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1 COMPABATIVE i ama Volume 25Winter 1991-92Number 4 Three Stages of A Doll House Brian Johnston A common objection against Ibsen's realism is that when watching an Ibsen play we cannot forget we are in the theater. In a play like A Doll House (Et dukkehjem), with its plot of the sympathetic heroine Nora menaced by the unscrupulous villain Krogstad, we have stock elements of conventional melodrama . Even if we concede that Krogstad is not as villainous as this suggests (nor Nora as sympathetic) and that the melodrama modulates to something more adequate, Krogstad's presence seems to belong more to theater convention than to actual life. Indeed, much of A Doll House, when compared to a later play such as Rosmersholm, resembles an older idea of theater—a theater of somewhat violent and exaggerated stage postures and gestures. Before deploring the histrionic features of A Doll House, we should consider that we are experiencing what Ibsen wants us to—that he is alerting us not merely to inadequacies in our idea of the world but also to inadequacies in our idea of the theatrical rendition of the world, of the way the world aesthetically is represented in the conventional theater. Once we have recognized this, we are ready for the extension of his method in the next play. Indeed, I shall claim that in the three BRIAN JOHNSTON, author of three books on Ibsen: The Ibsen Cycle (1975), To the Third Empire (1980), and Text and Supertexl in Ibsen's Drama (1989), teaches at Carnegie-Mellon University and is editor of Theater Three. 311 312Comparative Drama acts of A Doll House we encounter three progressive stages of his theater. Ibsen's Cycle of twelve plays is a dialectical spiral, Hegel's "winding stairway of despair," and each "loop" of the spiral contains its own world-image and its theater that must be experienced before being discarded. In Modern Drama and German Classicism,^ Benjamin Bennett locates Ibsen within the German dramatic-philosophic tradition stretching from Lessing to Brecht—a post-Kantian tradition particularly aware of the manner in which art addressed the aroused aesthetic consciousness of audiences. This becomes the program of Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind and, Bennett argues, is a profound structural principle of his dramaturgy as indeed it is of that of the other classical German dramatists such as Lessing, Goethe, Kleist, who then bequeathed this program to the modern dramatic tradition. Bennett attempts to prove that the most significant modern drama shares in the project of German Idealist philosophy, beginning with Kant, which addresses a collective communal consciousness aroused to an awareness of its cultural condition, and takes part in the theater in an artistic construct that the audience snares with the author. This communion depends on the retention by the audience of a sense of the artificiality of the drama. It is only by doing so that the tension between aesthetic form and social/cultural content—psychological, historical , ethical, and political "realities" which themselves are artificial constructs—can be enjoyed as a creative tension in which for the duration of a performance the mind of the audience experiences a freedom over these two forms of constraint : the inevitable artificiality of artistic performance on the one hand, and the equally artificial imperfection or inadequacy of what we have made of reality on the other. With regard to the audience's experience of watching Schiller's Maria Stuart, Bennett argues: "As a theater audience we experience in a purer form something which is already an integral part of our experience in general, and the idea of adopting an artistically creative attitude toward our everyday condition does not involve quite so much of a leap as it at first seems to."2 The artifices of Maria Stuart—in which the "Elizabethan" subject with its strong Protestant-Catholic spiritual antinomies is presented with a neo-classical symmetry to express the Romantic themes of the play, in which scenes and characters exactly balance and mirror each other—are meant to be reg- Brian Johnston313 istered by the audience, not ignored as impediments to believing in the "reality" of the stage-fiction. This conscious aesthetic...


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