The Ibsen Cycle

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The Ibsen Cycle: The Design of the Plays from Pillars of Society to When We Dead Awaken (1975, revised 1992) is a book by the British literary researcher and Ibsen scholar Brian Johnston (1932–2013). Johnston emphasizes the impact of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831) on the final twelve realistic contemporary dramas of Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906). In the Introduction to the book he describes his project as follows:

This book undertakes a complete revaluation and reinterpretation of Ibsen’s methods and intentions as the dramatist of the twelve realistic plays from The Pillars of Society (1877) to When We Dead Awaken (1899). It follows Ibsen's description by seeing the plays as a single cycle "with mutual connections between the plays" and it demonstrates that this single cyclical structure is based upon the one great intellectual structure of reality available to Ibsen in the nineteenth century: the philosophical system of Hegel. The novelty does not lie in attributing to Hegel a strong influence upon Ibsen's thought and art, for, though by no means generally accepted by interpreters of Ibsen, this has, at least, been recognized by a number of scholars and critics from the time of C. Pearce's essay "Hegelian Ideas in Three Tragedies by Ibsen." What is new in the present study is the discovery that the realistic plays are structured directly upon Hegel’s major philosophical work, The Phenomenology of Mind, and that the sequence of dialectical dramas in Hegel’s account of human consciousness is paralleled in the sequence of dialectical dramas in Ibsen’s Cycle.[1]

In the foreword to the revised version of The Ibsen Cycle, the renowned American translator of Ibsen, and founding president of the Ibsen Society of America, Rolf Fjelde, writes on the influence of Johnston's work:

At this juncture, more than a decade and a half after the first publication of The Ibsen Cycle by Brian Johnston, it is difficult to imagine a time when its influence was prevalent and its argument not widely discussed. It has come to function thereby as an appropriately authentic reflection of the master spirit it examines: Ibsen suffered and outlived several storms of controversy, with A Doll's House and, especially, Ghosts, provoking the most abuse, before seeing his plays finally attain the status of modern classics. In much the same way that Ibsen’s superbly deployed half-century contribution to the theater succeeded in formulating, from what proved to be an optimal vantage, both a retrospective and a prescriptive mythos for his time, the late nineteenth century extending into our own, Brian Johnston, nearly one hundred years later, has permanently altered both the tradition and the prospects of Anglo-American Ibsen criticism by redefining the magnitude of his achievement.[2]


  1. ^ Brian Johnston: The Ibsen Cycle, Pennsylvania State University Press 1992, pp. 1-2
  2. ^ Brian Johnston: The Ibsen Cycle, Pennsylvania State University Press 1992, p. ix

Further reading[edit]

The Ibsen Cycle (online)