first produced in 1885), dramatized the tragedy of blind devotion to a false sense of duty; the second, Peer Gynt (1867), related, in allegorical terms, the adventures of a charming opportunist. With Pillars of Society (1877), the story of an unscrupulous businessman, Ibsen began the series of plays that brought him worldwide fame. A Doll's House (1879), Ghosts (1881), and Hedda Gabler (1890) have probably been the most frequently performed of his plays. The first tells of a loveless marriage and an overprotected wife; the second deals with hereditary insanity and the conflict of generations; the third portrays the relationships of a strong-willed woman with those around her. Among the other plays written by Ibsen are An Enemy of the People (1882), The Wild Duck (1884), Rosmersholm (1886), The Lady from the Sea (1888), The Master Builder (1892), and When We Dead Awaken (1900).

Although Ibsen's plays shocked contemporary audiences, they were championed by such serious critics as George Bernard Shaw and William Archer in England and Georg Brandes in Denmark. Ibsen's characters, the critics pointed out, were recognizable people; their problems were familiar to the audience. Ibsen's plays marked the end of the wildly romantic and artificial melodramas popular in the 19th century. His influence on 20th-century drama is immeasurable.

"Ibsen, Henrik Johan," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

Last Modified on: November 2004