Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" translated with an introduction by Peter Watts. Peer Gynt, his greatest play in verse, was also to be Ibsen's last. After its publication in 1867 he abandoned poetry to concentrate on realistic plays in prose. However, with its predecessor, "Brand," it established Ibsen's reputation as a playwright. Its relaxed gaiety complements the harder-hitting earlier work, and may be seen as a fundamental expression of Ibsen's philosophy of life. The irresponsible, lovable Peer is based on a semi-legindary character of the mountains. Norwegian folklore, with its malevolent and ugly trolls, plays a larger part in his adventures than satire: social comment is present - the caricatures of types and nationalities are self-evident - but it is as lighthearted and genial as the rest of the play.
Henrik Ibsen was born of well-to-do parents at Skien, a small Norwegian coastal town, on March 20, 1828. In 1836 his father went bankrupt, and the family was reduced to near poverty. At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to an apothecary in Grimstad. In 1850 Ibsen ventured to Christianiapresent-day Osloas a student, with the hope of becoming a doctor. On the strength of his first two plays he was appointed "theater-poet" to the new Bergen National Theater, where he wrote five conventional romantic and historical dramas and absorbed the elements of his craft. In 1857 he was called to the directorship of the financially unsound Christiania Norwegian Theater, which failed in 1862. In 1864, exhausted and enraged by the frustration of his efforts toward a national drama and theater, he quit Norway for what became twenty-seven years of voluntary exile abroad. In Italy he wrote the volcanic Brand (1866), which made his reputation and secured him a poets stipend from the government. Its companion piece, the phantasmagoric Peer Gynt, followed in 1867, then the immense double play, Emperor and Galilean (1873), expressing his philosophy of civilization. Meanwhile, having moved to Germany, Ibsen had been searching for a new style. With The Pillars of Society he found it; this became the first of twelve plays, appearing at two-year intervals, that confirmed his international standing as the foremost dramatist of his age. In 1900 Ibsen suffered the first of several strokes that incapacitated him. He died in Oslo on May 23, 1906.
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