• Hannah Taylor

Politics in Norway

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

By Callie Fabac

A map of 19th century Norway, shown in yellow.

All through the 19th Century, Norway’s political situation changed rapidly as the country sought independence. Norway attempted to declare themselves independent through Constitution in 1814. After a Swedish war victory, it was decided that the Swedish monarchy would reign over Norway, but Norway would be allowed to operate with the status of an independent state. Norwegian Nationalism only grew as a result of this shared monarchy, and Norwegian identity became a point of focus from the 1840s through the 1860s.


Literature, art, and culture were all emphasized and preserved in this period of National Romanticism as Ibsen first began writing his plays.

“[Norway’s] historians engrossed themselves in the fervent recital of the national past, its artists worked to create works that celebrated the Norwegian spirit and projected images of future national greatness” (Mishler).

Ibsen’s first play, Catalina, was largely allegorical. Still, the play drew criticism because it had a Roman protagonist, not a Norwegian one. This led him to write his second play, Burial Ground, based on Nordic Viking traditions. It fared far better critically and in ticket sales (Moi 52), and Ibsen's next three plays all used material drawn from Norway's history and folklore.


Despite the success of some of his ‘national dramas’, Ibsen was interested in the way in which theatre could explore individuals' dilemmas. In 1858, Ibsen’s marriage to Suzannah Thoresen caused a shift.

“[Thoresen] was very widely-read and committed to the arts and this gave Ibsen greater confidence and, with a number of years' experience behind him, he started to write with new energy and control. Love's Comedy (1862), a satire on romantic illusions shows the beginnings of Ibsen's anti-idealism. But commercially it was a disaster, universally slated by both the public and the critics. The year after he wrote and produced The Pretenders (1863)” (Jack 2016).

This met with some approval. In April 1864, Ibsen became disenchanted with Norway and moved to Italy with his wife in self-imposed exile. He distanced himself from what he called the “petty mindedness” of his homeland and for the next 27 years, Ibsen freed himself from the requirements to write 'national' theatre. Now he could experiment, which he did for a few more years.


It was only when he took some of his critical ideas about contemporary society to an extreme, that he achieved first notoriety, and then critical success. The play was, A Doll's House (1879). 'Society' here, is a family and a number of outsiders who disturb the precarious 'happy family' which is made up of Torvald Helmer, his wife Nora, and three small children. (Jack 2016).


Read more about Ibsen’s change from nationalism to individualism at: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/theatre-and-individualism-henrik-ibsen-a-dolls-house#3baSBXq7cmWDRo94.99

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