Essay, Research Paper
“Well-Made Play” Techniques in Ibsen?s A Doll?s House
Henrik Ibsen?s A Doll?s House is a classic example of a modern realistic play. But is it a “well-made play?” Eugene Scribe?s idea of a “well-made play” was designed to present audiences with plots which are interesting and suspenseful and characters that are easy to understand. However, when the “well-made play” criteria is strictly observed, plays lose some of their appeal due to the structural repetition. A Doll?s House combines some of Scribe?s “well-made play” techniques with Ibsen?s own ideas (which become the foundations of realism) to provide audiences with a play which attempts to portray humans truthfully.
Every “well-made play” opens with motivated exposition when the actors reveal necessary information to the audience. Moreover, the information is presented in such a way in which it seems logical for this information to be brought up. Scribe was fond of using conversations between servants to introduce the audience to the situation. In A Doll?s House, Isben uses conversations between Nora and Mrs. Linde to set up the action. It is perfectly logical for two school friends to become caught up with the other?s life, thereby also bringing the audience up to date. This technique not only works well to introduce the action, but also to help the audience to feel as though they are included in an intimate conversation with the characters. However, Ibsen does not solely rely on motivated exposition to set the scene. There are times in A Doll?s House where Ibsen does not allow the characters to reveal information until it is needed in the character?s situation. Known as retrospective analysis, this technique was first used by Ibsen, later to become a staple in realistic drama. Isben does not have Mrs. Linde reveal her close relationship to Krogstad until she decides that it is pertinent to helping Nora in her situation.
Another technique used to define a “well-made play” is the use of a raissoneur character. This character serves as a guide or leader to the audience and often reveals the opinions of the playwright. Although Ibsen does not have a character whose only purpose is to be “the reasoner,” he does use Dr. Rank to express his feelings towards Nora and her situation. Dr. Rank represents reality. He enters the Helmer?s house in order to escape reality (in his case, a terminal illness). Moreover, when Dr. Rank “escapes” to the Helmer house, he brings reality with him. Isben uses Dr. Rank to illustrate that the Helmer house is a “doll house” where no one cares to pay attention to reality. One sees the effects of Dr. Rank?s bringing reality to the house as everything begins to fall apart. Dr. Rank represents Ibsen?s main idea of not hiding from reality and taking control of one?s own life.
Scribe also uses pointers and planters in developing a “well-made play.” A pointer gives important information to the audience. Scribe thought since this information was so important to the outcome of the play, it must be repeated three times in order to ensure that the audience has heard it. A planter is an object which is “planted” on stage and is an integral part of the plot. For example, if a gun is needed to shoot someone in Act III, the audience will see the gun and know where it is on stage during Acts I and II. In A Doll?s House, the letters from Krogstad serve as planters. The audience knows the letter is sitting in the mailbox. Moreover, the letter is referred to several times by Nora, thereby also serving as a pointer. In Scribe?s plays, pointers and planters were used to eliminate resolving the play suddenly by new information (Deus ex machina). A Doll?s House, an example of early realism, relies less on planters and pointers to justify a solution simply because the play is more grounded in reality.
Cliffhangers, which are used to carry the audience?s attention to the next scene, were also a device used by Scribe. Isben also used them to an extent. He carries the audience?s attention to the next scene by using the planters and pointers to remind the audience of the imminent danger. The letter from Krogstad is a prime example of a cliffhanger. Also, Isben uses the tarantella as a deadline for Nora. The audience is pushing along until the dance is finshed.. The audience is carried through different scenes until a solution is finally presented in the scene-a-faire. In this necessary scene, the main point of the play is resolved. In A Doll?s House, Isben presents more than one scene-a-faire, which leads up to the main resolution. The first scene occurs when Nora practices the tarantella, and declares she only has thirty-one hours to live. She has decided to kill herself once her husband finds out she borrowed money behind his back. The second scene is between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad. After agreeing to marry Mrs. Linde, Krogstad declares he will no longer go after Nora for the money. This would be a seeming happy ending to the play; however, Mrs. Linde insists that Nora learns a lesson. Therefore, the third, and largest, scene-a-faire occurs when Torvald learns what Nora has done. Nora finally realizes that she must take control of her own life, and leaves her family behind.
Although Isben uses many of the conventional “well-made play” techniques in A Doll?s House, he develops his ideas more fully. In doing so, both the plot and the characters seem less formulated and more human. Therefore, in blending “well-made play” techniques with truthfulness, Isben took the first steps in developing what is now known as realism.