Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama

Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama

In the idyllic town Grimstad in Norway you find the house where Henrik Ibsen worked as an apothecary’s assistant. This is also the house in which the Norwegian world-famous playwright’s very first drama “Catalina” was written.

The Ibsen Museum in Grimstad opened in 1916 – only ten years after Ibsen’s death. Grimstad Town’s Museums (Grimstad Bys Museer) is a cultural and historical complex of museums conserving the history of the town. It is the oldest museum of its kind in Norway.

Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama
The Henrik Ibsen Museum in Grimstad

Related: Norwegian Playwright in Love with Youth

The less known drama of Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906), Catalina, was written during winter 1848-49) and first performed under Ibsen’s name at the Nya Teatern in Stockholm in 1881. The first performance in Norway under Ibsen’s pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme was at Det Nye Teater in Oslo in 1935.

Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama
Henrik Ibsen, 1869. Photo: Wikipedia

Forced to support himself after his father’s economic downfall, during a national economic crises, Ibsen went to Grimstad, an idyllic town located a half hour’s drive east of Kristiansand on Norway’s southern coast.  He probably arrived in Grimstad as a 15-year-old around 1844 in order to start his education as a pharmaceutical assistant. He both prepared himself for university and experimented with various forms of poetry.

While studying, he found himself passionately drawn into the Catiline Orations, famous speeches by Cicero against the elected questor Catiline and his conspiracy to overthrow the republic. In the prologue to the second edition (1875) Ibsen expresses that he was profoundly inspired by the contemporary political situation of Europe, and that he favoured the Magyar uprising against the Habsburg empire. So, Catiline can be read as one of Ibsen’s troubled heroes, alongside Brand.

Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama
Henrik Ibsen’s collected works

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The main character in this historical drama is the noble Roman Lucius Catilina, based on the historical figure of Catiline. He is torn between two women, his wife Aurelia and the Vestal virgin Furia.

Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama
the Norwegian world-famous playwright Henrik Ibsen. Photo: Henrik Ibsen Museum, Grimstad

Although Catiline may not be among Ibsen’s best plays, it foreshadows many of the themes found in his later works and is a drama written in verse modeled after one of his great influences, William Shakespeare.

Ibsen worked in Grimstad until April 1850 when he was 22, using his limited free time to write poetry and paint.  At the Ibsen Museum visitors will learn of his life prior to becoming famous, the harsh economic conditions in which he lived and the love stories.

Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama
From the Henrik Ibsen museum in Grimstad

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Unlike many other writers and poets, Ibsen had a long and seemingly happy marriage to Suzannah Daae Thoresen. The couple wed in 1858 and welcomed their only child, son Sigurd, the following year. Ibsen also had a son from an earlier relationship. He had fathered a child with a maid in 1846 while working as an apprentice. While he provided some financial support, Ibsen never met the boy.

Norwegian World-Famous Playwright’s Very First Drama, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Henrik Ibsen in Grand Cafe, Oslo


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