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"Diverse Galskaber" in Ibsen's The Wild Duck Brian Johnston In 1906, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to Clara Rilke about his cultural activities in Paris and noted: But the most remarkable part of this very long day was the evening. We saw Ibsen's Wild Duck at the Antoine. Excellently rehearsed, with a great deal of care and shaping—marvelous. Of course, by reason of certain differences in temperament, details were distorted, crooked, misunderstood. But the poetry! ... all its splendour came from the inside and almost to the surface. There was something great, deep, essential. Last Judgement. A finality. And suddenly the hour was there when Ibsen's majesty deigned to look at me for the first time. A new poet, whom we shall approach by many roads now that I know of one of them. And again someone who is misunderstood in the midst of fame. Someone quite different from what one hears. . . .' That the image of the Last Judgment should flash through Rilke's mind suggests that Ibsen's audacious supertext did well up "from the inside and almost to the surface" as it seems to have done for Robert Raphael too who, in a sensitive account of the play, observed of the strange Ekdal attic and its menagerie: Hedvig and her grandfather approach their world with a devotion and ritual akin to religious reverence, for the attic with the duck and other treasures may be considered a metaphor for the Christian paradise: it performs in their lives exactly the same function as does a traditional church for many people. Existing on the top floor of the Ekdal microcosm, the attic is the summum bonum in their lives; it provides them, just like heaven, with a world of pure value, a realm of nearly perfect orientation. The Ekdals keep returning to this private religion for sustenance just as people do with any traditional illusion that is sacred to them.2 In The Ibsen Cycle (1975), I outlined how The Wild Duck recreated the Christian phase in the long history of the human spirit explored by Hegel and, I claimed, recovered in Ibsen's own 41 42Comparative Drama imaginative and independent terms in his cycle of twelve realist plays. The Wild Duck inaugurated at the same time the second part of Ibsen's three-part cycle. The sequence in which Hegel acts out the spirit's long travail from the time of the Roman empire through the myth of the Fall and the sacrifice of the "natural world" up to the pre-Enlightenment period of the "sun king" and his court is perhaps the richest in the Phenomenology. It is a sequence, like the others in the Phenomenology, that has shaped our modern identity and that therefore, if we are fully to know ourselves, must be relived imaginatively by a present act of remembrance.3 In this essay I want to examine the interplay of competing levels of dramatic metaphor, verbal and visual, in Ibsen's drama: the highly conscious intertextuality of his art— those moments in Ibsen's text when the supertext momentarily wells up through the language of everyday life. A struggle takes place between text and supertext for the play's dominant language , and it is the struggle itself, the way in which the spirit invades and infuses a despiritualized everyday reality, that constitutes a major conflict of the play. In The Wild Duck the struggle is especially rich because of the unusual number of competing voices and visions that contribute to the struggle, with the messianic (Gregers) and the diabolic (Relling) at the lingual extremes. Gina's language is literal, lapsing into malapropism; old Ekdal's a language of superstition and of the world of nature: "Der er haevn i skogen" ("there's vengeance in the forests" [IV, 255]).4 His son Hjalmar has evolved a sentimentally evasive and self-deluding rhetoric under the promptings of Relling, who himself introduces to the discourse of the household the deceptive language of the "livsl0gnen " ("life-lie" [IV, 302]). Gregers Werle infuses this lingual brew with a potent language of parable, symbol, and metaphor in the service of what he believes are truths transcending the quotidian world of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 41-71
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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