For the “Read a Classic Play” category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge, I read a collection, Four Major Plays by Henrik Ibsen, translated by James McFarlane and Jens Arup. The four plays included are: A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, and The Master Builder.
Ben, Jake, and I go to performances of Shakespeare at the university where I work (and where Ben went to school, and around which our lives tend to revolve), and the last time I read a play, I was prepping for one of those shows. I like to refresh my brain before I go.
Aside from those, I can’t think of a play I’ve read since college. So I wasn’t sure how much I’d like reading plays. I attempted this category with an eye toward getting it over with.
But it turns out I like reading plays! Fun to discover something new about your reading preferences at 38, isn’t it?
Anyway, the play I intended to read for this item in the challenge is A Doll’s House, but I ended up reading all four plays because I just wanted to. They were all interesting in their own ways.
But getting to my main selection, I see why A Doll’s House caused a ruckus when it was first performed and also why it is a classic. From the first scene my feminist hackles were raised. And I found the ending wonderfully satisfying in that regard.
Here’s a great plot summary by Encyclopedia Britannica:
The play centres on an ordinary family—Torvald Helmer, a bank lawyer, his wife Nora, and their three little children. Torvald supposes himself the ethical member of the family, while his wife assumes the role of the pretty and irresponsible little woman in order to flatter him. Into this arrangement intrude several hard-minded outsiders, one of whom threatens to expose a fraud that Nora had once committed without her husband’s knowledge in order to obtain a loan needed to save his life. When Nora’s act is revealed, Torvald reacts with outrage and repudiates her out of concern for his own social reputation. Utterly disillusioned about her husband, whom she now sees as a hollow fraud, Nora declares her independence of him and their children and leaves them, slamming the door of the house behind her.
I couldn’t ask for more in a feminist work. And watching the drama play out, I identified right away with Nora as she struggled in the role assigned to her by society and, most significantly, her husband. Apparently, despite being a modern woman, I’m not alone in appreciating that exposition as Wikipedia tells us A Doll’s House was the world’s most performed play of 2006, the centennial anniversary of Ibsen’s death.
Would Ibsen consider this play “feminist,” I wonder? Now, I’m down an internet rabbit hole looking for an Ibsen biography. Sorry there’s not much commentary from me, or comments in general on the other plays in the book. Sometimes when I read classics, I have a hard time doing anything but deferring to the work others have already done. There are more capable reviewers and critics than I voicing opinions about these works. And I don’t often find I have anything interesting to add.
Do you know what I mean?
p.s. As mentioned above, this is my selection for the Read a Classic Play category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge.