Monday, February 9, 2009

Ibsen vs. the Status Quo

In Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People (1882) the protagonist, Dr. Stockman, discovers that the town's lucrative baths are polluted. When the town officials attempt to cover this up he lambasts the public in a town lecture hall. Stockman's speech causes controversy both within the play and with audiences. In my research I'll be examining various interpretations of the government Stockman is proposing.

Stockman's views on "the compact majority" reflected many of Ibsen's own. The following passage is from a letter he wrote ten years before "Enemy." His colleague, Georg Brandes, had been denied a position at Copenhagen University for his statements that Danish thinking was "reactionary and divorced from reality." Ibsen offered Brandes his full support.

4 April 1872

"My dear friend, the liberals are the worst enemies of Freedom. Spirtiual and intellectual freedom flourish best under absolutism; that was proved in France, then in Germany and it is now being proved in Russia...

"You say everyone in the faculty of philosophy is against you... If they did not bar the door against you it would show that you had failed to frighten them...

"How this mortal combat between two epochs will end, I do not know; but anything is preferable to the status quo - of that I am certain. I do not promise myself that victory will result in any permanent improvement; every historical development has been but a lurch from one delusion to another. But the battle itself is good, healthy and invigorating; your revolt is a mighty and emancipating declaration of genius...

"Do not rely implicitly on everyone who joins you; what matters is whether they do so for the right reason... my own conviction is that the strongest man is he who stands most alone. But I sit here outside it all while you stand there in the midst of the storm; that makes a big difference."

The latter statement was to become Dr. Stockman's battle cry as the press, the government, the town, and members of his family abandoned him. I shall continue to research how Ibsen's views on absolutism developed in his own life.

Quotes cited from Ibsen by Michael Mayer, Penguin Books 1967

Red Tape Theatre's adaptation of Enemy of the People runs May 4-30, 2009.
Tickets will be available through our website:

Paul G. Miller
Season Dramaturge
Red Tape Theatre Company

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