Psychological Reality in Ibsen’s Works as Shown By Freudian Analysis

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1 <Anonymous> Scandinavian Lit R5B 3 July 2015 Psychological Reality in Ibsen’s Works as Shown By Freudian Analysis Though both highly influential authors of the Norwegian nineteenth century, novelist Knut Hamsun harshly criticized the already renowned playwright Henrik Ibsen for superficial characterizations resulting from his focus on social issues. However, though Hamsun disparaged him for “his indefensibly coarse and artificial psychology” (Kolloen 63), Ibsen’s works would in fact be used by significant psychologists, notably Sigmund Freud, to depict and explore the burgeoning world of psychoanalysis. Despite the common view of Ibsen as too preoccupied with social matters to explore in depth the psychological realm prefered by later writers like Hamsun, the fact that his characters could be used as case studies for Freudian psychoanalytical concepts shows that Ibsen’s characters are actually more psychologically rich than often given credit for.During the rise of his career, Hamsun famously lectured about popular contemporary authors, especially Ibsen, censuring them for their "crudest, cheapest, and most superficial characterisations" (61). Having invited the older playwright to attend his lectures, he attacked him for being "content more than anybody else to produce the most simplistic psychological portrayals" (60-1). He focused his own writings on his belief that authors should emphasize the modern man's psychological complexity: "The modern psyche, he explained, was a world in which everything shifted and nothing was as it appeared" (61). Additionally, he criticized Ibsen's choice of medium, arguing that since plays could only show external happenings, they by definition could not convey the same "inner life of characters" (61) as writing: "This
2 psychology... is supposedly so clear, that is to say: so shallow that it can be understood and enjoyed all the way from the stage" (63). Ibsen “was not unaware that his plays were regarded by some as dealing with society rather than the workings of the soul....Only months before, George Bernard Shaw had characterised him as being primarily a social rather than a psychological writer" (64). Shaw, a prominent proponent of Ibsen's writing, penned an important book on the author, The Quintessence of Ibsenism,in which he depicts the value of Ibsen's works as addressing social issues. He argues that Ibsen's "thesis [is] that the real slavery of to-day is slavery to ideals of virtue" (Shaw 128). By emphasizing his characters' behavior in terms of and relative to conventionalism, which he equates with idealism, Ibsen examines, analyzes, and often criticizes social convention. Shaw concludes that Ibsenism's "quintessence is that there is no formula" (141) for behavior: "What Ibsen insists on is that there is no golden rule--that conduct must justify itself by its effect upon happiness and not by its conformity to any rule or ideal" (140). Shaw argues that the playwright's main contribution lies with his pointed exploration of

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