Realism and the Significance of A Doll's House

Henrik Ibsen is universally known as “The Father of Modern Drama” as well as “The Father of Realistic Drama”. His title for such goes well deserved, as he started a revolutionary literary movement almost singlehandedly. After a career of writing a number of different kinds of plays of different styles and substances, Ibsen eventually departed from the typical theatrical style of the times. The 1800s were marked with romantic works of literature, theatre, art, and music which portrayed the world as overly beautiful, positive, and often eccentrically pristine Ibsen’s 1879 play entitled "A Doll’s House" strayed from the popular format of the times and blazed a trail of its own, one in which many other authors and playwrights would soon follow. "A Doll’s House" remorselessly displayed the taboo and deep seeded unrest in women of the time. The years following the play’s release would show a drastic number of increases in divorces among women. America, for example, sports a divorce rate which almost tripled only one year after the play’s release. The play may or may not be directly attributed to this phenomenon, but the sheer influential substance of the play brought upon much more drastic change in literature which would eventually lead to greater changes in society.


Marriage and Divorce Rates in America from 1875-1885
Year
Total # of Divorces
Increase over prev. Year
1875
14212
223
1876
14800
588
1877
15687
887
1878
16089
492
1879
17083
994
1880
19663
2580
1881
20782
1093
1882
22112
1350
1883
23198
1086
1884
22994
1204
1885
23472
478


A Doll’s House itself would receive mixed reviews worldwide. Ten years after its original premiere in Norway, "A Doll’s House" had finally made its way to the Australian and New Zealand playhouses. The Australian Critics did not take kindly to the evident theme Ibsen hoped to impress upon the audience calling Ibsen’s theatrical approach “experimental”, and his theme “a cranky sermon”. Another review implied that the audience should throw vegetables at the actors. Nevertheless, the play continued to tour with anticipation of receiving such feedback, as the subject matter of the play is controversial even to this day. The play was, however, well received in New Zealand. Each showing in New Zealand maxed out the venues which it took place, and reviews from critics were favorable.

Regardless of the mixed reviews and responses of "A Doll’s House", its impact was made self evident. Five years after its premier, women in Australia were granted the right to vote.

Ibsen’s innovative theatrical style of realism became widely used to alert people of society’s negative sides. Playwrights and actors from all around the world began to advocate change in society by portraying reality through Ibsen’s method of realism. For example, Constantin Stanislavsky, an actor and theatre director, encouraged his fellow actors to act as if their character was actually experiencing their circumstances first hand, incorporating a realistic element to each performance. Stanislavsky’s method of acting as if the character is experiencing the events of the plot is still taught today. Play after play was written and each work of realism advocated change in society by portraying it in brutal honesty. This method of acting injected realism into hundreds of plays which followed.

As for Henrik Ibsen, he continued to write realistic plays which deal with society’s more agonizing topics. Many of his plays become known as “problem plays”. One of which he published in 1881 entitled Ghosts dealt with the rampant outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases in Norway during that time. 4% of Norwegians between the ages of 15 and 60 years old had contracted gonorrhea. Alongside this outbreak, 1% of the sexually active male population had also contracted syphilis. The play, Ghosts was shunned for having mentioned the subject matter, and the play was no longer staged in Norway shortly after its premier.