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verses. Those early plays of his were deficient, we contended, in the main device of dramatic interest. But from the first, whenever I could detach the personal altruism of the man from the framework of his drama, I could feel the heart-beat of a rare poet. And when he published, in 1875, his volume of lyrical poems that side of his genius, freed at last from all obscuration, shone forth with dazzling splendor. As lyrical poet he was seen to belong to that small class of which Heine is the chief representative, a class that as yet cannot be said to include any English or American poet. It is marked among the lyrical groups of our century by the blending of a sceptical spirit of philosophy with a keen and somewhat cynical wit and great intensity of pathos. (It is as if the fierce humor of Carlyle and his fantastic imagination were wedded in a great poet with a feeling for nature as sensitive as Keats's and with a touch of poetic skill as dainty as Tennyson's.) In this peculiar form of lyrical poetry the genius of Ibsen was not, indeed, to be compared in range and grandeur with the genius of Heiné; but it came, I think, closest of the modern poets to that incomparable model. It was, above all, the rendition alone of the poet's own philosophy of life, of his own ways of thinking and of his deepest personal feeling. And this rendition of himself was sure to be made through pictures of nature that showed the most subtile knowledge of Norwegian landscape and with a sharpness of wit and a patriotic force of sentiment that only a great poet can command. This lyrical form was as different from dramatic form as any one form of poetical genius can: be from another, and yet this lyrical form was the chief equipment that Ibsen received from nature; and it was the conversion of this lyrical form into dramatic form through years of painful endeavor that has produced the best of his dramatic poems. In those dramas the effort to represent the phases of human emotion, the effort to reach the springs of human action, the effort to set forth in pictures of human life large views of dreary pessimistic philosophy—these are habits of mind that Ibsen has brought into dramatic art from the practice of lyrical art. But these habits of mind have been, as we said, disciplined and modified by a stage-director's practical experience. The result of this unusual blending is a form of dramatic poem so strange in all ways, and in some ways so effective, as to count among the marvels of the century.
Now, to study dramatic method of any dramatic poet we are bound, I think, to take his best work. For this reason, although I should like to trace the movement of Ibsen's mind through the long series of his plays, and to show, step by step, the formation of his method, I pass at once to the examination of that one play which is not only his latest and most famous, but also, in my opinion, his best -Hedda Gabler. Let us, therefore, in order to see with clearness his lines of construction in that poem, first trace the action of the story.
Some ten years before the play opens, say in 1880, there was living in a little Norwegian city a famous old Norwegian General named Gabler, handsome, well born, fond of good living and improvident. The wife was dead. The one daughter, who had been reared at a school in the same city, was now at home at her father's—Miss Hedda, just nineteen, very beautiful and full of spirit and grace. The life was gay, with fine clothes to wear, fine horses to ride and plenty of dancing and love-making. Among the many lovers that came around the General's lovely daughter there were three that stood closest. First, there was Judge Brack, a man of thirty-six, handsome, able, distinguished in his profession, fascinated by Miss Hedda's beauty, but not disposed to offer marriage. He was, in fact, that easy-going sort of charming man-about-town who, when they think of taking a wife, always ask themselves, “Whose wife shall I take?” Next to him among the lovers was young Eilert Lövborg, a man of twenty-two, well born, rich, handsome, a man of genius, but prone to the grossest forms of dissipation. He was, I think, the old General's favorite among his daughter's lovers. He had free access to the house, and had established with Miss Hedda herself an intimacy that was very dangerous, if not in reality guilty. Outside of this upper circle stood the third lover, George Tasman, a student at the University. He was of the same age as Eilert, about twenty-two, and intimate with him, a student of the same branches of knowledge. But he was of humble family, plain in appearance, rather silly in talk and manner and utterly unused to society. He was, however, deeply and honestly in love with Hedda. He was steady and laborious. He was believed to have a snug little property and good prospects in life as a teacher and professor.
Then came the death of the handsome old General and the time that tried the lovers' souls. For he died, as it seems, leaving to his daughter only his pair of pistols, with which she loved to practice, and the portrait of his handsome old self, with which she adorned her room. It was a sad time for Hedda, the years that followed her father's death. The wily Judge Brack stood prudently aloof. Eilert, yielding entirely to drink and women, threw away fortune and character, and after a stormy interview, in which Miss Hedda came near to shooting him with one of the General's pistols, he disappeared from the city. But George Tasman was true to his love, true and persistent. He of. fered to buy the pretty Falk villa for her and to take her on a grand wedding-tour to Switzerland and Italy. Poor Hedda was by this time twenty-eight years old. Perhaps she was tired of society, tired of being poor. She was touched a little by George's faithful affection. At last she married him and they went off on their wedding-tour, George receiving a doctor's degree and a travelling fellowship, which helped him to pay expenses. They were absent on their wedding trip six months. Then, in September, 1890, just as the Norwegian woods were turning yellow, they came home and settled down in the Falk villa. In that six months' journey Hedda had seen the mad folly of her marriage. She had married George without loving him. She despised him and his old aunts as of inferior social rank. She was weary of his endless talk about the book he was going to write. She had found him to be far more foolish and weak than she had thought, and far less well off. And, to make matters worse, she had discovered in herself the signs of pregnancy, and looked forward with horror to being the mother of George's children. In this state of things her old lovers, Judge Brack and Eilert Lövborg, came with eagerness to resume their intimacy. Foolish George received them both with effusive warmth. Judge Brack, discovering the young wife's misery, begins to plot to win her love for himself. Eilert, who meanwhile had reformed and written a successful book, came to upbraid her with insulting words for having married so far below her. He himself, however, since he had parted from Hedda, while living in the country and writing his book, had won the love of an old schoolmate of Hedda's, Thea Rysing, who was now the wife of Sheriff Elvsted. Hedda, jealous of the new love in the life of the man that had been so close to herself, tempts Eilert once more to drink. Fearful that Eilert might by his superior talent take from George the professorship that was to be her living, she managed to destroy the manuscript of the great book that was to make his reputation. Then, when Eilert came to her, maddened by debauch and misery, she hinted that he might escape from his shame by suicide, and loaned him one of her father's pistols for the dreadful deed. Eilert shoots himself. Brack discovers that the pistol had been given him by Hedda. Then, when Brack tries to get the unhappy woman into his own power by threatening the discovery of the scandal, Hedda walked into the other room and shot herself with the other pistol. And so, with poor George in pitiful wailing over his beautiful wife, and with sly old Brack confounded by the escape of his victim, the story of Hedda and her brace of pistols comes to its end.
This tale, it is plain, has in it great possibilities of dramatic interest. There is room for nice observation of character, for delicate wit, and for all intensity of pathos. The men and women that it sets before us have that double charm which belongs to the best dramatic work. They are full of keenly felt individual life, and, at the same time, they stand as types of general human expression. Hedda's mistake in marrying George, Eilert's fall, Brack's artful scheming, Mrs. Elvsted's infatuation, are all facts of human life, which, with change of detail and environment, repeat themselves in all ages and in all societies. Even if these events were given in the ordinary form of a modern novel, or of a modern play, they would serve to make a good plot. But, as handled by Ibsen, the events of this story move onward with a force of dramatic tension that cannot be resisted. It is, I think, in the
novel ways of arraying his incidents and of grouping his characters. that he reveals the secret of his dramatic genius. Let me try, therefore, in dealing with the facts of this now familiar story, to bring before us what may be called his principles of dramatic construction.
The story, as I have sketched it, is reduced by Ibsen to dramatic form in a series of fifty-one scenes. They take up the story on the morning when Hedda, as George's bride, begins her new life in the Falk villa ; and they carry it to the moment of Hedda's death. In the management of these scenes, the first thing that strikes us is the rigid adhesion to the principle of unity of place. All the scenes are represented as occurring in the same room, which is Hedda's sitting-room, in her new house. In this point, I think, Ibsen makes a conscious reaction against the freedom of the romantic drama, and a revolt against the domination of scene-painters and scene-shifters in the modern theatre. The effect of it is, beyond a doubt, concentristic and an economy of intellectual force. All the powers of attraction are to be given to the faces and gesture and words of the characters upon the stage. The drama is to be reduced from the splendor of scenic display to the minute study of human emotion. In something of the same spirit, the story that spreads over ten years is concentrated within the time space of thirty-six hours. The effect of this concentration is, in many ways, remarkable. For all the events that filled these ten years in the lives of the seven characters, so far as these events are needful for us to know, have to be conveyed to us in the talk of the characters themselves. Thus the conversation is packed full of facts and allusions and reminiscences that work with wonderful power upon the imagination. And, in order to give opportunity for all this mass of essential facts, one-half or more of the entire play (one hundred and thirty-nine pages out of two hundred and seventy-two) has to be given up, before the action of the drama begins, to the talk of the characters with one another. In this way, by the force of Ibsen's peculiar talent, his characters become known to us with an intimacy of personal knowledge that is almost magical. Five days together, I have felt that Hedda and Eilert and Brack, and even poor George, were persons as real as any that I shake hands with. But the strain of this method upon the poet himself is immense. For he has to keep the conversation going with a vivacity that never fails and with a skill that never misses its mark. In Ibsen's hands, however, the method works to a charm. There is not one, I think, in all these one hundred and thirty-nine pages of conversation, where the sparkle of the dialogue fails or the imagination wearies.
The same principle of concentration of interest is applied by Ibsen to his characters also. Thus, to carry on the action of this drama, he makes use of only seven characters. There are many more than these in Shakespeare's chief tragedies (viz., fourteen in the Othello, twenty
one in the Lear, and twenty-four in the Hamlet), and so, by ridding himself of superfluous characters, is Ibsen able to keep the main characters so constantly before us as to impress upon our minds the meaning and import of each. Hedda, for example, is most upon the stage, in forty-six scenes out of fifty-one, an excess of strain upon a single character hardly, I think, to be paralleled. This, as compared with the women of our English romantic drama, is to be regarded as an essential part of Ibsen's dramatic method. In order to make each character impress our minds the more deeply he lessens the number of his characters and increases the prominence of the few that remain.
In all these points that I have named, in unity of plan, in limit of time and in concentration of characters, the method of Ibsen is altogether unlike the method of Shakespeare. It is, in fact, a reversion to the method of the Greeks; and yet, if the separate scenes in Ibsen's dramas be considered one by one, it is plain that he has learned from Shakespeare that which was the grandest element of Shakespeare's skill, viz., his manner of contrasting his separate scenes. In the first place, there is the same careful avoidance of long, unbroken speeches. The give-and-take of the dramatic dialogue is so swift as never to risk the danger of becoming tedious. The longest single speech is not longer than eight lines, about seventy words. By this means the resemblance of the dramatic dialogue to real conversation is made amazingly close.
In the second place, Ibsen has learned from Shakespeare that the real movement of the dramatic action is to be carried forward only by scenes between the characters, by scenes that may be called dialogues -like those between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, or between Othello .and Iago. It is only in such scenes that one human will can be made to act with full force upon another. Thus, in Ibsen's drama, out of fifty-one scenes twenty-four are scenes of two characters, and these are the very scenes that make the play. Scores of these scenes are group:scenes of many characters, which have their inferior unfolding, and each are thirteen in number; and in addition there is one scene of one character, a soliloquy of four lines, the scene in which Hedda burns the manuscript that involves her lover's ruin-for, like Shakespeare, Ibsen believes that soliloquy, the most tremendous of dramatic engines, is to be used most rarely, and only for the attainment of the most tremendous effect. On the contrary, Shelley's Cenci is full of soliloquy.
In the third place, the method of Ibsen is founded upon the method of Shakespeare in what may be called the jointing of his scenes. For each scene, at its beginning, is made by some clever device to attach itself to the scene that has just closed. From this point of junction the new scene is carried onward to its decisive point, the point at which the will of the one character is made to control the action of