Theatre Database
Home | Ancient Theatre | Medieval Theatre | 16th Century | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century


THE MASTER BUILDER

a play in three acts by Henrik Ibsen
First published in 1892

This analysis of Peer Gynt was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 36-8.

The Master Builder marks the beginning of Ibsen's "third and last period." The historical and poetical plays compose the "first period," and the prose "social" dramas -- from The League of Youth to Hedda Gabler -- the "second period." In The Master Builder, Ibsen is within the realm of fancy; symbols are used to suggest more or less hidden truths, while the action itself must be considered as unreal. The tone of the play is poetical, although the medium of expression is prose. In order to understand the play better, which is to a great extent autobiographical, a certain incident should be known. The following passage from Gosse's Henrik Ibsen gives an interesting clue: "In the season of 1889, among the summer boarders at Gossensass, there appeared a young Viennese lady of eighteen, Miss Emilie Bardach. She used to sit on a certain bench in the Pferchthal, and when the poet, whom she adored from afar, passed by, she had the courage to smile at him. Strange to say, her smile was returned and soon Ibsen was on the bench at her side. He readily discovered where she lived; no less readily gained an introduction to the family with whom she boarded.... Perhaps, until they parted in the last days of September, neither the old man nor the young girl realized what their relations had meant to each. Youth secured its revenge, however; Miss Bardach soon wrote from Vienna that she was now tranquil, more independent, happy at last. Ibsen, on the other hand, was heart-broken, quivering with ecstasy, overwhelmed with joy and despair." -- Bearing in mind that The Master Builder grew out of this incident, the play is easier to understand.

Why should symbols be used in plays? Does their use in The Master Builder, for instance, make the meaning clearer? Do such obvious symbols as those in Maeterlinck's Blue Bird help the reader or auditor?

Although The Master Builder is a considerable departure from the manner of the earlier plays, the main technical points, such as development, climax, etc., are still clearly discernible. Find these points and compare each section with those of Hedda Gabler and A Doll's House.

Taking Solness as the embodiment of the older generation, and Hilda of the young, and accepting the climbing of the tower as a symbol of aspiration, does the rest of the play follow logically? That is, granting the symbolic medium of expression, is the rest of the play comprehensible?

Back to Henrik Ibsen