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Exiled Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler, the latter of which featured one of theater's most notorious characters.
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The play helped launch his career and was soon followed up by one of his most famous works, A Doll's House. This 1879 play set tongues a-wagging throughout Europe for exploration of Nora's struggle with the traditional roles of wife and mother and her own need for self-exploration. Once again, Ibsen had questioned the accepted social practices of the times, surprising his audiences and stirring up debate. Around this time, he returned to Rome.
His next work,
1881's Ghosts stirred up even more controversy by tackling such topics as incest and venereal disease. The outcry was so strong that the play wasn't performed widely until two years later. His next work, An Enemy of the People, showed one man in conflict with his community. Some critics say it was Ibsen's response to the backlash he received for Ghosts.
A few years later, Ibsen moved back to Germany where he wrote one of his most famous works. With Hedda Gabler (1890), Ibsen created one of the theater's most notorious characters. Hedda, a general's daughter, is a newlywed who has come to loathe her scholarly husband, but yet she destroys a former love who stands in her husband's way academically. The character has sometimes been called the female Hamlet, after Shakespeare's famous tragic figure.
In 1891, Ibsen returned to Norway as a literary hero. He may have left as a frustrated artist, but he came back as internationally known playwright. For much of his life, Ibsen had lived an almost reclusive existence. But he seemed to thrive in the spotlight in his later years, becoming a tourist attraction of sorts in Christiania. He also enjoyed the events held in his honor in 1898 to mark his seventieth birthday.
His later works seem to have a more self-reflective quality with mature lead characters looking back and living with the consequences of their earlier life choices. And each drama seems to end on a dark note. The first play written after his return to Norway was The Master Builder. The title character encounters a woman from his past who encourages him to make good on a promise. In When We Dead Awaken, written in 1899, an old sculptor runs into one of his former models and tries to recapture his lost creative spark. It proved to be his final play.
In 1900, Ibsen had a series of strokes that left him unable to write. He managed to live for several more years, but he was not fully present during much of this time. Ibsen died on May 23, 1906. His last words were "To the contrary!" in Norwegian. Considered a literary titan at the time of his passing, he received a state funeral from the Norwegian government.
While Ibsen may be gone, his work continues to be performed around the world. Peer Gynt, A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler are the most widely produced plays today. Actresses, such as Gillian Anderson and Cate Blanchette, have taken on Ibsen's Dora and Hedda Gabler characters, which are considered to be two of the most demanding theatrical roles ever. In addition to his plays, Ibsen also wrote around 300 poems.
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