Ghosts (original Norwegian title: Gengangere) is a play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It was written in 1881 and first staged in 1883.
Like many of Ibsen's better-known plays, Ghosts is a scathing commentary on 19th century morality.
Helene Alving, the widow of Captain Alving, is about to dedicate an orphanage she has built in his memory. She reveals to her pastor that she has hidden the evils of her marriage for its duration, and has built the orphanage to deplete her husband's wealth so that their son, Osvald, might not inherit anything from him. Pastor Manders had advised her to return to her husband despite his philandering, and she did so in the belief that her love would reform him. But her husband's philandering continued until his death, Mrs. Alving was unable to leave him because of the constraints of 19th-century morality, and during the action of the play she discovers that her son Osvald (whom she had sent away so that he would not be corrupted by his father) has congenital syphilis, and has fallen in love with Regina Engstrand, Mrs. Alving's maid, who is revealed to be a bastard daughter of Captain Alving, and thereby Osvald's half-sister.
The play concludes with Mrs. Alving deciding whether to euthanize her son Osvald in his madness in accordance with his wishes.
At the time, the mere mention of venereal disease was scandalous, but to show that even a person who followed society's ideals of morality had no protection against it was beyond scandalous. Hers was not the noble life which Victorians believed would result from fulfilling one's duty rather than following one's desires. Those idealized beliefs were only the "ghosts" of the past, haunting the present.
List of characters