Tel Aviv University
This course is dedicated to the exploration of the universal and local meanings and the stage language of Ibsen's plays. Ibsen's oeuvre will also serve as a case-study on how a dramatic-theatrical masterpiece might be re-contextualized in different cultures, maintaining a delicate balance between its universal imports and its local ramifications, as imprinted in the unique formal attributes of the specific culturally-framed productions.
In Ibsen's En Folksfiende (An Enemy of the People, 1882), Doctor Tomas Stockmann, the liberally-minded physician in charge of the baths in a provincial, reactionary spa-resort in the backward south of Norway towards the turn of the century, sets himself against his brother, the Mayor Peter Stockmann, a typical Calvinist and hypocritical arch-philistine who tries to stop Tomas from publishing his scientific report that declares the ‘healing’ waters of the spa to be polluted. In a Chinese production of the play (2006) the haughty Dr. Stockmann is ambivalently embodied as an educated and enlightened Westerner, in a white colonialist suit, struggling against the petty deliberations of Chinese official functionaries who appear on stage in wheelchairs, uniformly dressed as typical party agents in the period of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. In an Israeli adaptation, renamed Traitor (2010), the plot is set in a provincial, hot desert town, rife with the typical manipulations of petty local politicians. This adaptation forefronts the rough indigenous mentality and patois, as well as the physically militant body language and the impoverished living conditions of the citizens, that render both the ‘treason’ of the Doctor and the opportunism of the local leaders in even starker terms. These examples attest to the ever-expanding universal influence of the unique thematic and formal features of Ibsen's drama. These allow, and even invite, intra-, multi- and inter-cultural interpretations of the plays and of their explicit or implicit stage-instructions according to the social, political and cultural contexts in which they are performed. The plays lend themselves to such transformations both because of their interpretive richness, and because of the fact that many of the works, although set in Norway, were written and premiered in other countries while Ibsen himself was abroad in voluntary exile. As such they reveal an interesting correspondence between local Norwegian and universal attributes.
The course will explore this phenomenon as one of the major keys to the basic understanding of the content and form of Ibsen's plays. We will look at examples of the major genres of Ibsen's oeuvre, from the Realistic to the Pre-Expressionist, including such stylistically differing works as A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Peer Gynt, The Lady from the Sea, Hedda Gabler and Little Eyolf. The plays will be examined from the mutually complementary thematic and performative viewpoints. In other words: the plays, constructed as pre-texts for performance and conditioned by their production contexts, will be investigated as scripts with a specific rhetorical and ideological intentionality addressed to specific target audiences. On this basis we will compare our reading with excerpts from video recorded modern ‘master productions’ of the plays embedded in different cultures (such as the Swede Bergman’s, the American Lee Breuer’s, and the German Ostermeier’s interpretations of Nora), as well as with local productions from different parts of the globe, and (with, inter alia, the help of YouTube) of productions from the students’ various countries of origin.
- The Plays:
Henrik Ibsen, "A Doll's House", trans. James McFarlane. In H. Ibsen, Four Major Plays, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 1- 88.
---------------, "Ghosts", trans. James McFarlane. In Ibid, pp. 89-164.
---------------, An Enemy of the People, trans. Eleanor Marx-Aveling, London: W. Heinemann, 1959.
---------------, "The Lady from the Sea", trans. Peter Watts. In Ibsen: Plays,
Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965, pp. 233-330.
---------------, "The Wild Duck", trans. Michael Meyer. In H. Ibsen, Plays: One, London: Methuen, 1980, pp. 99-216 (including introduction).
---------------, "Hedda Gabler", trans. Jens Arup. In H. Ibsen, Four Major Plays, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 165 – 264.
---------------, Little Eyolf, trans. Michael Meyer, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1961.
---------------, "John Gabriel Borkman", trans. Peter Hall & Inga-Stina Ewbank. In The Wild Duck, John Gabriel Borkman: Two Plays by Henrik Ibsen, Bath: Absolute Press, 1990.
----------------, "The Master Builder", trans. Michael Meyer. In Ibsen: Plays One, Ibid., pp. 245-319.
----------------, Peer Gynt: A Dramatic Poem, trans. John Northam, Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1993.
-----------------, "When We Dead Wake", trans. Peter Watts. In Ghosts, A Public Enemy, When We Dead Wake. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964.
Barton, John, "On Staging Ibsen". In James McFarlane, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen. Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 217-226.
Fjelde, Rolf, ed., Ibsen: A Collection of Critical Essays, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 29-40; 91-108; 109-119; 131-178.
Innes, Christopher, ed., A Sourcebook on Naturalist Theatre, London & New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 65-122.
Kaynar, Gad, "Translation as Realization of Scripted Action and Stage Metaphor: Yossi Yzraely's Reading of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea ", Assaph 16, Department of Theatre Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2000, pp. 45 – 64.
Lebowitz, Naomi, Ibsen and the Great World, Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State UP, 1990.
Marker, Frederick and Lise-Lone Marker, Ibsen's Lively Art: A Performance Study of the Major Plays, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Marker, Frederick & Lise-Lone Marker, "Ibsen and the twentieth century stage". In The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen, Ibid., pp. 183-204.
Miller, Arthur, "Ibsen and the drama of today" In The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen, Ibid., pp. 227-232.
Northam, John, Ibsen: A Critical Study, Cambridge: University Press, pp. 147-185.
Templeton, Joan, Ibsen's Women, Cambridge: University Press, 1997.
Törnqvist, Egil, "Ibsen on film and television". In The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen, Ibid., pp.205-216.
----------------, Ibsen, Strindberg and the Intimate Theatre: Studies in TV Presentation, Amsterdam University Press, 1999, pp. 12-104.
Williams, Simon: "Ibsen and the theatre 1877 - 1900". In The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen, Ibid., pp. 165-182.
Full attendance, thorough acquaintance with the weekly prescribed texts (plays and/or criticism), class participation – 25% of the credit;
Short paper (up to 7 double-spaced pages) presented in class or submitted in writing – 25%;
Final paper (a developed version of the short paper - up to 15 double-spaced pages, including notes and bibliography) – 50%.
Syllabus and Reading
(Note: For those fluent in English it is strongly recommended to regard this item as "required reading").
Brian Johnston, "The Demons of John Gabriel Borkman". In Text and Supertext in Ibsen's Drama, pp.235-277.
Johnston, The Ibsen Cycle, University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989, pp. 289-352.
Henrik Ibsen, "When We Dead Wake", trans. Peter Watts. In Ghosts, A Public Enemy, When We Dead Wake. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964.