Frequently hailed as “the father of modern drama,” Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) could claim blood connections to several important Norwegian families; yet, at age 15, he left a troubled home to study pharmacy and to begin writing plays. He learned the craft of the theater, not just play-writing, at the Norwegian Theater in Bergen; and, after several years’ employment there, he became the manager of the National Theater in Christiana (today, Oslo). Living with a wife and child in impoverished circumstances, Ibsen entered a self-imposed exile of over a quarter-century in Rome in 1864 (he would later settle in Munich). Thus, this most celebrated Norwegian playwright actually composed his most famous and enduring dramas outside of his native land. Although he also wrote poetry during his career (including a collection of verse published in 1871), it is his dramatic output for which he is justly remembered.
Ibsen’s works, though varying in quality and audience reception, are recognized as theatrical landmarks, and are frequently performed, both as written by Ibsen and in adaptations to meet later historical contexts (for example, American playwright Arthur Miller’s adaptation of An Enemy of the People [Ibsen, 1882; Miller, 1950], the playwright’s powerful indictment of the idea that the majority always knows best—Miller’s adaptation, understandably, resonates with the same theme of faith in the individual conscience that animated his own classic, The Crucible). Ibsen’s best-known works include Peer Gynt (1867, equally renowned for the incidental music composed by Edvard Grieg); the iconoclastic critique of Victorian marital mores, A Doll’s House (1879); Ghosts (1881), controversial at the time for its frank mention of veneral disease; The Wild Duck (1884); the present work, Hedda Gabler (1890); and The Master Builder (1892).
Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891, and died back in Christiana in 1906. It is said that after one of his nurses told a visitor that the playwright was feeling a little better, Ibsen said, “On the contrary,” and passed away. “In the entire history of literature,” argues critic Martha Fletcher Bellinger, “there are few figures like Ibsen. Practically his whole life and energies were devoted to the theater; and his offerings, medicinal and bitter, have changed the history of the stage” (http:www.theatredatabase.com/19th_century/henrik_ibsen_001.html).