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A Doll's House
A Doll's House (original Norwegian title: Et dukkehjem) is a 1879 play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It is his most famous play, and required reading in many high schools and colleges. The play was highly controversial when first published, as it is sharply critical of Victorian marriage norms. It follows the formula of Well-Made Play up until the final act, when it breaks convention by ending with a discussion, not an unraveling.
The most acclaimed American stage production of the play was in 1902 starring Minnie Maddern Fiske. A Doll's House was made into numerous movies, including two versions released in 1973 - one directed by Joseph Losey starring Jane Fonda, David Warner and Trevor Howard, which went directly to U.S. television, and one directed by Patrick Garland which was released to theatres and starred Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson.
A Doll's House is a scathing criticism of the traditional roles of men and women in Victorian marriage. As Ibsen wrote in his initial notes for the play, "There are two kinds of moral law, two kinds of conscience, one in man and a completely different one in woman. They do not understand each other; but in matters of practical living the woman is judged by man’s law, as if she were not a woman but a man."
Ibsen has his protagonist, Nora, leave her husband in search of the wider world, after realizing that he is not the noble creature she has supposed him to be. Her role in the marriage is that of a doll, her house a "Doll's House", and indeed her husband Torvald refers to her incessantly as his little "skylark" and as his "squirrel." She is not even permitted a key to the mailbox. Ibsen noted, "A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view." When she is blackmailed because of an improper act that she commits in order to save her husband's life – forging her father's name on a note – her husband shows disgust and horror at what she had done upon finding this out. His only concern is his own reputation, despite the love for him that prompts her to do it.
When the blackmailer (Krogstad) recants, it could all be over, and in a traditional Victorian drama all would then be resolved. For Ibsen, however, and for Nora, it is too late to go back to the way things were. Her illusions destroyed, she decides she must leave her husband, her children, and her Doll's House to discover what is truly real and what is not. As Ibsen described it, "Depressed and confused by her faith in authority, she loses faith in her moral right and ability to bring up her children. A mother in contemporary society, just as certain insects go away and die when she has done her duty in the propagation of the race."
List of characters
To the Victorians, this was scandalous. Nothing was considered more sacrosanct than the covenant of marriage, and to portray it in such a way was completely unacceptable. In Germany, theatres refused to stage the play unless Ibsen changed the ending, which he eventually did, being under pressure. In the alternative ending Nora gives her husband another chance after he reminds her of her responsibility to their children. Ibsen later regretted his decision on the matter. Virtually all productions today, however, use the original ending, as do nearly all of the film versions (the Argentinian version, made in 1943 and starring Delia Garcés, does not; it also modernizes the story to take place in the early 1940's).