Places: The Master Builder

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Bygmester Solness, 1892

First produced: 1893 (English translation, 1893)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedSolness home

Solness Master Builder, Thehome. The town, or village, in which the home is located is not named but may be envisaged as within the vicinity of Trondheim, which lies on the west coast of Norway. Slightly northeast of Trondheim lies Størdalshansen, which could be the actual setting of the play. West of this town, on the other side of the fjord, is Stranda; and well northeast of this town on the upper part of the fjord is Levanger. Løvstrand, representing the future, is where the master builder wants to build a villa. Lysanger, the past, is the scene of triumph: There, ten years earlier, against extreme odds, he crowned with a wreath the highest point of the tower of a building he had constructed. The thirteen-year-old Hilde Wangel, who witnessed this event with transcendent pleasure, comes to the Solness home to exact from Solness the fulfillment of a promise she claims he made at that time, namely, to make her a princess and build her a castle. The promise is translated into Solness’s wreathing the tower of his newly built home. He wreathes the tower at Hilde’s insistence and to her joy but then falls to his death. The location of the home, below the mountains and below, or south of, the scene of his past triumph, comports with Solness’s situation as a relatively successful man (a master builder but not an architect) who will die attempting the impossible, that is, to repeat his triumph, rather than go on to old age while younger professionals surpass him.

BibliographyClurman, Harold. “Fears and flights.” In Ibsen. New York: Collier Books, 1977. A discussion of the last four plays, in which Ibsen abandons social polemics to probe his own failures as a man and an artist. Clurman points out biographical parallels in Ibsen’s life and the character of Solness.Knight, G. Wilson. “The Ascent.” In Henrik Ibsen. New York: Grove Press, 1962. Knight describes the central symbolic action of The Master Builder as the climbing of a tower–to live one’s art. The play coalesces an external event with spiritual meaning.Meyer, Michael. “The Master Builder.” In Ibsen: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. Discusses the inception and writing of the play, its reception by critics, Ibsen’s deliberate self-portrayal, and theme of an old man’s fear of and longing for youth.Muir, Kenneth. “Ibsen.” In Last Periods of Shakespeare, Racine, Ibsen. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961. Discusses how Ibsen’s last four plays are linked in theme; each protagonist is a genius facing conflicting claims of vocation and personal life, each is compelled to recognize his guilt, and each expresses Ibsen’s own personal conflicts.Shaw, Bernard. “The Master Builder.” In The Quintessence of Ibsenism. New York: Hill & Wang, 1957. Shaw’s classic introduction of Ibsen remains invaluable. Shaw concludes that old gentlemen and poetic young women are apt to build castles in the air.
Categories: Places