HENRIK IBSEN was born March 20th, 1828, in Skien, Norway. He spent a number of years at Grimstad as apprentice to an apothecary, and in 1850 entered the University of Christiania; soon after, he visited Copenhagen and Dresden for the purpose of making a study of the stage, in preparation to his assuming the managership of the theater of Bergen. He remained in Bergen for five years, and at the end of that period went to Christiania, to manage another theater. In 1862, he was forced to relinquish the theater and become "esthetic adviser" to still another theater. Two years later he left Norway, and lived in Italy and Germany until 1874, when he returned to his native land; after a short sojourn there, he returned to Germany and lived in Dresden and Munich until 1891, at which time he finally made his home in Christiania, residing there until his death, in 1906.
Ibsen cannot be said to be a great originator, either technically or philosophically. As a dramatist he owes much to Augier and Dumas fils; as a philosopher to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. He did, however, eventually develop a technique all his own and a philosophy apart from that of any of his intellectual forbears. His great importance lies in the fact that he took the "well-made" play where the French had left it and brought it to a state of perfection which no one has as yet improved upon. Like many philosophers he often changed his ideas; in An Enemy of the People, Doctor Stockmann asserts that most truths cease to be such after twenty years' time; in his poetic dramas and in many of his social pieces he preaches the doctrine of ideals, and in The Wild Duck he seems to deny their value. Yet if his work is viewed in its entirety, something like a philosophy of life, a distinct system of thinking and belief, may be traced. Above all, Ibsen believed in the individual, in his right to live his life in accordance with his personal creed, in spite of all obstacles; he says time and again that a man in order to realize the best that is in him must have the courage, the will, to be himself. Now the individual who so wills invariably finds the serried ranks of society against him; if he be strong enough he will break the social bonds, if not, he is merely weak, and fails. Nora must "live her life"; she is forced, in order to do this, to leave home and family, thereby shattering one of the most "inviolable" shibboleths of society. Ibsen is determined to bring to judgment most of the social prejudices of his time, and the result is that for thirty years all the scorn and hatred of an outraged social system [were] heaped upon his head. The fearful and acrimonious attacks against him on the appearance of A Doll's House and Ghosts were merely indications of the horror with which his ideas were regarded by the people of the time, but the calm acquiescence with which a much more outspoken play than either of these -- Brieux's Damaged Goods -- [was later] accepted gives ample proof that society was only a few years behind the Scandinavian leader.
As a poet of prime importance, as an original and in many ways revolutionary thinker, as dramatic craftsman and artist Ibsen is rightly considered the greatest of modern dramatists, and one of the few dramatists of all time.
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