Review by Israel Drazin
By Henrik Ibsen
This is one of a many excellent writings that people can acquire for free from sources such as amazon because their copyrights have expired. Many people consider this 1886 play, which still appears in theaters today, Ibsen’s best play. It was one of Sigmund Freud’s favorite plays because of hidden emotions percolating below its surface, deep sexual desires, naïve idealistic yearnings to help others, gripping guilt, male dominance over women, and feelings of being driven, as if by demons.
Critic Martin Essling recognizes this and adds, “the continuing power and impact of Ibsen’s plays springs from…the immense hidden and mysterious power” in the “coexistence of the realistic surface with the deep subconscious fantasy and dream elements behind it” such as the symbolic racing “white horses” that the play’s characters think they see.
Johannes Rosmer, an idealistic clergyman left the ministry after his wife’s suicide, renounced his faith, isolated himself in his estate, but felt he must persuade people to join him in improving society. Rebecca West, who had cared for his wife, looks after him.
Rosmer’s wife recognized the impracticality of Rosmer’s dream and tried to extinguish it. She became depressed when she failed to do so and because she saw Rebecca passionately loving her husband, supporting his efforts, and he falling in love with her. She killed herself to free her husband to marry Rebecca. Her death caused Rosmer and Rebecca strong inerasable guilt feelings. Each tried to escape this ghost that’s tormenting them, and fail.
Rosmer is shocked to discover that although his town people respect him, they don’t want him to pursue his dream or become involved in it. Rebecca, like Rosmer’s dead wife, decides that she too must make a supreme sacrifice to help him.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw saw Rosmer as an “unpractical country parson,” who was “meddlesome…who regards the ennobling of mankind as a sort of trade process of which his cloth gives him a monopoly.” Rosmer’s ideas were, as those of many idealists, vague, practically incoherent, based on notions of “purity.” Shaw saw Rebecca as “a clever woman who pictures a noble career for the man she loves, and devotes herself to helping him achieve it.” But is this abandonment of self good?
Women’s role is significant in this drama. Critic Janet Garton saw the events reflecting Ibsen’s view: “In Ibsen’s plays, as in the society of his day, a woman’s chances of self-realization are largely dependent on the attitude of the men nearest to them, and it is the reaction of the men which is the key factor in deciding the outcome (to Rosmer’s wife, Rebecca, and women generally).” Since this perversion of the female is often true today, since the psychological elements driving Ibsen’s characters drive many people today, and since the play is very dramatic, people will enjoy reading and seeing it.