Author(s): Henrik IbsenDownload
First performed in 1892, this psychological drama is one of the great Norwegian playwright’s most symbolic and lyrical works. The drama explores the insecurities of an aging architect, Halvard Solness, who suspects that his creative powers have diminished with age. Solness finds strength of purpose in his involvement with Hilda — his muse, inspiration, and ardent believer in his greatness — but their association leads to a conflict between heroic myth and complicated reality.
Some Reviews: 147 in Goodreads.com
The Master Builder (or “A Master Builder” as my translation is titled) is a play by Henrik Ibsen. This particular edition of the play I’m reading was translated and adapted by Wallace Shawn for the film directed by Jonathan Demme. Strange that Shawn not only adapted the film, but played the main character too. I haven’t seen it yet, but from that knowledge alone I am skeptical to see the film.
The Master Builder is an intense character study on the acclaimed master builder Halvard Solness who is aging closer to his death and feels troubled by his career and the life he has left behind. His relationship with his wife is distant, and his own employee he’s kept at arm’s length for the sole purpose of having his son’s fiancee around to cheat with behind his wife’s back. And he has many secrets.
Halvard Solness is a truly complex character. He has his greater qualities and lesser ones but in the end I found a lot of sympathy with him. He feels like he’s cheated everyone else for his own success, and continues to feel terrible in spite of his success. By the end, I felt great that he triumphed (in part) against the odds stacked against him, but the road there was a little rocky. For one, the conflict doesn’t seem as prevalent in this work. It just pops in whenever a new character walks in. Most of the time we see Halvard and Hilde Wangel, and the other characters occasionally pop in to remind you about their conflict with Halvard. It doesn’t feel as organic as Ibsen’s other works like Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. I understood Ragnar’s resentment towards Halvard, but he spent such little time in the play that I never felt like I understood him any better than that he was angry at Halvard.
While it has it’s faults, The Master Builder is still a triumph of drama by Ibsen. Halvard Solness is such a deep and intriguing character that I wished the play were longer so I could see more of his interactions with Hilde. This is a high recommendation.
As a kid, I found Ibsen boring. I could hardly get past the first 5 pages of the less-than-ordinary life so often portrayed. But now, as an adult with a wife, kid, job, and mortgage, I have much more appreciation for Ibsen and tons of respect for the message in THE MASTER BUILDER.
Having moved from a very small (by North American standards), cold, and drab apartment to a larger, warmer, and much more beautiful house, I can appreciate the yearning to create and to take ownership. After undergoing countless meetings with our architecture firm and now living in our new home, I recognize how wonderful it is to live in a place that has been uniquely designed for me and my family. And yet, as a liver in that home, I constantly feel the pull of materialism as I consider how to continue my journey into further degrees of human comfort. Getting too caught up in this world, I know, takes away from the joy of living in a custom-designed home that was made to suit my lifestyle.
I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be our architect. He must walk around each and every one of his creations, admiring them on one hand but constantly considering the changes he would have made and will make in new designs. Take that feeling and multiply it by ten and then add the impact of the lure of power and you have The Master Builder, or Halvard Solness, the main character in the play of the same name.
This is a quick, beautiful read with not such a quick message. Read, think, and think some more over this one. Are you at a point in life where you can appreciate the subtleties of Ibsen?
All of my unemployed friends began to volunteer
– or –
That is not an answer that I can accept
I think it was my English teacher that once advised me “A claustrophobic commentary, uniformly doomy, can be magnificently memorable provided perfectly complementary tight, tense, terse rhythms are reproducible and rarely retracted by way of restraint and understatement within this glorious game.”
I ignored her advice and continue to be, still, a wallflower RE: the human journey.
Wallflower or not, I used to be a social drinker and now I feel that I am a conscious drinker, as in “When I’m conscious, I drink.” I fear that when the social aspect again enters my drinking it will be much too late for me and I will find myself, instead, that of a social security drinker.
Whatever. I am well read. I look good in flairs. And I am still attempting to give back to the world a portion of its lost heart.
Note: All hate mail for this piece should be addressed to the Rimbau Medical Arts Center.
Why yes, I am reading my way through a bunch of the plays Eva Le Gallienne produced at the Civic Rep in the 1920’s.
I HAVE SO MANY CONFLICTING FEELINGS ABOUT THIS PLAY. MY GOD. On the one hand, I think Solness is a predatory creep (and I don’t know if Ibsen thought he was, which is UNCOMFORTABLE*), and it’s also uncomfortable how much Hilde idealizes him (and definitely has shades of that “young woman inexplicably very attracted to a man 30 years older than she is” thing that old male writers like to do). But then, Hilde definitely gets her revenge on Solness? Although she doesn’t conceptualize it that way? But she’s definitely pretty okay with the outcome? I DON’T EVEN KNOW. WHAT DID I JUST READ. HOW IS IT DOING THIS TO ME.
*I was super weirded out by the quoted Ibsen remarks in the intro about Solness being somewhat autobiographical. After doing a little more research, I feel slightly better because Ibsen was much less of a creep than Solness. Way to undersell yourself, Ibsen.
I love hating Solness. His pompous arrogance and his philandering and his insecurity make him a cretin and, then, there’s that romantic, inspirational charm about him, and a kind of loyalty to his wife that redeems him enough that I hate loving him.
Ibsen’s plays earn their fame because each character has complexity, ambiguity, and a backstory that comes out in the playing. The Master Builder demonstrates this. The supporting characters develop as much as the lead.
I once saw it performed at Bread Loaf during the summer of ’01, I think, and I can still see the scaffolding with Halvard Solness atop it.
The direct download links after 2 shortened URLs. We depend on ad revenue to keep maintaining this site for you to enjoy for free.