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By Joseph Glantz


Henrik Ibsen
​Henrik Ibsen was born March 20, 1828 and died on May 23, 1906). Ibsen was known as the “father of modern drama.” He was also a theater director and a poet. Ibsen is considered one of the great European playwrights. His work examined the realities that lay behind many contemporary façades.

What’s life all about, Henrick?
The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom — these are the pillars of society. Lona, Act IV; The Pillars of Society (1877)
Your most famous play was a precursor to the women’s rights movement.

What was your core concern?
Helmer: First and foremost, you are a wife and mother.
Nora: That I don't believe any more. I believe that first and foremost I am an individual, just as you are. (A Doll's House 1879)

Was your concern real or imagined?
But our home's been nothing but a playpen. I've been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa's doll-child. And in turn the children have been my dolls. I thought it fun when you played with me, just as they thought it fun when I played with them. That's been our marriage, Torvald. (Nora Helmer, Act III; A Doll's House (1879)

And what was the male attitude that troubled you?
To crave for happiness in this world is simply to be possessed by a spirit of revolt. What right have we to happiness? (Manders, Act I; Ghosts; 1881) 
So did she leave her husband for the right reason?
If I'm ever to reach any understanding of myself and the things around me, I must learn to stand alone. That's why I can't stay here with you any longer. (Nora Helmer, Act III; A Doll's House (1879)

And is standing alone just a female attribute?
You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. (Dr. Stockmann, Act V; An Enemy of the People; 1882)

Let’s expand this concept of freedom out a little bit. What drives the human spirit?
He who possesses liberty otherwise than as an aspiration possesses it soulless, dead. One of the qualities of liberty is that, as long as it is being striven after, it goes on expanding. Therefore, the man who stands still in the midst of the struggle and says, "I have it," merely shows by so doing that he has just lost it. Now this very contentedness in the possession of a dead liberty is characteristic of the so-called State, and, as I have said, it is not a good characteristic. (Letter to Georg Brandes (17 February 1871), as translated in Henrik Ibsen: Björnstjerne Björnson. Critical Studies (1899) by Georg Morris Cohen Brandes)

What are the keys then to a marriage, to a family, to a society?
A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. (Billing, Act I; An Enemy of the People; 1882)

You were known as the father of modern drama because you were the first playwright to write about the modern Joe instead of the aristocracy. Why did you dislike the aristocracy?
Castles in the air — they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too. (Hilda, Act III; The Master Builder ; 1892)

So life should have some purpose?
An unromantic poem I mean to make
Of one who only lives for duty's sake. (Guldstad; Love's Comedy; 1862)

And why this need to break with the aristocratic past?
I am half inclined to think we are all ghosts, Mr. Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our fathers and mothers that exists again in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and all kinds of old dead beliefs and things of that kind. They are not actually alive in us; but there they are dormant, all the same, and we can never be rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper and read it, I fancy I see ghosts creeping between the lines. There must be ghosts all over the world. They must be as countless as the grains of the sands, it seems to me. And we are so miserably afraid of the light, all of us. (Mrs. Alving, Act II; Ghosts; 1881)

And the appeal of the modern man?
I hold that man is in the right who is most closely in league with the future. (Letter to Georg Brandes;3 January 1882).

You didn’t have any real success with your plays until very late in life. What thought kept you going?
The younger generation will come knocking at my door. (Solness, Act I The Master Builder ; 1892)

Was it fun to be a writer?
To live is to battle the demons
in the heart as well as the brain.
To write is to preside at
judgment day over one's self. (Et vers (A Verse), inscribed on the volume Poems; 1877)

Did you listen to the critics?
Whether I pound or am being pounded,
all the same there will be moaning! (Peer Gynt, declaring that no matter what he does, it is not what people want, Act I, Scene I; Peer Gynt (1867)
Let’s try some politics. What’s the essence of a conservative view?
You don't get nothing for nothing in this life. (Dr. Rank, Act III; A Doll's House (1879)

And the liberal view?
A forest bird never wants a cage. (Hilda, Act III; The Master Builder ; 1892)
Any advice for Congress and the media?
It is inexcusable for scientists to torture animals; let them make their experiments on journalists and politicians. (As quoted in The Book of Poisonous Quotes (1993) edited by Colin Jarman, p. 232).

Why political candidates scrap blue suits for blue jeans during campaign season? 
You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth. (Dr. Stockmann, Act V; An Enemy of the People; 1882)

How was the weather in the Netherlands?
The black, cold, icy water. Down and down, without end — if it would only end. (Nora Helmer, Act III; A Doll's House; 1879)

Some cities are trying to legislate the availability of sugar drinks. Do you support the Mayors who are pushing this legislation?
People who don't know how to keep themselves healthy ought to have the decency to get themselves buried, and not waste time about it. (Ulfhejm, in Act I, When We Dead Awaken; 1899)

Benjamin Franklin wrote, "If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten Either write things worth Reading or do things worth writing about." What’s your take on the meaning of life? 
A thousand words can't make the mark a single deed will leave. (Manden, Act II; Brand ;1866)

How did you see death?
There is a big black hat and it makes you invisible. Have you heard of that hat? You put it on and then no one can see you. (Dr. Rank, Act III, speaking of death; A Doll's House (1879

Any regrets, now that your life is over?
When we dead awaken. ... We see that we have never lived. (Irene, in Act II When We Dead Awaken ; 1899)

Can you put that more succinctly?
I've had the most extraordinary longing to say 'Bloody Hell'! A Doll's House (1879)

Copyright 2016 Joseph Glantz