Monday, December 14, 2015

Play Scripts Project; Henrik Ibsen: Ghosts

During period 1, please use the time in the lab to work on your play script projects. At the break, we'll go down to pick up Four Major Plays by Henrik Ibsen. We are going to read Ghosts & The Master Builder. Hedda Gabler will be shown as a stage film. You'll likely read A Doll's House if you take Ms. Woodham's Women's Lit class next year.

Details About the Father of Modern Drama: Henrik Ibsen

A major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet, Henrik Ibsen is often referred to as "the godfather" of modern drama and is one of the founders of Modernism in theatre. His works are naturalistic (see Naturalism below).

To understand Naturalism, it is important to know that it was a reaction against the two literary periods that came before it. These are:

Romanticism (1798-1832/1850): Reaction against reason and the Neoclassical/Enlightenment periods, it celebrated nature, spontaneity, imagination, and subjectivity. The ode comes back into favor. As well as women writers. Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, various poets: Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, etc.

Realism (1830-1900): The period of literature that attempts to portray life honestly, without sensationalism, exaggeration, or melodrama. Characters and plots are taken largely from middle class for middle class readers. Ordinary contemporary life. Dickens is probably the best example of this, although he did tend to be a bit Romantic (Christmas Carol, for example...)

Naturalism (1865-1900) attempts to go further from realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment affects human behavior. Plots often revolve around social problems, characters are often drawn from lower classes and the poor, perhaps in an attempt to explain their behavior.

Ghosts. Look here for some info on the play. Ghosts deals with the controversial theme of syphilis (in this case a hereditary disease Oswald inherits from his father). Some of the symptoms of latent syphilis include a neurological infection of the nervous system. This might include the symptoms of paralysis, dementia (madness), and the pupils of the eye not constricting when exposed to light (causing a type of blindness or sensitivity to light...)

Characters in the play:

Mrs. Helene Alving: She lives in a mansion in Norway's countryside (near a fjord...its Norway, after all) with her maid Regina. Her marriage to her late husband, Captain Alving, was bad. Seems Captain Alving cheated a bit--any port in a storm, as they say. Mrs. Alving ran away right after she was married, to Pastor Manders, to whom she was attracted, but he made her return to her husband. She endured her husband's debauchery and sexual promiscuity but sent away her son, Oswald so that he would never discover his dead father's immorality. To honor her husband, Mrs. Alving has established an orphan asylum (an orphanage) to memorialize his death. It has finally been completed and the dedication is scheduled for the following day. Mrs. Alvers is a free-thinking woman (like the main character Nora in A Doll's House) and feels compelled to tell her son the truth about his father.

Pastor Manders
: A local priest and old friend of the family. He often lectures others about morality and religion. Sometimes, his financial dealings regarding the orphanage seem suspect, and he is also quick to bend to public opinion. He believes that Mrs. Alving should not have abandoned her husband and should not have sent her son into the world at such an early age. He represents "moral" society (the conservative church and all that goes with it).

Oswald Alving: Oswald has come home to spend the winter and attend the opening of the Orphanage. He is a painter who has most recently been in Italy, living a bohemian lifestyle. Pastor Manders believes that he has strayed from what is moral and finds him similar to his father. Oswald is by nature idealistic, but recently, has felt a profound weariness. He also shows a romantic interest in Regina.

Regina Engstrand: Mrs. Alving's maid, she is believed to be the daughter of Jakob Engstrand, a carpenter, and the late Johanna, Mrs. Alving's former maid. At the end of the play she finds out that she is the Captain's illegitimate daughter. She is ashamed of her father's (Jakob) affection and likes working for Mrs. Alving, but really has her eye on Oswald, whom she loves. She reflects the early Mrs. Alving and parallel's Mrs. Alving's early relationship with Captain Alving. If Oswald were to marry her, he would be committing incest.

Jakob Engstrand: A deformed lower class carpenter, Jakob married Johanna when she was pregnant with Captain Alving's child (Regina). He wants to use the money he earned from helping to build the orphanage to open an "hostelry" (pub/gentlemen's club) for sailors. He is an alcoholic.

Captain Alving: Captain Alving died ten years prior to the start of the play. He was a man with a good social reputation, and before he died he was made a chamberlain. He never appears in the play. According to Mrs. Alving, he was a lazy, dissolute, and cheating man.

Johanna: Johanna was the Alvings' servant and gave birth to Regina after being forced by Captain Alving to sleep with him. She is long dead.

Heredity; fathers. The sins of the fathers inherited by the children. Moral duty. Appearances versus the truth.

Ghosts (the title) refers to our past (or past actions) that won't stop "haunting" us. The orphanage is significant, as is Regina's relationship with her "father" Jakob, because they suggest Oswald's estranged relationship with his father Captain Alving--as if he was an orphan.

One of the brilliant things about Ibsen is his plotting. While often slow to start, Ibsen generally keeps increasing the stakes for his characters. He often employs the use of a "secret": something important is revealed before the play concludes that changes our understanding of the plot and its characters. There is a lot of wonderful subtext in this play. As we read, pay close attention to what is NOT said or what is meant "between the lines". More on SUBTEXT when we read Chekhov.

HOMEWORK: Complete Acts I & II of Ghosts. We'll finish the play next class. Please bring your books with you to class. NOTE: there may be a quiz on Acts I & II and these notes. Keep writing your play projects!

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