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Hedda Gabler | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Henrik Ibsen | Biography


Henrik Ibsen, born in Skien, Norway, on March 20, 1828, is known as the father of modern drama. He devoted his life to inspiring individualism through his plays and challenging the hypocritical norms of contemporary society. Hedda Gabler is merely one outstanding example of an Ibsen character who defies convention and insists on living life on her own terms, regardless of the consequences. Moreover, Ibsen's best-known plays were realistically plotted and made use of natural-sounding dialogue—traits that now seem commonplace, but that represented a sharp break with earlier theatrical tradition. Consequently, Ibsen faced a polarized reception from critics and audiences of his own time.

Early Life

Ibsen was born into a prosperous merchant family, but his childhood was bittersweet at best. His father, Knud Ibsen, fell into bankruptcy after squandering the wealth he had obtained through marrying his wife, Marichen Altenburg. Henrik was just seven years old when his family suffered a fall from security and respectability to poverty and public disgrace. At age 15, without enough money for further education, he moved to the village of Grimstad to work mixing and selling drugs as an apothecary's assistant, struggling to study for university entrance exams among acquaintances he referred to as "those empty heads with full pockets." Although he did make a few lifelong friends from this painful period of his life, being pushed out of society helped cultivate Ibsen's skepticism, dislike of clubs and collectives, and loner tendencies. The result is clear in his intense focus on the individual who, to him, only found " being true to himself."


Hedda Gabler is a relatively late development in Ibsen's long and illustrious career. After struggling to find his footing as a comic playwright in the early 1860s, Ibsen left Norway and traveled throughout Germany and Italy. His first major successes with the Norwegian public were the dramatic poems Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867), both written during his self-imposed exile from his home country. With A Doll's House, written and produced in 1879, Ibsen achieved international fame; from that point onward, his works were printed, translated, and performed throughout Europe and America. Other plays from this productive middle period include Ghosts (1881) and An Enemy of the People (1882), two controversial works that challenged Victorian morals but nonetheless did little to harm Ibsen's popularity. By the time Hedda Gabler first appeared onstage in 1891, Ibsen's career had reached its apex, and the approach of old age brought an introspective tone to his later works. Ibsen died in Christiania (present-day Oslo, Norway) on May 23, 1906, following a protracted illness.


Henrik Ibsen is viewed as a national hero in Norway, and he has been one of the most produced playwrights in the world. Though not quite as popular as A Doll's House or Ghosts, Hedda Gabler is often performed both in the United States and abroad. The Ibsen Society of America holds conferences to continue and celebrate the playwright's legacy, and numerous theatrical awards in Ibsen's honor are given yearly to aspiring playwrights who show talent, originality, and concern for gender equality and human rights.

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