One of the most remarkable facts about Ibsen is the orderly development of his genius. He himself repeatedly maintained that his dramas were not mere isolated accidents. In the foreword to the readers in the popular edition of 1898 he urges the public to read his dramas in the same order in which he had written them, deplores the fact that his earlier works are less known and less understood than his later works, and insists that his writings taken as a whole constitute an organic unity. The three of his plays offered here for the first time in English translation will afford those not familiar with the original Norwegian some light on the early stages of his development.
Catiline, the earliest of Ibsen’s plays, was written in 1849, while Ibsen was an apothecary’s apprentice in Grimstad. It appeared in Christiania in the following spring under the pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme. The revolutionary atmosphere of 1848-49, the reading of the story of Catiline in Sallust and Cicero in preparation for the university examinations, the hostility which existed between the apprentice and his immediate social environment, the fate which the play met at the hands of the theatrical management and the publishers, his own struggles at the time,--are all set forth clearly enough in the preface to the second edition. The play was written in the blank verse of Oehlenschlaeger’s romantic dramas. Ibsen’s portrayal of the Roman politician is not in accord with tradition; Catiline is not an out-and-out reprobate, but an unfortunate and highly sensitive individual in whom idealism and licentiousness struggle for mastery. Vasenius, in his study of the poet (Ibsens Dramatiska Diktning in dess Första Skede, Helsingfors, 1879), insists that Ibsen thus intuitively hit upon the real Catiline revealed by later nineteenth century research. The poet seems not to have heard of Duma’s Catiline, which appeared about the same time, nor of earlier plays on the subject by Ben Jonson and others. The struggle in Ibsen’s play is centered in the soul of Catiline; not once do his political opponents appear on the scene. Only one critic raised his voice in behalf of the play at the time of its appearance, and only a few copies of the original edition survive. Ibsen issued in 1875 a revised edition in celebration of his twenty-fifth anniversary as an author. Since then a third edition has been issued in 1891, and a fourth in 1913.
The Warrior’s Barrow, Ibsen’s second play, was finished in 1850 shortly after the publication of Catiline. Ibsen entered upon his literary career with a gusto he seems soon to have lost; he wrote to his friend Ole Schulerud in January, 1850, that he was working on a play about Olaf Trygvesson, an historical novel, and a longer poem. He had begun The Warrior’s Barrow while he was still at Grimstad, but this early version, called The Normans, he revised on reaching Christiania. In style and manner and even in subject-matter the play echoes Oehlenschlaeger. Ibsen’s vikings are, however, of a fiercer type than Oehlenschlaeger’s, and this treatment of viking character was one of the things the critics, bred to Oehlenschlaeger’s romantic conception of more civilized vikings, found fault with in Ibsen’s play. The sketch fared better than Catiline: it was thrice presented on the stage in Christiania and was on the whole favorably reviewed. When Ibsen became associated with the Bergen theater he undertook another revision of the play, and in this version the play was presented on the stage in 1854 and 1856. The final version was published in the Bergenske Blad in 1854, but no copy of this issue has survived; the play remained inaccessible to the public until 1902, when it was included in a supplementary volume (Volume X) to Ibsen’s collected works. The earlier version remained in manuscript form until it was printed in 1917 in Scandinavian Studies and Notes (Vol. IV, pp. 309-337).
Olaf Liljekrans, which was presented on the Bergen stage in 1857, marks the end of Ibsen’s early romantic interest. The original idea for this play, which he had begun in 1850, he found in the folk-tale “The Grouse in Justedal,” about a girl who alone had survived the Black Death in an isolated village. Ibsen had with many others become interested in popular folk-tales and ballads. It was from Faye’s Norwegian Folk-Tales (1844) that he took the story of “The Grouse in Justedal.” His interest was so great that he even turned collector. Twice during this period he petitioned for and received small university grants to enable him to travel and “collect songs and legends still current among the people.” Of the seventy or eighty “hitherto unpublished legends” which he collected on the first of these trips only a few have ever appeared in print; the results of his second trip are unknown. Ibsen had great faith in the availability of this medieval material for dramatic purposes; he even wrote an essay, “The Heroic Ballad and Its Significance for Artistic Poetry,” urging its superior claims in contrast to that of the saga material, to which he was himself shortly to turn. The original play based on “The Grouse in Justedal” was left unfinished. After the completion of Lady Inger of Östråt and The Feast at Solhoug he came back to it, and taking a suggestion from the ballad in Landstad’s collection (1852-3) he recast the whole play, substituted the ballad meter for the iambic pentameters, and called the new version Olaf Liljekrans. Olaf Liljekrans indicates clearly a decline in Ibsen’s interest in pure romance. It is much more satirical than The Feast at Solhoug, and marks a step in the direction of those superb masterpieces of satire and romance, Brand and Peer Gynt. The play was twice presented on the stage in Bergen with considerable success, but the critics treated it harshly.
The relationship of the revised versions to the original versions of Ibsen’s early plays is interesting, and might, if satisfactorily elucidated, throw considerable light on the development of his genius. It is evident that he was in this early period experimenting in metrical forms. He employed blank verse in Catiline, in the original version of The Grouse in Justedal, and even as late as 1853 in the revision of The Warrior’s Barrow. There can be no question but that he was here following the Ochlenschlaeger tradition. Unrhymed pentameter, however, did not seem to satisfy him. He could with difficulty keep from falling into rhyme in Catiline, and in the early version of The Warrior’s Barrow he used rhymed pentameters. After the revision of this play he threw aside blank verse altogether. “Iambic pentameter,” he says in the essay on the heroic ballad, “is by no means the most suitable form for the treatment of ancient Scandinavian material; this form of verse is altogether foreign to our national meters, and it is surely through a national form that the national material can find its fullest expression.” The folk-tale and the ballad gave him the suggestion he needed. In The Feast at Solhoug and the final version of Olaf Liljekrans he employed the ballad meter, and this form became the basis for the verse in all his later metrical plays.
Six years intervened between The Grouse in Justedal and Olaf Liljekrans, and the revision in this case amounted almost to the writing of a new play. Fredrik Paasche in his study (Olaf Liljekrans, Christiania, 1909) discusses the relation of Olaf Liljekrans to the earlier form of the play. Three years intervened between the first and final versions of The Warrior’s Barrow. Professor A. M. Sturtevant maintains (Journal of English and Germanic Philology, XII, 407 ff.) that although “the influence of Ochlenschlaeger upon both versions of The Warrior’s Barrow is unmistakable,” yet “the two versions differ so widely from each other ... that it may be assumed that ... Ibsen had begun to free himself from the thraldom of Ochlenschlaeger’s romantic conception of the viking character.” He points out the influence of Welhaven and Heiberg on the second version, elaborates upon the superior character-delineation, and shows in considerable detail the “inner necessity ... which brings about the change of heart in Gandalf and his warriors.”
The revision of Catiline came twenty-five years after the original version, and consisted largely of linguistic changes. Ibsen seems never to have completely disowned this play; it has been included in all the complete editions, whereas The Warrior’s Barrow and Olaf Liljekrans appear only in the first complete edition, and were even then relegated to a supplementary volume. In suggesting the revision of Catiline, Ibsen proposed “to make no change in the thought and ideas, but only in the language in which these are expressed; for the verses are, as Brandes has somewhere remarked, bad,--one reason being that the book was printed from my first rough uncorrected draft.” He had at that time not developed his careful craftsmanship, and sought in the revision merely to put the drama into the form which he had originally had in mind, but which at that time he had been unable to achieve. The changes that were actually made are summarized by D. A. Seip (Ibsen, Samlede Digter Verker, 1918, VII, 114) who quotes Halvdan Koht and Julius Elias (Ibsen, Efterladte Skrifter, III): “The two editions ’agree in the sequence of tenses, with a few exceptions also in the sequence of speeches, and on the whole even in the sequence of lines. The changes involve principally the poetic expression itself; after the second act they become more and more extensive, and the last two acts have been augmented with 100 lines.’ ... Not infrequently there appear words and expressions which are suggestive of Ibsen’s later works.”
These plays now appear for the first time in English translation. A. Johnstone published in Translations from the Norse, by a B. S. S. (Gloucester, about 1876), an English rendering of the first act of Catiline and a synopsis of the last two acts. William Archer explains at length his omission of Catiline from his edition of Ibsen. “A great part of the interest lies in the very crudities of its style, which it would be a thankless task to reproduce in translation. Moreover, the poet impaired even its biographical value by largely rewriting it before publication. He did not make it, or attempt to make it, a better play, but he in some measure corrected its juvenility of expression. Which version, then, should a translator choose? To go back to the original would seem a deliberate disregard of the poet’s wishes; while, on the other hand, the retouched version is clearly of far inferior interest. It seems advisable, therefore, to leave the play alone, as far as this edition is concerned.” Olaf Liljekrans and The Warrior’s Barrow were acted in English in London in 1911 and 1912 respectively, but the English renderings used in these presentations have never appeared in print.
The text of Catiline in the present translation is that of the revised version as given in the edition of 1906-07; the text of the other two plays is that of the edition of 1898-1902. The meters of the original have been carefully reproduced. The great difficulty of rendering the ballad and lyrical meters of Ibsen into adequate English verse has made some stylistic changes necessary, such as the substitution of masculine for feminine rhymes, and the occasional alteration of the sense in slight measure.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge my gratitude to Professor O. W. Firkins, now of The Weekly Review, who suggested the translating of these plays and who offered from time to time invaluable criticisms; to Professor Howard M. Jones, of the University of Texas, Professor S. B. Hustvedt, of the University of Minnesota, and Professor W. W. Lawrence, of Columbia University, who read all or parts of these translations and made many helpful suggestions; and to Professor G. P. Krapp, of Columbia University, and my wife, who were of assistance in various ways.
New York, January 3, 1921.
Olav Liljekrans (1857)
Ibsen, Henrik (1857), "Olav Liljekrans"; this version is based on Henrik Ibsen (1902), Samlede værker: tiende bind (supplementsbind), Gyldendalske Boghandels Forlag (F. Hegel & Søn), København, pp. 45-191.
Orbeck, Anders (1921), "Olav Liljekrans", in Early Plays: Catiline, The Warrior's Barrow, Olaf Liljekrans, American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York.
Input by Fredrik Liland, Oslo, 2011.