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When We Dead Awaken


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A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1900, Stuttgart Pb: 1899 Tr: 1907 G: Drama in 3 acts; Norwegian prose S: A seaside resort and near a mountain sanatorium, 1890s C: 3m, 3f, extrasProfessor Arnold Rubek, an elderly sculptor unhappily married to the childlike Maja, is staying at a spa hotel, visited by a bear-hunting landowner Ulfheim and a strange lady attended by a nun. Maja develops an attraction for Ulfheim, and Rubek is only too happy to let her accompany Ulfheim to the mountains, especially when he discovers the identity of the lady. She is Irene, who inspired his greatest sculpture, ‘The Day of Resurrection’, which they called ‘their child’. Rubek callously abandoned her once his work was complete, and she suffered a breakdown, inwardly dying. Rubek admits that he added a figure to his sculpture ‘a man weighed down with guilt’, for, as Irene says, he was not a man, just an artist. She concludes: ‘When we dead awaken, we see that we have never lived.’ Rubek and Irene follow Maja and Ulfheim up the mountain, but, while the latter return to the comfort of Ulfheim's castle, the former continue ecstatically towards the summit and are killed by an avalanche.

A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1900, Stuttgart Pb: 1899 Tr: 1907 G: Drama in 3 acts; Norwegian prose S: A seaside resort and near a mountain sanatorium, 1890s C: 3m, 3f, extras

This last play by Ibsen, attacked by several critics, was praised by Shaw and James Joyce for its brutally honest self-assessment of the artist and for its symbolic elements. Ibsen looks back at his artistic career, admits to compromise, and mourns the fact that he has not engaged with life with the same healthy vigour as Maja and Ulfheim. He opts for the ethereal transfiguration on the mountain top with the statuesque Irene, but, as with Brand and Solness, this leads only to his own destruction.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Henrik Ibsen (1828—1906) Norwegian dramatist


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