Campus Access Only

All rights reserved. This publication is intended for use solely by faculty, students, and staff of University of the Pacific. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, now known or later developed, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author or the publisher.

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)


Graduate Studies

First Advisor

Louis Leiter

First Committee Member

Charles Clerc

Second Committee Member

Maurice McCullen


Henrik Ibsen's critics have long acknowledged his mastery of the stage, that is, his use of the physical and off-stage settings, architectural details, props, and space as symbol. However, study of Ibsen's symbolic settings has been limited to one play or to aspects of his stagecraft in general terms. Peter Tenant's Ibsen's Dramatic Technique discusses the settings and stage directions of his major plays as they relate to plot and theme. In Patterns of Ibsen's Middle Plays, Richard Hornby studies the settings and scenic background only for An Enemy of the People. Edward Beyer in Ibsen's The Man And His Work focuses on the plays' symbols as they relate to theme. Finally, David Thomas presents an excellent study of stage space in The Lady From the Sea. These authors and others have touched upon the genius of Ibsen's stagecraft. More can and should be said because understanding Ibsen's symbolic settings will lead to a deeper reading and appreciation of his plays.

Ibsen's use of the symbolic setting provides focus and unity to the plays that were written between 1882 and 1892. His settings become a projection of his major themes and the characters• souls or psyches. Areas on and off the stage, props, furniture, and architectural details may be a stage projection of the protagonist's mind, intention, motivation, or suppression. Since the essential nature of drama is conflict, Ibsen often uses his settings as symbols of conflict. Varied settings, architectural details, placement of the furniture, and the characters• positions and movement on the stage provide a visual symbolism for his themes in An Enemy of the People, Rosmersholm, Lady From The Sea, Hedda Gabler, and The Master Builder.

Ibsen's settings often caused a great deal of trouble to stage because they were complicated. Indoor settings were his effort to create a realistic illusion, while his later abandonment of indoor settings coincided with his reversion to romantic symbolism, according to Tenant (67). With The Lady From The Sea in 1888, his plays expanded to the open air. Three plays, Rosmersholm, The Lady From the Sea, and The Master Builder, begin in an enclosed setting that gradually and symbolically takes the protagonist to the outdoors and freedom. However, in The Enemy of the People, Ibsen uses enclosed settings that are mirror images of one another, thus symbolizing the pattern of thematic contrasts. Only Hedda Gabler takes place in one enclosed set, which becomes a symbolic entrapment for Hedda. In these latter two plays and The Master Builder, Ibsen enlarged his stage with the help of an inner room or a back room that functioned not only as a way to place his characters and therefore complicate the plot, but also to project his themes and his characters' psychological states. In addition, he uses off-stage settings not only to symbolize further the conflicts within his characters, but also to enhance his themes.