Friday, July 3, 2015

Classic Reads: Ibsen Ponders Whether Life Means Anything in Peer Gynt

Peer Gynt is a man in Norwegian Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play of the same name who is trying to discover whether he's a good modern man or a bad one.

Despite not being much interested in a girl named Ingrid, Peer decides on her wedding night that he's going to try to steal her from the groom. This does not endear him to the community so he simply runs off into the forest.

While searching the woods, a girl named Solveig hears Peer's mother Aase talking about what he's like and falls in love with the young scamp. Peer falls in with some trolls in the woods and has a riotous night with some farm girls. He considers staying with the trolls but decides he has to go home.

After making a bit of a life with Solveig and witnessing his mother on her death bed, Peer journeys far from home. He makes a fortune in the American slave trade and selling idols in China, then loses his business riches in Morocco. He briefly becomes an Arab sheik as well. While pondering what he views as his wasted life in Egypt, he eventually is placed in an insane asylum.

Surviving the asylum, Peer makes it back home to Solveig. Although he is convinced he's bound for Hell, Solveig confuses him by saying that he is a good man and that's where the story ends, with Peer perhaps no wiser about the mysteries of man than when he started his many adventures.

The play remains one of Ibsen's most famous, along with A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler, with many films and adaptations (and Ibsen is the second-most-performed dramatist behind Shakespeare). Roger McGuinn of the Byrds even wrote music for a pop version of the play that has never been released. Several of those songs appear on Byrds' albums in the early 1979s however.