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MonkeyNotes-The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen
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Notes

Before the play opens, Ibsen gives detailed instructions for the
stage setting. Since the first act is set in the home of Hakon Werle,
a wealthy businessman, it is important that the set be expensively
done. Prominent in the set should be "lighted lamps with green
shades." The green is symbolic of the natural world, the place
where Gregers prefers to work and the place that is recreated in the
Ekdal attic. The fact that the lamp is shaded is important and
becomes symbolic. Just as the shade covers the brightness of the
lamp, the truth in the play is also, at times, shaded. Gregers,
however, wants to reveal the whole truth. It is important to notice
that only the inside room is brilliantly lit. The room in the center of
the stage is dim, suggesting family secrets and skeletons in the
closet; before the act is complete, several of the "skeletons" will
come out of the closet.

The play opens with the servants on stage during a party; the
technique is reminiscent of Shakespeare. The servants comment on
the principal characters, introducing them before they actually
appear. They are surprised that Hakon Werle has made a toast for
Mrs. Sorby, the housekeeper, and not for Gregers, the son who has
come to visit his father after many years. The servants, therefore,
alert the audience to the fact that all is not well between father and
son and that there is a special relationship between Werle and Mrs.
Sorby.



Old Ekdal's entry causes an interruption. He claims he has come to
the house to pick up some work from the office. He is wearing a
great coat that was once expensive, but has now grown old; the
coat is really much like the man himself, old and broken. He tries
to put on an air of respectability, even donning a wig; but the red-
brown hair color clashes with his gray moustache. Instead of
appearing respectable, he comes across as a seedy, pathetic figure,
especially in contrast to the guests attending the party. When
Pettersen, one of the servants, is patronizing towards the old man,
old Ekdal calls him an "ass". Pettersen then reveals that Old Ekdal
is truly one of the fallen gentry. He has spent time in prison and
now drinks too much.

Even though she is the housekeeper, Mrs. Sorby holds a favored
position in the Werle household. She orders the servants about and
acts as if she were the hostess. She flirts with the guests, mostly
elderly men whose names are not given; they are simply called
titles such as a flabby gentleman, a thin-haired gentleman, or a
shortsighted gentleman. They are all a bit coarse and tell improper
jokes, but Mrs. Sorby does not seem to mind; she easily joins in
their merriment, for she is a worldly woman. But she is also
sensitive. She acknowledges the presence of Old Ekdal and
suggests that something be sent home with him.

Hialmar, Old Ekdal's son, is also in attendance at the party; he has
been invited because he is Gregers' friend, but he feels terribly out
of place. Realizing the young man's discomfort, the older
gentlemen are patronizing and condescending towards Hialmar,
who tries to remain aloof. In fact, both he and Gregers seem overly
serious and almost unhappy. In front of Gregers and Hialmar,
Werle mentions that there were "thirteen at table." There is a
superstition about being the thirteenth guest; it is an allusion to
Christ's Last Supper. Supposedly, the thirteenth at table is destined
to die before long, just as Christ died shortly after the Last Supper.
The reference is an ominous foreshadowing of death in the play.
Hialmar, believing himself to be the thirteenth guest, tells Gregers
that he should not have been invited. Gregers brushes aside his
objections and assures him that he had wanted to see him. It might
be the only chance the two friends have to visit, since Gregers does
not plan to stay with his father for long.

It is important to note that Gregers thinks that Hialmar has grown
stout. Just as the wild duck has become fat and tame in captivity,
Hialmar has become fat and tame in marriage. Gregers is shocked
to learn that his wife is the Werle's old housekeeper, Gina. Hialmar
senses his friend's disapproval and says that Gina is not altogether
without education; he also gives himself credit for improving her
status. Hialmar also complains about the misfortune of his father's
imprisonment and tells Gregers that it is a "miserable subject" for
him. Finally, Hialmar explains how Werle has lent his financial
support to help Hialmar set up a photography studio.

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