Ghosts, Introduction

  • Asbjørn Aarseth
Part of the Text and Performance book series (TEPE)


While Peer Gynt is Ibsen’s most open and expanded dramatic work in terms of dramaturgy, change of scenery, span of time and number of characters participating, Ghosts can be described as completely opposite in practically every respect. The action unfolds from noon till next sunrise, the scene remains the same throughout the three acts, and not more than five characters appear on stage — a housemaid, a carpenter with a slightly crooked leg, a visiting pastor, a mother and her grown-up son. While Peer Gynt belongs to the Romantic tradition from Goethe’s Faust, Ghosts is a play more in line with the classical tradition going back to ancient Greek tragedy and its concept of guilt and atonement. And yet Ibsen in this ‘family drama’ is not populating the stage with demigods or kings and queens, reciting their lines with rhythmical emphasis and stylised articulation, expressing their innermost thoughts and emotions. His characters are made to look and talk more like contemporary people in everyday surroundings. This does not mean that the words they utter are insignificant observations on trivial matters. As a writer of prose plays Ibsen worked with great care on the dialogue, and in the series of modern drama published during the last twenty years of his literary career, from A Doll’s House to When We Dead Awaken, he has attained a level of expressivity and complexity that makes it natural for critics to compare his dramatic language to the language of poetry.


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© Asbjørn Aarseth 1989

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  • Asbjørn Aarseth

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