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Lady from the Sea


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AT: The Mermaid A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1889, Christiania and Weimar Pb: 1888 Tr: 1891 G: Drama in 5 acts; Norwegian prose S: Dr Wangel's house and garden in, and a prominence near, a town on a northern Norwegian fjord, 1880s C: 5m, 3f, extrasEllida feels so bound to the sea that she swims in it daily and is known locally as ‘the lady from the sea’. She loves her widowed husband Dr Wangel, but does not relate well to her two stepdaughters Bolette and Hilde, and feels stifled in the small town. Her fascination with the sea is now explained: ten years previously she fell under the spell of a strange seaman and entered into a symbolic betrothal with him. Guilty of murder, he had to flee, but now returns, demanding Ellida as his wife. Wangel sends him away, but he says he will return so that Ellida may come to him ‘of her own free will’. Bolette agrees to marry the elderly schoolmaster, so that she can ‘have a chance to live’. The Stranger comes to claim Ellida, and Wangel bravely gives her her freedom. At once the Stranger's hold over her is broken, and she exercises her freedom to stay with Wangel.

AT: The Mermaid A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1889, Christiania and Weimar Pb: 1888 Tr: 1891 G: Drama in 5 acts; Norwegian prose S: Dr Wangel's house and garden in, and a prominence near, a town on a northern Norwegian fjord, 1880s C: 5m, 3f, extras

A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler offer pessimistic views of marriages in which the wife feels stifled, but here Ibsen suggests that, if both partners are free to relate as equals, there can be a happy outcome. The exploration of Ellida's obsession with the sea and with the unnamed Stranger from the sea is not only an interesting psychological study; the story assumes mythic elements, recalling northern legends of mermaids who come to land but can never settle away from their native element. It indicates how Ibsen, even within a realistic context, was beginning to turn towards a more symbolic drama, as in The Master Builder, in which Hilde Wangel reappears.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Henrik Ibsen (1828—1906) Norwegian dramatist


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