Places: The Wild Duck

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Vildanden, 1884 (English translation, 1891)

First produced: 1885

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedWerle house

Werle Wild Duck, Thehouse. Home of the wealthy industrialist Haakon Werle in which the play opens. Shaded lamps in its rich study cast a greenish glow, giving the illusion of a forest or seascape setting. Werle’s former partner, Old Ekdal, begs release from a locked office, symbolizing his earlier imprisonment. The dim study screens him and allows others to ignore him. A brilliant inner room and other chambers suggest depth of place and characters.

Ekdal house

Ekdal house. Shabby home of the Ekdal family in which the play’s second act is set at night. A single lamp in the set suggests Old Ekdal’s poverty, stressing the contrast with Werle’s brilliantly lighted home.

Old Ekdal spends most of his time in a garret, in which he keeps a curious assortment of animals. He pretends that the garret with its old Christmas trees is a forest like the one in which he hunted as a young man. The ambiguous attic place suggests freedom but is actually a prison to the animals. Although the family bases its life primarily on self-deception and illusion, the Ekdal home is a happy one.

When Gregers visits the house to see his friend Hjalmar Ekdal, he is appalled by its condition and vows to reveal the truth to the Ekdals. To that end, he rents a room in the house. When he smokes up the house, pours water into the stove, and makes the floor a “wet pigsty,” the disaster symbolizes the family disruption caused by Gregers’s revealing the truth. The subsequent darkness of the place symbolizes melancholy; darkness and sadness remain, despite a lighted lamp with no shade. Hedvig believes that in daylight (symbolizing truth and happiness) their place (family) will again be stable. When he threatens to leave, Gina says they need an attic place (illusion) for happiness. This attic place, however, later brings grief–not happiness. Gregers’s closing metaphor for himself uses place: He is the thirteenth place at a table and a source of unrest.

BibliographyCaputi, Anthony, ed. Eight Modern Plays. 2d ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991. Dounia B. Christiani’s translation of The Wild Duck is supplemented with excerpts from Ibsen’s letters and speeches and two chapters from books by M. C. Bradbrook and Dorothea Krook. Bradbook’s contribution explains how the play works on different levels simultaneously, and Krook remarks on the subtlety of Ibsen’s theme of self-deception. Caputi’s foreword provides an excellent introduction to Ibsen and twentieth century drama.Clurman, Harold. Ibsen. New York: Macmillan, 1977. An introductory study that provides the general reader with a good starting place for reading about Ibsen. Clurman, a renowned stage director, comments with sensitivity on the plays as both theater and literature. Includes an instructive discussion of The Wild Duck, which concludes that Gregers’ zealotry leads him to misjudge Hjalmar’s essentially mundane nature.Fjelde, Rolf, ed. Ibsen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. Sixteen essays cover, among other topics, Ibsen’s conception of truth, realism, and stage craftsmanship. Robert Raphael discusses the theme of self-deception in The Wild Duck and two other Ibsen plays.Lyons, Charles R., ed. Critical Essays on Henrik Ibsen. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. A thorough and useful volume of essays that collects discussions addressing the ideology, realism, and dramatic form of Ibsen’s plays. The remarks on The Wild Duck explore the play’s structure, language, and exposition.McFarlane, James, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. A collection of sixteen newly written essays on Ibsen’s life and work, which include discussions of Ibsen’s working methods and the stage history of the plays. A helpful source.
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