Early Plays HTML version

One of the most remarkable facts about Ibsen is the orderly development of his
genius. He himself repeatedly maintained that his dramas were not mere
isolated accidents. In the foreword to the readers in the popular edition of 1898
he urges the public to read his dramas in the same order in which he had written
them, deplores the fact that his earlier works are less known and less understood
than his later works, and insists that his writings taken as a whole constitute an
organic unity. The three of his plays offered here for the first time in English
translation will afford those not familiar with the original Norwegian some light on
the early stages of his development.
Catiline, the earliest of Ibsen's plays, was written in 1849, while Ibsen was an
apothecary's apprentice in Grimstad. It appeared in Christiania in the following
spring under the pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme. The revolutionary atmosphere of
1848-49, the reading of the story of Catiline in Sallust and Cicero in preparation
for the university examinations, the hostility which existed between the
apprentice and his immediate social environment, the fate which the play met at
the hands of the theatrical management and the publishers, his own struggles at
the time,--are all set forth clearly enough in the preface to the second edition.
The play was written in the blank verse of Oehlenschlaeger's romantic dramas.
Ibsen's portrayal of the Roman politician is not in accord with tradition; Catiline is
not an out-and-out reprobate, but an unfortunate and highly sensitive individual in
whom idealism and licentiousness struggle for mastery. Vasenius, in his study of
the poet (Ibsens Dramatiska Diktning in dess Första Skede, Helsingfors, 1879),
insists that Ibsen thus intuitively hit upon the real Catiline revealed by later
nineteenth century research. The poet seems not to have heard of Duma's
Catiline, which appeared about the same time, nor of earlier plays on the subject
by Ben Jonson and others. The struggle in Ibsen's play is centered in the soul of
Catiline; not once do his political opponents appear on the scene. Only one critic
raised his voice in behalf of the play at the time of its appearance, and only a few
copies of the original edition survive. Ibsen issued in 1875 a revised edition in
celebration of his twenty-fifth anniversary as an author. Since then a third edition
has been issued in 1891, and a fourth in 1913.
The Warrior's Barrow, Ibsen's second play, was finished in 1850 shortly after the
publication of Catiline. Ibsen entered upon his literary career with a gusto he
seems soon to have lost; he wrote to his friend Ole Schulerud in January, 1850,
that he was working on a play about Olaf Trygvesson, an historical novel, and a
longer poem. He had begun The Warrior's Barrow while he was still at Grimstad,