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A Dolls House Setting Analysis Essay

It is Christmas Eve in the Helmer family's apartment, which is furnished “comfortably but not extravagantly.” Nora enters with parcels, leaving a porter at the door with a Christmas tree, which she tells a maid to hide so that her children will not see it. She nibbles on some macaroons she has bought, but she hides them too when her husband, Torvald, comes out of his study. Torvald has recently been given a new job as a bank manager. Discussing her purchases with him, Nora is keen to spend more money, believing that her husband’s new job will mean that the family no longer has to be careful with money.

In a series of complaints, Torvald chastises Nora for being a spendthrift, suggesting that she inherits the trait from her father. He points out that his new salary is not to be paid until April, and he wonders what would happen to her if he were to die before that time. He then gives her extra money to spend on presents, and he asks her what she would like as a Christmas gift. She asks for money. Torvald reminds her of the previous Christmas, when Nora apparently locked herself in a room to surprise everyone with homemade ornaments, which the cat then tore to bits. Torvald then asks her if she has bought any sweets or cakes in town—she lies and says no.

Nora is talking about Christmas again when the maid interrupts, announcing two visitors: an unknown woman, who is shown into the (onstage) living room, and Dr. Rank, who is shown into Torvald’s study via a door (offstage). Torvald exits to his study, and Nora greets the stranger, whom she eventually recognizes as Mrs. Christine Linde, a friend from school whom she has not seen for almost a decade. Mrs. Linde is a widow. She tells Nora she feels that she has become much older. She had married her husband, not for love, but to provide financial and domestic security to her bedridden mother and her two younger brothers. Her mother has died and her brothers are adults, so she is now free to make her own life. But since her husband died penniless, she has had to work extremely hard for the past few years in order to support her relatives. In the course of this conversation about their lives since they last met, Nora mentions Torvald’s new job and Mrs. Linde reveals that she came to see the Helmers to try to get a job from Torvald at the bank.

Mrs. Linde makes an offhand remark about how little Nora has had to worry about in life. She even calls Nora a child. Nora responds that she and Torvald both have had to work very hard to fund the life they have. In fact, she reports, early in their marriage, Torvald fell ill, and the doctor insisted that he must take a very costly vacation to Italy in order to recover. Since Torvald refused to borrow money, Nora borrowed it secretly, pretending it had come from her father. She has managed, secretly, to pay the quarterly installments and interest over the years. Nora now hopes that Torvald’s new job will provide her with enough money to pay off the debts entirely.

Returning to the present, Nora happily reports that Torvald has been in good health ever since their trip. Mrs. Linde asks Nora whether she ever plans to tell Torvald. Nora replies that she may someday do so, if her good looks and charm wear off and she is in need of some way to keep Torvald’s interest in her—but not yet.

The doorbell rings, and the maid informs Nora that Krogstad, who works at the bank, desires to see Torvald. Krogstad had loaned Nora the money, so she is shocked and worried that Krogstad has come to inform Torvald of the secret. She asks Krogstad about his business visiting them. Krogstad assures her that he comes only on bank business. When Krogstad goes into the study, Dr. Rank comes out to chat with Nora and Mrs. Linde.

Dr. Rank discusses with them the human urge to sustain life. He grudgingly admits that he wants to preserve his own life despite the physical pain his disease causes him. He then begins to discuss moral corruption, denouncing Krogstad as his immediate example.

Nora suddenly bursts out laughing. Not explaining herself to Mrs. Linde or Dr. Rank, she asks if the employees of the bank will be under the power of Torvald after his promotion. She revels in the idea. Still happy, she offers a macaroon to Dr. Rank. She claims that the macaroons were a gift from Mrs. Linde. Nora then impulsively shares with Mrs. Linde and Dr. Rank that there is something that she would very much like to say if Torvald were able to hear: “Bloody hell!” Her companions’ reactions are cut short by the emergence of Torvald from the study.

Having dispatched Krogstad, Torvald returns to the living room. Nora immediately asks him to give Mrs. Linde employment, and Torvald suggests that he can probably get her a job. Nora reminds Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde that they are expected to return the same evening, and as Dr. Rank exits with Torvald, a nurse shows in the three children. While they are engrossed in a game of hide-and-seek, Krogstad knocks and half enters the room. The game abruptly stops when his presence is recognized. Nora, somewhat shocked, sends the children out to the nurse and speaks to Krogstad.

Krogstad asks whether Mrs. Linde has been given an appointment at the bank. Nora confirms this and cautions Krogstad to be careful about offending Torvald, for Krogstad will be Torvald’s subordinate at the bank. Krogstad then asks Nora to use her influence to ensure that he will be able to keep his position at the bank. Nora is confused and explains that she has no influence on such matters. In response, Krogstad reveals that he is prepared to fight for his position at the bank as if for his life, implying that he will not hesitate to reveal Nora’s secret. Krogstad explains that his reputation at the bank, sullied by an indiscretion in the distant past, is extremely important to him and his social respectability. He threatens again to reveal Nora’s secret. Nora then vehemently responds that he can do his worst. At this, Krogstad reveals that he knows that Nora, by signing her father’s signature and dating it three days after his death, committed fraud in order to secure her loan. Nora refuses to believe that any court of law would convict her of a crime she committed only in order to save her husband’s life. Krogstad leaves, still threatening to reveal what he knows.

When Krogstad leaves, Nora’s children enter. Nora tells them not to mention Krogstad’s visit to Torvald. She also reneges on her earlier promise to play with them, shooing them away. Nora begins to decorate the Christmas tree, and Torvald enters, asking what Krogstad came for. Nora asks about the nature of Krogstad’s past indiscretion, and Torvald reveals that it was forgery. He condemns Krogstad in strong terms for failing to admit it. Torvald admits that he would have forgiven the man had Krogstad owned up to his lie. He suggests that such moral hypocrisy would even infect Krogstad’s family. Torvald makes Nora promise never to plead Krogstad’s case again. He also reveals his intention to fire Krogstad from the bank. Torvald exits to his study. Nora will not allow the children to come into the same room with her. Prompted by Torvald’s comments about moral corruption over forgeries, she is terrified that she will “infect” her own children.


In the tradition of the time, well-made plays used the first act as an exposition, the second to treat an event, and the third to unravel the issue. Ibsen will diverge from the pattern in the third act, but here the beginning is traditional, establishing the tensions that will explode later in the play. Ibsen sets up the act by introducing the central topic, Nora’s character.

Specifically, the topic is Nora’s relation to the home or the world outside the home. Nora is a symbol of the women of her time, who were thought to be content with the luxuries of modern society without worrying about the men’s world outside the home. Many women were, but others were not, both as a matter of interest and as a matter of principle. Nora does delight in material wealth; Torvald is not entirely wrong in labeling her a spendthrift from an early age. She projects the attitude that money is the key to happiness. The issue is not quite so simple, though, for Nora’s one great expense was to serve her husband’s need to travel far from home for the sake of his health.

Nora already demonstrates some personal complexity, but generally she seems to have a fairly simplistic interaction with the outside world. This pattern is not entirely her fault, for she has not had any real opportunity to take her chances there. She moved from her father’s home to her husband’s. Torvald’s treatment of Nora as a small, helpless child exacerbates Nora’s isolation from reality.

In this context, note that a doll’s house is a child’s toy that often allows children to play at being adults. The exterior world, moreover, never makes it onto the stage. Nora is the doll in the house, and the house is the only location we see. Torvald controls the stage on which Nora is an actor who generally believes that this pretend-world is the real one. Just as Nora relates to the exterior world primarily through material objects, Torvald relates to Nora as an object that is possessed, a doll to be controlled within a small sphere.

Torvald’s attitude pervades every word he speaks to Nora, and his objectification of her is most evident in his diminutive pet names for her. She is his little “lark” and “squirrel” and, later, his “songbird.” Similarly, Torvald repeatedly calls Nora his “little one” or “little girl,” maintaining the atmosphere of subordination more appropriate to a father than a husband. As for Nora, we see in this first conversation that she seems entirely dependent on Torvald for her money, her food, and her shelter, despite the fact that she is keeping a secret. This secret is the kernel of her individuality and her escape from the doll’s house.

Nora’s skewed vision of the world is most evident in her interactions with Mrs. Linde. Whereas her old school friend is wizened and somber, Nora is impetuous. Her choice to tell Mrs. Linde about her secret seems to be more the boast of a child than the actions of a thoughtful adult, and Mrs. Linde also refers to her as a child. Nora’s naïve view of the law—that the law would not prosecute a forgery carried out in the name of a good purpose like love—reinforces the idea that Nora is fundamentally unaware of the ways of the real world.

Still, it is apparent that Nora is at least partly aware that her doll-like life is not the only choice. When pressed about whether she will ever tell Torvald about the loan, she replies that she will, in time. For now, she believes that telling him would upset the balance in her home. Torvald’s position as the manly provider and lawgiver is something that she is willing to manipulate, at least from within the home. She knows that other women, like Mrs. Linde, have different levels of freedom and autonomy. It is important to examine the language of the opening scene between Nora and Torvald in this context. Nora’s words could be partly sincere and partly insincere; the text suggests an ambiguity in Nora’s awareness of her situation. This ambiguity is perhaps why Nora’s character is so popular for actors to play; actors can use gesture and voice inflection to signal the true level of Nora’s satisfaction with her sheltered place in the home and in Torvald’s life.

Nevertheless, she does not seem want to face the implications of a choice to escape her confinement. She believes that material wealth will render her “free from care,” allowing her not just to repay the debt but also to play with her children, keep the house beautifully, and do everything the way that Torvald likes. The lie about the loan can be preserved. She seems content with her one great secret, her knowledge that she has done something for Torvald entirely without prompting from him. When Mrs. Linde complains that she feels unspeakably empty without anyone to care for, Nora can feel some comfort in her domestic situation with children and a husband, and this ideal of domestic tranquility is reiterated throughout the text.

It is a happy first act for the family, but Krogstad’s presence launches the crisis that will consume Nora’s attention. The family seems functional, the room is comfortable, and Nora seems to have the Christmas spirit (for instance, she generously tips the porter who brings in the Christmas tree). The family seems to be, as Aristotle might have had it, at the height of happiness—from which they will tumble downhill. Nora’s secret, which might come out before its time, puts an ominous cloud over the doll’s house. The outside world now invades the home in the form of Mrs. Linde and then Krogstad. These machinations about who should get the banking jobs, complicated by Krogstad’s threat to reveal the secret and by Torvald’s denunciation of Krogstad, are just too much for Nora to manage.

Perhaps the coldness of the Norwegian winter in which the play is set represents the coolness, societal conformity, and comfortable routine of Nora’s world. In contrast is a kind of repressed Italy—referenced most obviously in Nora’s outfit and the tarantella—featuring heat, passion, truth, desire, and the flame of individuality. Nora’s secret is bound to come out. Ibsen has set up an ironic inevitability. All who know are waiting for the moment at which the lie falls apart. Torvald almost is cuckolded by the lie.

"Dr. Rank" redirects here. For the Austrian psychoanalyst, see Otto Rank. For other uses, see A Doll's House (disambiguation).

A Doll's House

Original manuscript cover page, 1879

Written byHenrik Ibsen
  • Nora
  • Torvald Helmer
  • Krogstad
  • Mrs. Linde
  • Dr. Rank
  • Children
  • Anne-Marie
  • Helene
Date premiered21 December 1879 (1879-12-21)
Place premieredRoyal Theatre
in Copenhagen, Denmark
Original languageDanish
SubjectThe awakening of a middle-class wife and mother.
GenreNaturalistic / realisticproblem play
Modern tragedy
SettingThe home of the Helmer family in an unspecified Norwegian town or city, circa 1879.

A Doll's House (Bokmål: Et dukkehjem; also translated as A Doll House) is a three-act play written by Norway's Henrik Ibsen. It premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 21 December 1879, having been published earlier that month.[1] The play is set in a Norwegian town circa 1879.

The play is significant for the way it deals with the fate of a married woman, who at the time in Norway lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world. It aroused a great sensation at the time,[2] and caused a “storm of outraged controversy” that went beyond the theatre to the world newspapers and society.[3]

In 2006, the centennial of Ibsen's death, A Doll's House held the distinction of being the world's most performed play that year.[4]UNESCO has inscribed Ibsen's autographed manuscripts of A Doll's House on the Memory of the World Register in 2001, in recognition of their historical value.[5]

The title of the play is most commonly translated as A Doll's House, though some scholars use A Doll House. John Simon says that A Doll’s House is "the British term for what we call a 'dollhouse'".[6]Egil Törnqvist says of the alternative title: "Rather than being superior to the traditional rendering, it simply sounds more idiomatic to Americans."[7]

List of characters[edit]

  • Nora Helmer – wife of Torvald, mother of three, is living out the ideal of the 19th-century wife, but leaves her family at the end of the play.
  • Torvald Helmer – Nora's husband, a newly promoted bank manager, professes to be enamoured of his wife but their marriage stifles her.
  • Dr. Rank – a rich family friend, he is secretly in love with Nora. He is terminally ill, and it is implied that his "tuberculosis of the spine" originates from a venereal disease contracted by his father.
  • Kristine Linde – Nora's old school friend, widowed, is seeking employment (sometimes spelled Christine in English translations). She was in a relationship with Krogstad prior to the play's setting.
  • Nils Krogstad – an employee at Torvald's bank, single father, he is pushed to desperation. A supposed scoundrel, he is revealed to be a long-lost lover of Christine.
  • The Children – Nora and Torvald's children: Ivar, Bobby and Emmy
  • Anne Marie – Nora's former nanny, who gave up her own daughter to "strangers" when she became, as she says, the only mother Nora knew. She now cares for Nora's children.[8]
  • Helen – the Helmers' maid
  • The Porter – delivers a Christmas tree to the Helmer household at the beginning of the play.


Act One[edit]

The play opens at Christmas time as Nora Helmer enters her home carrying many packages. Nora's husband Torvald is working in his study when she arrives. He playfully rebukes her for spending so much money on Christmas gifts, calling her his "little squirrel." He teases her about how the previous year she had spent weeks making gifts and ornaments by hand because money was scarce. This year Torvald is due a promotion at the bank where he works, so Nora feels that they can let themselves go a little. The maid announces two visitors: Mrs. Kristine Linde, an old friend of Nora's, who has come seeking employment; and Dr. Rank, a close friend of the family, who is let into the study. Kristine has had a difficult few years, ever since her husband died leaving her with no money or children. Nora says that things have not been easy for them either: Torvald became sick, and they had to travel to Italy so he could recover. Kristine explains that when her mother was ill she had to take care of her brothers, but now that they are grown she feels her life is "unspeakably empty." Nora promises to talk to Torvald about finding her a job. Kristine gently tells Nora that she is like a child. Nora is offended, so she reveals that she borrowed money from "some admirer," so they could travel to Italy to improve Torvald's health. She told Torvald that her father gave her the money, but in fact she managed to illegally borrow it without his knowledge. Over the years, she has been secretly working and saving up to pay it off.

Krogstad, a lower-level employee at Torvald's bank, arrives and goes into the study. Nora is clearly uneasy when she sees him. Dr. Rank leaves the study and mentions that he feels wretched, though like everyone he wants to go on living. In contrast to his physical illness, he says that the man in the study, Krogstad, is "morally diseased."

After the meeting with Krogstad, Torvald comes out of the study. Nora asks him if he can give Kristine a position at the bank and Torvald is very positive, saying that this is a fortunate moment, as a position has just become available. Torvald, Kristine, and Dr. Rank leave the house, leaving Nora alone. The nanny returns with the children and Nora plays with them for a while until Krogstad creeps into the living room and surprises her. Krogstad tells Nora that Torvald intends to fire him at the bank and asks her to intercede with Torvald to allow him to keep his job. She refuses, and Krogstad threatens to blackmail her about the loan she took out for the trip to Italy; he knows that she obtained this loan by forging her father's signature. Krogstad leaves and when Torvald returns, Nora tries to convince him not to fire Krogstad. Torvald refuses to hear her pleas, explaining that Krogstad is a liar and a hypocrite and that he committed a terrible crime: he forged someone's name. Torvald feels physically ill in the presence of a man "poisoning his own children with lies and dissimulation."

Act Two[edit]

Kristine arrives to help Nora repair a dress for a costume function that she and Torvald plan to attend the next day. Torvald returns from the bank, and Nora pleads with him to reinstate Krogstad, claiming she is worried Krogstad will publish libelous articles about Torvald and ruin his career. Torvald dismisses her fears and explains that, although Krogstad is a good worker and seems to have turned his life around, he must be fired because he is not deferential enough to Torvald in front of other bank personnel. Torvald then retires to his study to work.

Dr. Rank, the family friend, arrives. Nora asks him for a favor, but Rank responds by revealing that he has entered the terminal stage of tuberculosis of the spine and that he has always been secretly in love with her. Nora tries to deny the first revelation and make light of it, but is more disturbed by his declaration of love. She tries clumsily to tell him that she is not in love with him, but that she loves him dearly as a friend.

Desperate after being fired by Torvald, Krogstad arrives at the house. Nora convinces Dr. Rank to go into Torvald's study so he will not see Krogstad. When Krogstad confronts Nora, he declares that he no longer cares about the remaining balance of Nora's loan, but that he will instead preserve the associated bond to blackmail Torvald into not only keeping him employed but also promoting him. Nora explains that she has done her best to persuade her husband, but he refuses to change his mind. Krogstad informs Nora that he has written a letter detailing her crime (forging her father's signature of surety on the bond) and put it in Torvald's mailbox, which is locked.

Nora tells Kristine of her difficult situation. Having had a relationship with Krogstad in the past before her marriage, Kristine says that they are still in love and promises to try to convince him to relent.

Torvald enters and tries to retrieve his mail, but Nora distracts him by begging him to help her with the dance she has been rehearsing for the costume party, feigning anxiety about performing. She dances so badly and acts so childishly that Torvald agrees to spend the whole evening coaching her. When the others go to dinner, Nora stays behind for a few minutes and contemplates killing herself to save her husband from the shame of the revelation of her crime and to pre-empt any gallant gesture on his part to save her reputation.

Act Three[edit]

Kristine tells Krogstad that she only married her husband because she had no other means to support her sick mother and young siblings and that she has returned to offer him her love again. She believes that he would not have stooped to unethical behavior if he had not been devastated by her abandonment and been in dire financial straits. Krogstad is moved and offers to take back his letter to Torvald. However, Kristine decides that Torvald should know the truth for the sake of his and Nora's marriage.

After literally dragging Nora home from the party, Torvald goes to check his mail, but is interrupted by Dr. Rank, who has followed them. Dr. Rank chats for a while, conveying obliquely to Nora that this is a final goodbye, as he has determined that his death is near. Dr. Rank leaves, and Torvald retrieves his letters. As he reads them, Nora steels herself to take her life. Torvald confronts her with Krogstad's letter. Enraged, he declares that he is now completely in Krogstad's power; he must yield to Krogstad's demands and keep quiet about the whole affair. He berates Nora, calling her a dishonest and immoral woman and telling her that she is unfit to raise their children. He says that from now on their marriage will be only a matter of appearances.

A maid enters, delivering a letter to Nora. The letter is from Krogstad, yet Torvald demands to read the letter and takes it from Nora. Torvald exults that he is saved, as Krogstad has returned the incriminating bond, which Torvald immediately burns along with Krogstad's letters. He takes back his harsh words to his wife and tells her that he forgives her. Nora realizes that her husband is not the strong and gallant man she thought he was, and that he truly loves himself more than he does her.

Torvald explains that when a man has forgiven his wife it makes him love her all the more, since it reminds him that she is totally dependent on him, like a child. He dismisses the fact that Nora had to make the agonizing choice between her conscience and his health, and ignores her years of secret efforts to free them from the ensuing obligations and the danger of loss of reputation. He preserves his peace of mind by thinking of the incident as a mere mistake that she made owing to her dumbness, one of her most endearing feminine traits.

We must come to a final settlement, Torvald. During eight whole years. . . we have never exchanged one serious word about serious things.

Nora, in Ibsen'sA Doll's House (1879)

Nora tells Torvald that she is leaving him, and in a confrontational scene between the two of them, she expresses her reasons and explanations. She reminds him of harsh things he has said about her and about her ability to raise their children. She says he has never loved her, they have become strangers to each other. She feels betrayed by his response to the scandal involving Krogstad, and she says she must get away to understand herself. She has lost her religion. She says that she has been treated like a doll to play with for her whole life, first by her father and then by him. Concerned for the family reputation, Torvald insists that she fulfill her duty as a wife and mother, but Nora says that she has duties to herself that are just as important, and that she cannot be a good mother or wife without learning to be more than a plaything. She reveals that she had expected that he would want to sacrifice his reputation for hers and that she had planned to kill herself to prevent him from doing so. She now realizes that Torvald is not at all the kind of person she had believed him to be and that their marriage has been based on mutual fantasies and misunderstandings.

Torvald is unable to comprehend Nora's point of view, since it contradicts all that he has been taught about the female mind throughout his life. Furthermore, he is so narcissistic that it is impossible for him to understand how he appears to her, as selfish, hypocritical, and more concerned with public reputation than with actual morality. Nora leaves her keys and wedding ring, and as Torvald breaks down and begins to cry, baffled by what has happened, Nora leaves the house, slamming the door behind her. Whether or not she ever comes back is never made clear.

Alternative ending[edit]

Ibsen's German agent felt that the original ending would not play well in German theatres. Therefore, for it to be considered acceptable, Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending for the German premiere. In this ending, Nora is led to her children after having argued with Torvald. Seeing them, she collapses, and the curtain is brought down. Ibsen later called the ending a disgrace to the original play and referred to it as a "barbaric outrage".[9] Virtually all productions today use the original ending, as do nearly all of the film versions of the play.

Composition and publication[edit]

Real-life inspiration[edit]

A Doll's House was based on the life of Laura Kieler (maiden name Laura Smith Petersen), a good friend of Ibsen. Much that happened between Nora and Torvald happened to Laura and her husband, Victor. Similar to the events in the play, Laura signed an illegal loan to save her husband. She wanted the money to find a cure for her husband's tuberculosis.[10] She wrote to Ibsen, asking for his recommendation of her work to his publisher, thinking that the sales of her book would repay her debt. At his refusal, she forged a check for the money. At this point she was found out. In real life, when Victor discovered about Laura's secret loan, he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Two years later, she returned to her husband and children at his urging, and she went on to become a well-known Danish author, living to the age of 83.

Ibsen wrote A Doll's House at the point when Laura Kieler had been committed to the asylum, and the fate of this friend of the family shook him deeply, perhaps also because Laura had asked him to intervene at a crucial point in the scandal, which he did not feel able or willing to do. Instead, he turned this life situation into an aesthetically shaped, successful drama. In the play, Nora leaves Torvald with head held high, though facing an uncertain future given the limitations single women faced in the society of the time.

Kieler eventually rebounded from the shame of the scandal and had her own successful writing career while remaining discontented with sole recognition as "Ibsen's Nora" years afterwards.[11][12]


Ibsen started thinking about the play around May 1878, although he did not begin its first draft until a year later, having reflected on the themes and characters in the intervening period (he visualised its protagonist, Nora, for instance, as having approached him one day wearing "a blue woollen dress").[13] He outlined his conception of the play as a "modern tragedy" in a note written in Rome on 19 October 1878.[14] "A woman cannot be herself in modern society," he argues, since it is "an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint."[15]


Ibsen sent a fair copy of the completed play to his publisher on 15 September 1879.[16] It was first published in Copenhagen on 4 December 1879, in an edition of 8,000 copies that sold out within a month; a second edition of 3,000 copies followed on 4 January 1880, and a third edition of 2,500 was issued on 8 March.[17]

Production history[edit]

A Doll's House received its world premiere on 21 December 1879 at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, with Betty Hennings as Nora, Emil Poulsen as Torvald, and Peter Jerndorff as Dr. Rank.[18] Writing for the Norwegian newspaper Folkets Avis, the critic Erik Bøgh admired Ibsen's originality and technical mastery: "Not a single declamatory phrase, no high dramatics, no drop of blood, not even a tear."[19] Every performance of its run was sold out.[20] Another production opened at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm, on 8 January 1880, while productions in Christiania (with Johanne Juell as Nora and Arnoldus Reimers as Torvald) and Bergen followed shortly after.[21]

In Germany, the actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe refused to perform the play as written, declaring, "I would never leave my children!"[20] Since the playwright's wishes were not protected by copyright, Ibsen decided to avoid the danger of being rewritten by a lesser dramatist by committing what he called a "barbaric outrage" on his play himself and giving it an alternative ending in which Nora did not leave.[22][23] A production of this version opened in Flensburg in February 1880.[24] This version was also played in Hamburg, Dresden, Hanover, and Berlin, although, in the wake of protests and a lack of success, Niemann-Raabe eventually restored the original ending.[24] Another production of the original version, some rehearsals of which Ibsen attended, opened on 3 March 1880 at the Residenz Theatre in Munich.[24]

In Great Britain, the only way in which the play was initially allowed to be given in London was in an adaptation by Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman called Breaking a Butterfly.[25] This adaptation was produced at the Princess Theatre, 3 March 1884. Writing in 1896 in his book The Foundations of a National Drama, Jones says: "A rough translation from the German version of A Doll's House was put into my hands, and I was told that if it could be turned into a sympathetic play, a ready opening would be found for it on the London boards. I knew nothing of Ibsen, but I knew a great deal of Robertson and H. J. Byron. From these circumstances came the adaptation called Breaking a Butterfly."[26]H. L. Mencken writes that it was A Doll’s House “denaturized and dephlogisticated. … Toward the middle of the action Ibsen was thrown to the fishes, and Nora was saved from suicide, rebellion, flight and immortality by making a faithful old clerk steal her fateful promissory note from Krogstad’s desk. … The curtain fell upon a happy home.“[27]

Before 1899 there were two private productions of the play in London (in its original form as Ibsen wrote it) — one featured George Bernard Shaw in the role of Krogstad.[8] The first public British production of the play in its regular form opened on 7 June 1889 at the Novelty Theatre, starring Janet Achurch as Nora and Charles Charrington as Torvald.[28][29][30] Achurch played Nora again for a 7-day run in 1897. Soon after its London premiere, Achurch brought the play to Australia in 1889.[31]

The play was first seen in America in 1883 in Louisville, Kentucky; Helena Modjeska acted Nora.[29] The play made its Broadway premiere at the Palmer's Theatre on 21 December 1889, starring Beatrice Cameron as Nora Helmer.[32] It was first performed in France in 1894.[21] Other productions in the United States include one in 1902 starring Minnie Maddern Fiske, a 1937 adaptation with acting script by Thornton Wilder and starring Ruth Gordon, and a 1971 production starring Claire Bloom.

A new translation by Zinnie Harris at the Donmar Warehouse, starring Gillian Anderson, Toby Stephens, Anton Lesser, Tara FitzGerald and Christopher Eccleston opened in May 2009.[33] In August 2013, Young Vic,[34] London, Great Britain, produced a new adaptation[35] of A Doll's House directed by Carrie Cracknell[36] based on the English language version by Simon Stephens. In September 2014, in partnership with Brisbane Festival, La Boite located in Brisbane, Australia, hosted an adaptation of A Doll's House written by Lally Katz and directed by Stephen Mitchell Wright.[37] In June 2015, Space Arts Centre in London staged an adaptation of A Doll's House featuring the discarded alternate ending.[38]

Analysis and criticism[edit]

A Doll's House questions the traditional roles of men and women in 19th-century marriage.[22] To many 19th-century Europeans, this was scandalous. The covenant of marriage was considered holy, and to portray it as Ibsen did was controversial.[39] However, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw found Ibsen's willingness to examine society without prejudice exhilarating.[40]

The Swedish playwright August Strindberg criticised the play in his volume of essays and short stories Getting Married (1884).[41] Strindberg questioned Nora’s walking out and leaving her children behind with a man that she herself disapproved of so much that she would not remain with him. Strindberg also considers that Nora’s involvement with an illegal financial fraud that involved Nora forging a signature, all done behind her husband’s back, and then Nora’s lying to her husband regarding Krogstad’s blackmail, are serious crimes that should raise questions at the end of the play, when Nora is moralistically judging her husband. And Strindberg points out that Nora’s complaint that she and Torvald “have never exchanged one serious word about serious things,” is contradicted by the discussions that occur in act one and two.[42]

The reasons Nora leaves her husband are complex, and various details are hinted at throughout the play. In the last scene, she tells her husband she has been “greatly wronged” by his disparaging and condescending treatment of her, and his attitude towards her in their marriage — as though she were his “doll wife” — and the children in turn have become her “dolls,” leading her to doubt her own qualifications to raise her children. She is troubled by her husband’s behavior in regard to the scandal of the loaned money. She does not love her husband, she feels they are strangers, she feels completely confused, and suggests that her issues are shared by many women. George Bernard Shaw suggests that she left to begin “a journey in search of self-respect and apprenticeship to life,” and that her revolt is “the end of a chapter of human history.”[8][43][3]

Ibsen was inspired by the belief that "a woman cannot be herself in modern society," since it is "an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint."[15] Its ideas can also be seen as having a wider application: Michael Meyer argued that the play's theme is not women's rights, but rather "the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person."[44] In a speech given to the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights in 1898, Ibsen insisted that he "must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women's rights movement," since he wrote "without any conscious thought of making propaganda," his task having been "the description of humanity."[45]

Because of the departure from traditional behavior and theatrical convention involved in Nora's leaving home, her act of slamming the door as she leaves has come to represent the play itself.[46][47] One critic noted, "That slammed door reverberated across the roof of the world."[48]



A Doll's House has been adapted for the cinema on many occasions, including:

  • A 1922 lostsilent filmA Doll's House starring Alla Nazimova as Nora.[49][50]
  • A 1923 German silent film Nora was directed by Berthold Viertel. Nora was played by Olga Chekhova, who was born Olga Knipper, and was the niece and namesake of Anton Chekhov’s wife. She was also Mikhail Chekhov's wife.[51]
  • A 1943 Argentine film, Casa de muñecas, starring Delia Garcés, which modernizes the story and uses the alternative ending.[52]
  • Two film versions were released in 1973: one was directed by Joseph Losey, starring Jane Fonda, David Warner and Trevor Howard;[53] and the other by Patrick Garland with Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson.[54]
  • Dariush Mehrjui's film Sara (1993) is based on A Doll's House, with the plot transferred to Iran. Sara, played by Niki Karimi, is the Nora of Ibsen's play.[55]
  • In 2012 the Young Vic theatre in London released a short film called Nora with Hattie Morahan portraying what a modern-day Nora might look like.[56]
  • A scheduled 2018 film adaptation is set against the backdrop of the current economic crisis and stars Ben Kingsley as Doctor Rank and Michele Martin as Nora.[57][58]




  • In 1989, film and stage director Ingmar Bergman staged and published a shortened reworking of the play, now entitled Nora, which entirely omitted the characters of the servants and the children, focusing more on the power struggle between Nora and Torvald. It was widely viewed as downplaying the feminist themes of Ibsen's original.[60] The first staging of it in New York was reviewed by the Times as heightening the play's melodramatic aspects.[61] The Los Angeles Times stated that ""Nora" shores up "A Doll's House" in some areas but weakens it in others."[62]


  1. ^Meyer (1967, 477).
  2. ^Krutch, Joseph Wood (1953). "Modernism" in Modern Drama, A Definition and an Estimate. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 9. OCLC 176284. 
  3. ^ abWalter, McFarlane, James; Jens, Arup (1998). Four Major Plays. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192833871. OCLC 39674082. 
  4. ^"Henrik Ibsen's psychodramas still grip the world 100 years after his death". Pravda Report. 22 May 2006. Retrieved 30 May 2017. 
  5. ^"Henrik Ibsen: A Doll's House". UNESCO. Retrieved 30 May 2017. 
  6. ^"Bapuage=en". 
  7. ^Törnqvist, Egil (1995). Ibsen: A Doll's House. Cambridge University Press. p. 54. ISBN 9780521478663. OCLC 635006762. 
  8. ^ abcByatt, A. S. (1 May 2009). "Blaming Nora". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 May 2017. 
  9. ^"The alternative ending of A Doll's House". National Library of Norway. 30 May 2005. Retrieved 30 May 2017. 
  10. ^A. S. Byatt (2 May 2009). "Blaming Nora". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 20 June 2017. 
  11. ^Törnqvist, Egil (1995). Ibsen: A Doll's House. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 9780521478663. OCLC 635006762. 
  12. ^Worthen, William B (2011). The Wadsworth anthology of drama. Wadsworth. p. 667. ISBN 9781428288157. OCLC 610205542. 
  13. ^Meyer (1967, 463–467, 472).
  14. ^Meyer (1967, 466).
  15. ^ abIbsen, "Notes for a Modern Tragedy"; quoted by Meyer (1967, 466); see also Innes (2000, 79–81).
  16. ^Meyer (1967, 474).
  17. ^Meyer (1967, 475).
  18. ^Meyer (1967, 477) and Moi (2006, 227, 230).
  19. ^Quoted by Meyer (1967, 477).
  20. ^ abMeyer (1967, 480).
  21. ^ abMeyer (1967, 479).
  22. ^ abFisher, Jerilyn (2003). "The slammed door that still reverberates". In Fisher, Jerilyn; Silber, Ellen S. Women in literature: reading through the lens of gender. Greenwood Press. pp. 99–101. ISBN 9780313313462. OCLC 50638821. 
  23. ^Meyer (1967, 480–481).
  24. ^ abcMeyer (1967, 481).
  25. ^text Jones, Henry Arthur. Herman, Henry. Breaking a butterfly : a play in three acts. Printed for private use only: not published. 76 pages.
  26. ^Jones, Henry Arthur. The Foundations of a National Drama: a collection of lectures, essays and speeches, delivered and written in the years 1896-1912. (January 1, 1913). 1 January 1913. Reprinted: Wentworth Press (26 Aug. 2016) ISBN 978-1362548942. Page 208.
  27. ^Mencken, H. L. The Collected Drama of H. L. Mencken: Plays and Criticism. Scarecrow Press, 2012. ISBN 9780810883703. page 185.
  28. ^Ibsen, Henrik (1889). A Doll's House [Illustrated with photographs]. William C. Archer translator. London: T Fisher Unwin. OCLC 29743002. 
  29. ^ ab Moses, Montrose J. (1920). "Doll's House, A". In Rines, George Edwin. Encyclopedia Americana. 
  30. ^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Herman, Henry". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. 
  31. ^Brockett and Hildy (2003, 353).
  32. ^"Opening Night Production Credits: A Doll's House (1889)". The Internet Broadway Database. 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2008. 
  33. ^Bassett, Kate (24 May 2009). "The Donmar's new Ibsen isn't so much a clever interpretation as a bit of questionable rewriting". The Independent. London. 
  34. ^"Homepage". Young Vic website. 
  35. ^[1][permanent dead link]
  36. ^Soloski, Alexis (6 February 2014). "Carrie Cracknell Adds a 21st-Century Flavor to Ibsen" – via www.nytimes.com. 
  37. ^"A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Lally Katz". La Boite Theatre Company. 2014. Archived from the original on 2 November 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  38. ^."A Doll's House at The Space". 
  39. ^James, McFarlane (1994). Cambridge Companion to Ibsen. Cambridge University Press. p. 167. ISBN 9780521423212. OCLC 869601716. 
  40. ^Griffith, Gareth (21 December 1995). Superior Brains: Political Thought of Bernard Shaw. Routledge. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9780415124737. OCLC 528524661. 
  41. ^Meyer (1967, 476).
  42. ^Sandbach, Mary, trans. Strindberg, August, author. 1972. Getting Married Parts I and II. London: Victor Gollancz. (1972) ISBN 0-575-00629-3
  43. ^Shaw, Bernard. “A Doll’s House Again”. Dramatic Opinions and Essays. Volume II. Brentanos (1916) p. 258
  44. ^Meyer (1967, 478).
  45. ^Ibsen, "Speech at the Festival of the Norwegian Women's Rights League, Christiana", 26 May 1898; in Dukore (1974, 563); see also Moi (2006, 229–230).
  46. ^Hornby, Richard (1995). Script into performance: a structuralist approach. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 157. ISBN 978-1-55783-237-5. 
  47. ^Törnqvist, Egil (1995). Ibsen: A Doll's House. Cambridge University Press. p. 150. ISBN 9780521478663. OCLC 635006762. 
  48. ^Cunningham, Lawrence S.; Reich, John J. (2009). Culture & Values, Volume II: A Survey of the Humanities with Readings. Cengage Learning. p. 492. ISBN 978-0-495-56926-8. 
  49. ^Progressive Silent Film List: A Doll's House at silentera.com
  50. ^The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog: A Doll's House
  51. ^Holledge, Julie. Bollen, Jonathan. Helland, Frode. Tompkins, Joanne. A Global Doll's House: Ibsen and Distant Visions. Springer, 2016. ISBN 9781137438997. Page 217.
  52. ^Plazaolapage, Luis Trelles. South American Cinema/ Cine De America Del Sur: Dictionary of Film Makers/ Diccionario De Los Productores De Peliculas. Publisher: La Editorial, UPR (1989). ISBN 9780847720118. Page 10.
  53. ^Variety Staff (31 December 1972). "Review: A Doll's House". www.variety.com. 
  54. ^Canby, Vincent (23 May 1973). "Claire Bloom's 'Doll's House on Film: The Cast". New York Times. 
  55. ^Sloan, Jane. Reel Women: An International Directory of Contemporary Feature Films about Women. Scarecrow Press, 2007. ISBN 9781461670827. Page 125.
  56. ^"Nora: a short film responding to Ibsen's A Doll's House". The Guardian. 18 October 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  57. ^Wharton, David. "Ben Kingsley, Julian Sands, And Jena Malone Sign On For A Doll's House". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  58. ^Mottram, James (9 June 2016). "Sir Ben Kingsley interview". Independent. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  59. ^"BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3, A Doll's House". BBC. 
  60. ^"A Doll's House". Ingmar Bergman. Retrieved April 3, 2017. 
  61. ^Goodman, Walter (24 February 1988). "Stage: Bergman Version Of Ibsen's 'Doll's House'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  62. ^Shirley, Don (26 May 1998). "Bergman Adaptation Restructures 'A Doll's House'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 3 April 2017.

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