Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.
THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Henrik Ibsen wrote an alternate happy ending to A Doll’s House.
A Doll’s House was published by Henrik Ibsen in 1879.
Here is a portrait of Ibsen…
The play was the first of Ibsen’s works to be a massive hit, and it is likely still his most famous work.
The play centers around Nora, a wife and mother who slowly realizes that, all throughout her life, she has been treated as almost like possession – first by her father and now by her husband.
She dramatically, and quite controversially for 1879, leaves her husband and children at the end of the play, responding to her husband’s pleas that the only chance to save their marriage would be if they could completely change their the way they approach their life and marriage, which she says would take “the greatest miracle of them all.”
As she leaves, her husband takes some solace in the hope that said miracle could take place and the play ends with her slamming the door, punctuating her exit.
It was definitely a controversial ending for the time – a woman leaving her family?
It was SO controversial that when it was going to be staged in Berlin, the famous actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe said she would only play the part of Nora if the ending was changed. Having an actress of Raabe’s stature take the part was a major coup for Ibsen, but he, of course, did not approve of the idea of changing the ending of the play.
Raabe felt that she, as a mother, could not possibly fathom a mother leaving her children, so she could not believe that any woman would. The production of the play actually began rehearsing with an ending that they had come up with. That was enough for Ibsen, and he begrudgingly re-wrote the ending of the play to give it a “happy” ending.
Here is that ending….
NORA …Where we could make a real marriage out of our lives together. Goodbye.
(Begins to go)
HELMER Go then! (Seizes her arm.) But first you shall see your children for the last time!
NORA Let me go! I will not see them! I cannot!
HELMER (draws her over to the door, left) You shall see them. (Opens the door and says softly.) Look, there they are asleep, peaceful and carefree. Tomorrow, when they wake up and call for their mother, they will be – motherless.
NORA (trembling) Motherless….!
HELMER As you once were.
NORA Motherless! (Struggles with herself, lets her travelling-bag fall and says.) Oh, this is a sin against myself, but I cannot leave them, (Half sinks down by the door).
HELMER (joyfully, but softly) Nora!
The curtain falls.
Ibsen referred to the new ending as “a barbaric act of violence.”
The new ending was only used a few times, and ultimately, Raabe was convinced that the original ending was much better.
However, the new ending was the one that was used when the play made its way to the United States in the late 19th Century, along with some other additions (like an Irish woman who was played as comic relief).
The legend is…
Thanks to Egil Tornqvist’s Ibsen: A Doll’s House (Plays in Production) for the revised ending.
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