(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 11/27.)
Before he was established as a playwright, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) had already attracted notice as a promising poet. Before he wrote the plays for which he is best known today — the 12-play cycle referred to as his "realistic" or "domestic" plays — he had spent over two decades becoming a major European figure in a wholly different realm of playwriting. Until Pillars of Society, the play on which Arthur Miller modeled All My Sons, appeared in 1877, Ibsen was known chiefly as a writer of large-scale, post-Shakespearean dramas, historical or philosophic, of the kind with which writers like Goethe and Schiller had inaugurated the Romantic movement nearly a century earlier.
This prolonged apprenticeship produced some texts that remain both significant and theatrically viable. The two still most familiar, ironically, were both originally written to be read rather than staged. Yet the theatrical imagination behind Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867) packed so much power that people immediately began performing excerpts from both in public readings, and both fairly soon found their way into the world's repertoire. (Peer Gynt got an extra boost from the immense popularity of the incidental music that Edvard Grieg composed for its first production, in 1876.)