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Henrik Johan Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright and poet. He was
born in Skein, Norway, on March 20, 1928. Because his father's
business failed, Henrik had to spend his childhood and youth in
abject poverty. In 1844, he left Skein for Grimstad to become an
apothecary's apprentice, hoping to later study medicine. In 1855,
Ibsen left for Christiania to join the university, but he failed the
entrance examination. He, therefore, turned his attention to writing.
At nineteen, he was producing poetry, and he completed his first
play, Catilene, when he was twenty-two. A year later, he joined a
theater company, where he wrote and directed several plays. He
also designed costumes for the stage artists. In 1857, he was
appointed manager of the National Theater at Christiania.
In 1858, Ibsen married Susannah Thoresen, and they had one son;
but his writing career continued. In 1862, he wrote Love's
Comedy, a drama in epigrammatic verse; it was followed by The
Pretenders in 1863. The theater for which Ibsen was working,
however, went bankrupt; therefore, he could not stage any of his
plays during this period. In 1864, the Prussian-Danish war broke
out, and Ibsen left Norway for Italy. Thereafter, except for short
visits to his native land, he lived in Italy and Germany until 1891.
After his emigration to Rome at the age of thirty-six, Ibsen wrote
two poetic plays, Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867). These plays
established Ibsen's reputation as a well-known dramatist. In 1869,
he wrote The League of Youth, a prose play; Ibsen never returned
to dramatic verse. During this period, the Norwegian government
offered Ibsen a poet's pension, but he rejected it. He was bitter
because the pension was not offered when he was in need of
financial support; he had often had to borrow money from his
friends in order to live and work as a playwright.
In 1877, Ibsen wrote The Pillars of Society, considered to be the
first of his twelve great modern plays. As well as making him
famous in Germany, the play was also translated into English and
became his first drama to be staged in London. Ibsen returned from
England to Rome in 1878 and completed A Doll's House in 1879.
This play firmly established Ibsen's international reputation.
Ghosts, written in 1881, created considerable controversy, and the
theater-owners rejected producing it; it was finally performed in
Chicago. Other of his well-known plays are An Enemy of the
People (1882), The Wild Duck (1884), Rosmersholm (1886), and
The Lady from the Sea (1888).
In 1889, when he was sixty-one years old, Ibsen fell in love with
an eighteen-year old girl; they corresponded for nearly twelve
months. His attraction to her left an indelible mark on Ibsen's later
plays: Hedda Gabler (1890), The Master Builder (1892), Little
Eyolf (1894), John Gabriel Borkman (1896), and When We Dead
Ibsen's seventieth birthday was celebrated in 1898. A year later the
National Norwegian Theater was dedicated in his honor. Then in
1901, Ibsen suffered a paralytic stroke, preventing him from
further literary creation. He died on May 23, 1906, at the age of
seventy-eight. Today he is recognized as the forerunner of modern
theater and Norway's greatest dramatist.
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