• Hannah Taylor


Updated: Jul 16, 2019

A sketch of Henrik Ibsen by contemporary artist, Edvard Munch

“Ibsen gave the stage its first distinctively modern characters: complex, contradictory individuals driven by a desire for something - the ‘joy of life.’ a sense of themselves - that they can barely recognize or name.” - W.B Worthen

The Birth of Modernism

Out of a society immersed in the elitism and idealism of romanticism came a man named Henrik Ibsen and birth of a new era. Henrik Ibsen is closely tied to, and often credited with, the birth of modernism. Essentially, modernism was a refusal to accept the conservative values and ideology of the time. Modernism originated in the late 19th century and extended into the early 20th century. Check out some of the key elements of modernism, specifically how it is seen in Ibsen's work, below.

Elements of Ibsen's Modernism

  • Social Commentary - For the first time, theatre began to serve as a social critique instead of merely entertainment. Ibsen challenged the strongly promoted social norms of the time and sparked much controversy by examining the excessive pressure to conform to these norms.

  • Focus on Individuals and Inner Life - Ibsen began writing character driven work, focusing on their individual psychological complexities. He examined the conflict between the “social self” (pressured by society to conform) and the “essential self” (inner, private self).

  • Portrayal of Everyday Life - In contrast to romantic theatre which focused on the most elite members of society in heightened, often melodramatic situations, Ibsen wrote for and about the middle-class living their everyday lives, making theatre more accessible and realistic.

  • Prose and Natural Dialogue - In modernism, we see a movement away from the lofty, poetic language often seen in romantic plays. Ibsen introduced a new style of natural dialogue that was written in prose and included short and often choppy sentences. Ibsen's dialogue was revolutionary in his time and changed the landscape of how dialogue would be written for years to come.

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