Sunday Selections: Ghosts

Bust of Henrik Ibsen

For this week’s edition of Sunday Selections I’m going with Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. (You can’t go wrong with Ibsen!)

This play generated a great deal of controversy with one reviewer calling it “Gross, almost putrid indecorum…. Literary carrion…. Crapulous stuff”. Well, at least that person has something in common with Ibsen: he doesn’t hold back! This play deals with issues such as venereal disease, incest, rebellion against a church’s oppressive rules, and, God forbid, not wanting to stay in a loveless marriage.

One scene I appreciated was when Oswald talks to Manders about people living together and/or being in a relationship without being married first. Manders nearly keels over at what Oswald is saying, as Oswald is so done with Manders’ black and white thinking. I’m not against marriage, nor is this play. The point is, life isn’t always so simple and people shouldn’t have to throw away their happiness when something is unrealistic. This grim reality is all too familiar with Mrs. Alving who is mercilessly badgered by Manders for wanting to leave her husband because he made her life hell. And let me just say this play has a lot of twists and revelations and for that reason it’s not to be missed.

To say that Ibsen was one brave and bold man would be an understatement. Let me put it this way: In 1898, during a dinner in Ibsen’s honour, King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway told Ibsen that Ghosts was not a good play. Ibsen paused… and then exploded “your Majesty, I had to write Ghosts!”

Ibsen wrote a play about topics no one was talking about. But many people who were hurt by an unkind, unfair society were certainly thinking about these issues and still are. It’s not just about being bold, it’s about giving those people a voice! This is what makes this play so important, and this is why we need theater!

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