A Doll's House

A Doll's House
A Doll's House

Original manuscript cover page, 1879
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Characters Nora
Torvald Helmer
Mrs. Linde
Dr. Rank
Mute Nora's Father
Date premiered 21 December 1879 (1879-12-21)
Place premiered Royal Theatre
in Copenhagen, Denmark
Original language Norwegian
Subject The feminist awakening of a good middle-class wife and mother.
Genre Naturalistic / realistic problem play
Modern tragedy
Setting The home of the Helmer family in an unspecified Norwegian town or city, circa 1879.
IBDB profile
IOBDB profile

A Doll's House (Norwegian: Et dukkehjem; also translated as A Doll House) is a three-act play in prose by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.[1] It premièred at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 21 December 1879, having been published earlier that month.[2]

The play was controversial when first published, as it is sharply critical of 19th century marriage norms.[3] Michael Meyer argues that the play's theme is not women's rights, but rather "the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person."[4] In a speech given to the Norwegian Women's Rights League in 1898, Ibsen insisted that he "must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women's rights movement," since he wrote "without any conscious thought of making propaganda," his task having been "the description of humanity."[5] The Swedish playwright August Strindberg attacked the play in his volume of short stories Getting Married (1884).[6]

UNESCO inscribed Ibsen's autographed manuscripts of A Doll's House on the Memory of the World Register in 2001, in recognition of their historical value.[7]



Act one

A Doll's House opens as Nora Helmer returns from Christmas shopping. Her husband Torvald comes out of his study to banter with her. They discuss how their finances will improve now that Torvald has a new job as a bank manager. Torvald expresses his horror of debt. Nora behaves childishly and he enjoys treating her like a child to be instructed and indulged.

Soon an old friend of Nora's, Kristine Linde, arrives. She is a childless widow who is moving back to the city. Her husband left her no money, so she has tried different kinds of work, and now hopes to find some work that is not too strenuous. Nora confides to Kristine that she once secretly borrowed money from a disgraced lawyer, Nils Krogstad, to save Torvald's life when he was very ill, but she has not told him in order to protect his pride. She told everyone that the money came from her father, who died at about the same time. She has been repaying the debt from her housekeeping budget, and also from some work she got copying papers by hand, which she did secretly in her room, and took pride in her ability to earn money "as if she were a man." Torvald's new job promises to finally liberate her from this debt.

Nora asks Torvald to give Kristine a position as a secretary in the bank, and he agrees, as she has experience in bookkeeping. They leave the house together.

Krogstad arrives and tells Nora that he is worried he will be fired. He asks her to help him keep his job and says that he will fight desperately to keep it. Nora is reluctant to commit to helping him, so Krogstad reveals that he knows she committed forgery on the bond she signed for her loan from him. As a woman, she needed an adult male co-signer, so she said she would have her father do so. However the signature is dated three days after his death, which suggests that it is a forgery. Nora admits that she did forge the signature, so as to spare her dying father further worry about her (she was pregnant, poor, and had a seriously ill husband). Krogstad explains that the forgery betrayed his trust and is also a serious crime. If he told others about it, her reputation would be ruined, as was his after a similar "indiscretion," even though he was never prosecuted. He implies that what he did was in order to provide for his sick wife, who later died.

Act two

Kristine arrives to help Nora repair a dress for a costume party she and Torvald are going to tomorrow. Then Torvald comes home from the bank and Nora pleads with him to reinstate Krogstad at the bank. She claims she is worried that Krogstad will publish libelous articles about Torvald and ruin his career. Torvald dismisses her fears and explains that although Krogstad is a good worker and seems to have turned his life around, he insists on firing him because Krogstad is not deferential enough to him in front of other bank personnel. Torvald goes into his study to do some work.

Next Dr. Rank, a family friend, arrives. Nora talks about asking him for a favor. Then he reveals that he has entered the terminal stage of tuberculosis of the spine (a contemporary euphemism for congenital syphilis), and that he has always been secretly in love with her. Nora tries to deny the first revelation and make light of it, but she is more disturbed by the second. She tries clumsily to tell him that she is not in love with him, but loves him dearly as a friend.

Desperate after being fired by Torvald, Krogstad arrives at the house. Nora gets Dr. Rank to go in to Torvald's study, so he does not see Krogstad. When Krogstad comes in he declares he no longer cares about the remaining balance of Nora's loan, but that he will preserve the associated bond in order to blackmail Torvald into not only keeping him employed, but giving him a promotion. Nora explains that she has done her best to persuade her husband, but he refuses to change his mind. Krogstad informs Nora that he has written a letter detailing her crime (forging her father's signature of surety on the bond) and puts it in Torvald's mailbox, which is locked.

Nora tells Kristine of her predicament. Kristine says that she and Krogstad were in love before she married, and promises that she will try to convince him to relent.

Torvald comes in and tries to check his mail, but Nora distracts him by begging him to help her with the dance she has been rehearsing for the costume party, as she is so anxious about performing. She dances so badly and acts so worried that Torvald agrees to spend the whole evening coaching her. When the others go in to dinner, Nora stays behind for a few minutes and contemplates suicide to save her husband from the shame of the revelation of her crime, and more importantly to pre-empt any gallant gesture on his part to save her reputation.

Act three

We must come to a final settlement, Torvald. During eight whole years. . . we have never exchanged one serious word about serious things.

Nora, in Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879)

Kristine tells Krogstad that she only married her husband because she had no other means to support her sick mother and young siblings, and that she has returned to offer him her love again. She believes that he would not have stooped to unethical behavior if he had not been devastated by her abandonment and in dire financial straits. Krogstad is moved and offers to take back his letter to Torvald. However, Kristine decides that Torvald should know the truth for the sake of his and Nora's marriage.

After literally dragging Nora home from the party, Torvald goes to check his mail, but is interrupted by Dr. Rank, who has followed them. Dr. Rank chats for a while so as to convey obliquely to Nora that this is a final goodbye, as he has determined that his death is near, but in general terms so that Torvald does not suspect what he is referring to. Dr. Rank leaves, and Torvald retrieves his letters. As he reads them Nora steels herself to take her life. Torvald confronts her with Krogstad's letter. Enraged, he declares that he is now completely in Krogstad's power—he must yield to Krogstad's demands and keep quiet about the whole affair. He berates Nora, calling her a dishonest and immoral woman and telling her she is unfit to raise their children. He says that from now on their marriage will be only a matter of appearances.

A maid enters, delivering a letter to Nora. Krogstad has returned the incriminating papers, saying that he regrets his actions. Torvald exults that he is saved as he burns the papers. He takes back his harsh words to his wife and tells her that he forgives her. Nora realizes that her husband is not the strong and gallant man she thought he was, and that he truly loves himself more than he does her.

Torvald explains that when a man has forgiven his wife it makes him love her all the more since it reminds him that she is totally dependent on him, like a child. He dismisses Nora's agonized choice made against her conscience for the sake of his health and her years of secret efforts to free them from the ensuing obligations and danger of loss of reputation, while preserving his peace of mind, as a mere mistake that she made owing to her foolishness, one of her most endearing feminine traits.

Nora tells Torvald that she is leaving him to live alone so she can find out who she is and what she believes and decide what to do with her life. She says she has been treated like a doll to play with, first by her father and then by him. Concerned for the family reputation, Torvald insists that she fulfill her duty as a wife and mother, but Nora says that her first duties are to herself, and she cannot be a good mother or wife without learning to be more than a plaything. She reveals that she had expected that he would want to sacrifice his reputation for hers, and that she had planned to kill herself to prevent him from doing so. She now realizes that Torvald is not at all the kind of person she had believed him to be, and that their marriage has been based on mutual fantasies and misunderstanding.

Torvald is unable to comprehend Nora's point of view, since it contradicts all that he had been taught about the female mind throughout his life. Furthermore, he is so narcissistic that it would be impossible for him to bear to understand how he appears to her, as selfish, hypocritical and more concerned with public reputation than with actual morality. Nora leaves her keys and wedding ring and as Torvald breaks down and begins to cry, baffled by what has happened, Nora leaves the house, slamming the door behind herself.

Alternative ending

It was felt by Ibsen's German agent that the original ending would not play well in German theatres; therefore, for the play's German debut, Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending for it to be considered acceptable.[8] In this ending, Nora is led to her children after having argued with Torvald. Seeing them, she collapses, and the curtain is brought down. Ibsen later called the ending a disgrace to the original play and referred to it as a 'barbaric outrage'.[8]

Writing process and publication

Ibsen started thinking about the play around May 1878, although he did not begin its first draft until a year later, having reflected on the themes and characters in the intervening period (he visualised its protagonist, Nora, for instance, as having approached him one day wearing "a blue woolen dress").[9] He outlined his conception of the play as a "modern tragedy" in a note written in Rome on 19 October 1878.[10] "A woman cannot be herself in modern society," he argues, since it is "an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint."[11]

Ibsen sent a fair copy of the completed play to his publisher on 15 September 1879.[12] It was first published in Copenhagen on 4 December 1879, in an edition of 8,000 copies that sold out within a month; a second edition of 3,000 copies followed on 4 January 1880 and a third edition of 2,500 was issued on 8 March.[13]

Real-life basis

A Doll's House was based on the life of Laura Kieler (maiden name Laura Smith Petersen). She was a good friend of Ibsen. Much that happened between Nora and Torvald happened to Laura and her husband, Victor, with the most important exception being the forged signature that was the basis of Nora's loan. In real life, when Victor found out about Laura's secret loan, he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Two years later, she returned to her husband and children at his urging, and she went on to become a well-known Danish author, living to the age of 83. In the play, Nora left Torvald with head held high, though facing an uncertain future given the limitations women faced in the society of the time. Ibsen wrote A Doll's House at the point when Laura Kieler had been committed to the asylum, and the fate of this friend of the family shook him deeply, perhaps also because Laura had asked him to intervene at a crucial point in the scandal, which he did not feel able or willing to do. Instead, he turned this life situation into an aesthetically shaped, successful drama. Kieler eventually rebounded from the shame of the scandal and had her own successful writing career while remaining discontent with sole recognition as "Ibsen's Nora" years afterwards.[14]

Production history

A Doll's House received its world première on 21 December 1879 at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Betty Hennings as Nora and Emil Poulsen as Torvald.[15] Writing for the Norwegen newspaper Folkets Avis, the critic Erik Bøgh admired Ibsen's originality and technical mastery: "Not a single declamatory phrase, no high dramatics, no drop of blood, not even a tear."[16] Every performance of its run was sold out.[17] Another production opened at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm, Sweden, on 8 January 1880, while productions in Christiania (with Johanne Juell as Nora and Arnoldus Reimers as Torvald) and Bergen followed shortly after.[18]

In Germany, the actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe refused to perform the play as written, declaring that "I would never leave my children!"[17] Since the playwright's wishes were not protected by copyright, Ibsen decided to avoid the danger of being re-written by a lesser dramatist by committing what he called a "barbaric outrage" on his play himself and giving it an alternative ending in which Nora did not leave.[19] A production of this version opened in Flensburg in February 1880.[20] This version was also played in Hamburg, Dresden, Hanover, and Berlin, although, in the wake of protests and a lack of success, Niemann-Raabe eventually restored the original ending.[20] Another production of the original version, some rehearsals of which Ibsen attended, opened on 3 March 1880 at the Residenz Theatre in Munich.[20]

The first British production opened on 7 June 1889, starring Janet Achurch as Nora.[21] Achurch played Nora again for a 7-day run in 1897. Soon after its London première, Achurch brought the play to Australia in 1889.[22]

The play made its American première on Broadway at the Palmer's Theatre on 21 December 1889, starring Beatrice Cameron as Nora Helmer.[23]

It was first performed in France in 1894.[18]

Other productions in the United States include one in 1902 starring Minnie Maddern Fiske and a 1997 production starring Janet McTeer (in a critically acclaimed performance) at the Belasco Theater, which received three Tony Awards and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play.

A new translation by Zinnie Harris at the Donmar Warehouse, starring Gillian Anderson, Toby Stephens, Anton Lesser, Tara FitzGerald and Christopher Eccleston opened in May 2009.[24]


A Doll's House criticises the traditional roles of men and women in 19th-century marriage.[25] To many 19th-century Europeans, this was scandalous. Nothing was considered more holy than the covenant of marriage, and to portray it in such a way was completely unacceptable;[26] however, a few more open-minded critics such as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw found Ibsen's willingness to examine society without prejudice exhilarating.[27] In Germany, the production's lead actress refused to play the part of Nora unless Ibsen changed the ending, which, under pressure, he eventually did.[25] In the alternative ending, Nora gives her husband another chance after he reminds her of her responsibility to their children. This ending proved unpopular and Ibsen later regretted his decision on the matter. Virtually all productions today, however, use the original ending, as do nearly all of the film versions of this play, including Dariush Mehrjui's Sara (the Argentine version, made in 1943 and starring Delia Garcés, does not; it also modernizes the story, setting it in the early 1940s).

Because of the radical departure from traditional behavior and theatrical convention involved in Nora's leaving home, her act of slamming the door as she leaves has come to represent the play itself.[28][29] One critic noted, "That slammed door reverberated across the roof of the world."[30]

Much of the criticism is focused on Nora's self-discovery, but the other characters also have depth and value. The infected Dr. Rank and Nora both suffer from the irresponsibility of their fathers: Dr. Rank for the father who infected his family, Nora for the father she likely married to protect. Dr. Rank's disease becomes a metaphor for the poison infecting the Helmers' marriage and society at large. Mrs. Linde provides the model of a woman who has been forced to fend for and find herself – a self-aware, resourceful woman.


A Doll's House has been adapted for several film releases including two in 1973: one directed by Joseph Losey, starring Jane Fonda, David Warner and Trevor Howard; and one directed by Patrick Garland with stars Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson. In 1993, David Thacker directed, with stars Juliet Stevenson, Trevor Eve and David Calder. Dariush Mehrjui's 1993 film Sara is based on A Doll's House, with the plot transferred to Iran with Sara, played by Niki Karimi, is the Nora of Ibsen's play.

A version for American television was made in 1959, directed by George Schaefer and starring Julie Harris, Christopher Plummer, Hume Cronyn, Eileen Heckart and Jason Robards. A 1974 West German television adaptation, titled Nora Helmer was directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starred Margit Carstensen in the title role. A 1938 US radio production starred Joan Crawford as Nora and Basil Rathbone as Torvald. A later US radio version by the Theatre Guild in 1947 featured Rathbone with Wendy Hiller and Catherine Rowan, his co-star from a contemporary Broadway production.


  1. ^ The title of the play is most commonly translated as A Doll's House, though some scholars use A Doll House. John Simon argues that the only significance in the alternative translation is the difference in the way the toy is named in Britain and the United States. Egil Törnqvist argues that the alternative "simply sounds more idiomatic to Americans." See Simon (1991, 55), Törnqvist (1995, 54), and Worthen (2004, 666-691).
  2. ^ Meyer (1967, 477).
  3. ^ Krutch, Joseph Wood (1953). "Modernism" in Modern Drama, A Definition and an Estimate (First ed.). Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 9. OCLC 176284. 
  4. ^ Meyer (1967, 478).
  5. ^ Ibsen, "Speech at the Festival of the Norwegian Women's Rights League, Christiana", 26 May 1898; in Dukore (1974, 563); see also Moi (2006, 229-230).
  6. ^ Meyer (1967, 476).
  7. ^ "Henrik Ibsen: A Doll's House". UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. 16 May 2008. http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=23114&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html. Retrieved 14 December 2009. 
  8. ^ a b "The alternative ending of A Doll's House". ibsen.net. http://ibsen.net/index.gan?id=11111794. Retrieved 28 May 2009. 
  9. ^ Meyer (1967, 463-467, 472).
  10. ^ Meyer (1967, 466).
  11. ^ Ibsen, "Notes for a Modern Tragedy"; quoted by Meyer (1967, 466); see also Innes (2000, 79-81).
  12. ^ Meyer (1967, 474).
  13. ^ Meyer (1967, 475).
  14. ^ Törnqvist, Egil (1995-05-26). Ibsen, A doll's house. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-521-47866-3. 
  15. ^ Meyer (1967, 477) and Moi (2006, 227, 230).
  16. ^ Quoted by Meyer (1967, 477).
  17. ^ a b Meyer (1967, 480).
  18. ^ a b Meyer (1967, 479).
  19. ^ Meyer (1967, 480-481).
  20. ^ a b c Meyer (1967, 481).
  21. ^ Ibsen, Henrik (1889). A Doll's House [Illustrated with photographs]. William C. Archer translator. London: T Fisher Unwin. OCLC 29743002. 
  22. ^ Brockett and Hildy (2003, 353).
  23. ^ "Opening Night Production Credits: A Doll's House (1889)". The Internet Broadway Database. 2008. http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=5582. Retrieved 18 September 2008. 
  24. ^ Bassett, Kate (24 May 2009). "The Donmar's new Ibsen isn't so much a clever interpretation as a bit of questionable rewriting". The Independent (London). http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/a-dolls-house-donmar-londonbrthe-observer-nt-cottesloe-londonbrgrasses-of-a-thousand-colours-royal-court-upstairs-london-1689909.html. 
  25. ^ a b Shapiro, Ann R (2003). "The slammed door that still reverberates". In Fisher, Jerilyn; Silber, Ellen S. Women in literature: reading through the lens of gender. Westport, CT: Greenwood. pp. 99–101. ISBN 978-0-313-31346-2. 
  26. ^ McFarlane, James (1994). The Cambridge companion to Ibsen. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-521-42321-2. 
  27. ^ Griffith, Gareth (1995-12-21). Socialism and Superior Brains: Political Thought of Bernard Shaw. London: Routledge. pp. 164–165. ISBN 978-0-415-12473-7. 
  28. ^ Hornby, Richard (1995). Script into performance: a structuralist approach. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 157. http://books.google.com/books?id=dsNX6DTt7w8C&pg=PA157. 
  29. ^ Törnqvist, Egil (1995). Ibsen, a doll's house. Cambridge University Press. p. 150. http://books.google.com/books?id=fc1z4O-Kvn4C&pg=PA150. 
  30. ^ Cunningham, Lawrence S.; Reich, John J. (2009). Culture & Values, Volume II: A Survey of the Humanities with Readings. Cengage Learning. p. 492. http://books.google.com/books?id=KiW8xOi0FvYC&pg=PA492. 


  • Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. 2003. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 978-0-205-41050-7.
  • Dukore, Bernard F., ed. 1974. Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to Grotowski. Florence, KY: Heinle & Heinle. ISBN 978-0-03-091152-1.
  • Innes, Christopher, ed. 2000. A Sourcebook on Naturalist Theatre. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-15229-7.
  • Meyer, Michael. 1967. Ibsen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974. ISBN 978-0-14-021772-8.
  • Moi, Toril. 2006. Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 978-0-19-920259-1.
  • Simon, John (15 July 1991). "Baptism by Fire Island". New York) 24 (27): 55. 
  • Törnqvist, Egil. 1995. Ibsen, A Doll's House. Plays in Performance ser. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 978-0-521-47866-3.
  • Worthen, W. B. 2004. The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama, 6e. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning. 666-691.

Further reading

External links

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