Comparative study of Thematic influence of Henrik Ibsen On Bernerard Shaw

Ibsen, father of the modern drama, has influenced other playwrights not only in Scandinavia but also in all over the Europe. George Bernard Shaw is one of the greatest playwrights in the word that has been influenced by Ibsen’s novelty of techniques in drama. Ibsen was important to Shaw not just as a socialist, social philosopher and not exclusively because of his ideas but in wide variety of ways. This paper is a comparative study of thematic influence of Henrik Ibsen on mature Shaw. The main notification of this paper is to back up thematic influence of Ibsen on Shaw by finding the same ideas and themes in Ibsen’s famous play, A Doll’s House, then comparing them with ideas in Shaw’s play, Candida. Although some Shaw’s critics deny that his mind was full of Ibsen, this paper challenges to prove that Shaw frequently employed Ibsen’s characters, problems and themes fairly in his own style and fashion.

1. Introduction
Ibsen’s twenty-six plays during fifty years of writing inspired subsequent drama so purposefully that gained him the reputation of “father of the modern drama”. His significance was attributed to introducing the social play and realistic problem play to the stage of theater. Ibsen’s realistic problem play and his interest in socialism and feminism makes him one of the most continually played dramatists that had unquestionable influence on following dramatists. It seems that Bernard Shaw was the best one to pursue Ibsen’s problem play. Shaw transformed English theater of romantic conventions of later dramatists plays called “well made plays”, into theater of ideas.

To Shaw the importance of great poets as Shakespeare who understood society and its implications, but writer in typical vein, is less meaningful than utilitarian talent. A Doll’s House said Shaw “will be as flat as ditchwater when Midsummer Night Dream will still be as flesh as paint, but it will have done more work for world and that’s enough for highest genius.

Although Ibsen’s scholars show a little awareness of similarities between Shaw and their playwrights, the ideological influence of Ibsen on Shaw can not be neglected. The trace of Ibsenism can be followed in Shaw’s style, characterization and more strongly in his ideas and themes. What is important is the fact that Shaw without Ibsen couldn’t be Bernard Shaw that we know today. Shaw’s critics believe that Marx influenced him socially and Ibsen helped bring together his aesthetical and social views. Shaw admired Ibsen’s psychological symbolic drama and said that: “If my head not been full of Ibsen, I should have less amusing.”
The structural and thematic influences of Ibsen’s play are limited in several Shaw’s plays. Although Shaw mentioned that some of his plays due nothing to Ibsen and even some of them were written when Shaw did know nothing about Ibsen, there are a lot of clues that some socialistic and feministic ideas that helped to shape Shaw’s ideas originated from Ibsen. Shaw wrote to Daily Chronicle on the question that whether his dramatic works were due to the influence of Ibsen and De Maupassant: “do not let us the cry of Ibsen whenever we find a modern idea in a play.”
After Shaw’s acquaintance with Ibsen, his ideas flow his way toward what was in the mind of Ibsen. Therefore Shaw’s latter plays are touched Ibsen’s idea, and the presence of Ibsen’s effect on Shaw’s literary themes is undeniable.

2. Comparing the Plots: Women in Dilemma
Since this paper intends to challenge thematic influence of Ibsen on Bernard Shaw, two plays, A Doll’s House and Candida are chosen to prove this claim. Nora Helmer, heroine in Ibsen’s play, is a quiet immature woman who suddenly recognizes that her martial situation happens to be a “life lie”. Finding the truth in her marriage life, she struggles to find her liberty and she knows that she have to experience real life to gain her freedom. Thus, she is in dilemma to leave her ingratitude husband and her family behind to gain experience or continue living in a home where she is treated like a doll in. Finally, she decides to choose a proper way and sets herself free from the bounds to assure discovering herself. Bernard Shaw made some comment about Nora: “The moment she [Nora] leaves her home is the moment her life begins.”
The idea of a modern woman in dilemma of finding truth about herself and to be loyal to the norms and conventions of the society first introduced by Ibsen in his plays while years later Shaw proposed it skillfully and more evolved in different situation in his dramas. Shaw’s Candida is set with the parallel story and theme that is upside down with Ibsen’s. Candida is a name for a woman who is in dilemma of choosing between her husband and a lover. Shaw himself in a note to London performance of Candida wrote:

The surprise in Candida a counterblast to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, showing that in a real typical Doll’s House it is a man who is doll. After A Doll’s House is the reverse of Candida.

3. Emancipated Woman
The emancipated woman is a theme Ibsen was greatly involved with in his works. Women in major works of Ibsen like Rebecca West in Rosemersholm, Loan Hessel in Pillars of Society and Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House are figures regarded as emancipated women in different levels. Nora Helmer is a typical Ibsen’s character of nineteen century middle class family who sacrifices herself to save her husbands life, but her husband doesn’t care for her sacrifice. Nora who has been treated like a doll in her marriage life awakens at the end of the play and finds herself tied to family bounds and conventional duties of a wife imposed upon her by society and the male dominated society. Ibsen proposes the idea when Nora is in a big dilemma of setting herself free from bounds of family conventions to experience real life and discovering truth about self, or staying at the same house with his family. Attacking the conventional standards of the society, Ibsen shows the process of emancipation of a woman when Nora finally decides to set her journey up to leave family and discover the truth about herself. Ibsen himself in a note about this play says:

A woman can not be herself in contemporary society, it is an exclusive male society with law drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view.

Shaw was got interested in plays of his Norwegian counterpart specially A Doll’s House because he was considering them as modern play. He loved the discussion scene at the end of the play and utilized it in his drama, Candida. Nora and Candida has many characteristic in common. Later is considered as an emancipated woman because she is a wise man with great soul who tries to offer love to a young poet in order to make him abandon the impure love of another bad woman; however, the society and her husband do not accept this innocent mocking love. Her goodness and purity leads her to search for reality and truth in her life when she is in dilemma of choosing her lover and her husband. Informed of the striking similarities between his drama and Ibsen’s as a result of influence, Shaw wrote in a note to London production of Candida the following:

The surprise in Candida forty years ago was its turning the table on A Doll’s House. For though the cards aren’t packed against the husband as they were in Ibsen’s play, and he is questionably a genuine good fellow of high character and unselfish spirit, yet it is shown irresistibly that domestically he is the poet and doll, and that is his wife who runs the establishment and makes all his public triumph possible.

Confessing that his drama, Candida, is a counterblast to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Shaw put a woman on the stage who is resemblance to Nora in the way she is in dilemma about choosing and she finds out truths about her marriage life. The only difference is that this is Marchbanks, the young poet, who lives the house at night. Both women characters in the plays are in dilemma of opposing norms and conventions of society and marriage to find their identity and know themselves or stick on to their life lie. Therefore, Shaw’s connection to Ibsen and his influence on Shaw’s ideas and thoughts is vivid both in characterization and in themes.

4. Unwomanly Woman
Shaw in his book Quintessence of Ibsenism mentions some points about technical novelty in Ibsen’s plays and using conflicts of characters for special purposes in his plays. Bernard Shaw is concerned with the external, social conflict between characters instead of tension and internal struggle that we see in most of Ibsen’s work. According to Shaw the dramas rise through a conflict of ideas rather than a misunderstanding, ambiguity, treachery or ambitions and conflict is not always between the hero and villain, as you see in Candida or A Doll’s House there is no obvious hero or villain. Of course Shaw does not see the plays of Ibsen as a kind of socialist judgment on marriage law or the position of women, but he believes that external conflicts of characters are very noticeable because they show their struggle toward their aims that are freedom and liberty.
Shaw continues in his book that his Norwegian counterpart’s typical play is one in which the “leading woman is an unwomanly woman and the villain is an idealist.” What is presumed from his statements is that Ibsen is imprecisely turning the norms and conventions of the society, surrounding the life a woman, overturned.
To understand Ibsen’s image of an Unwomanly Woman one must think over his definition about Womanly Woman that can elaborate the concept of New Woman. A Womanly Woman is one who rejects her womanliness and clinches to her duty to her husband, children, to the society, to the law and everyone except herself. Thus, the woman is an immediate slave of duty and an indirect slave of man. The ideal woman is one who does everything that the ideal husband likes and if a woman dares face to fact that she is treated like this, as a doll like Nora, she either opposes herself or almost rebels like most of Ibsen’s women characters. Unwomanly Woman, on the other hand, is the emancipated woman who has revolt against the conventional family and marriage life and worst than all against a male dominated society. Shaw in his lecture to Fabian society about a woman with the same name of Womanly Woman mentions the same point:

Woman’s duty to herself is no duty at all, therefore woman has repudiated altogether. In that repudiation lays her freedom; for it is false to say that woman is now directly the salve of man: she is immediate slave of duty; and as man’s pass to freedom is strewn with the wreckage of duties and ideals he has trampled on, so must hers be.

Ibsen, of course, doesn’t look forward to that all women like Nora should act what she did, but he intends to show that the position of women in the society is going to find a new aspect.
The concept of Unwomanly Woman or new woman is surely a major theme in Shaw’s major works specially Candida that is a result of Ibsen’s impact on Shaw’s idea. Candida, as Shaw describes her, is a woman of thirty, well built, well nourished, likely on guesses to become matronly later on, but now quiet on her best with double charm of youth and motherhood. She is the best wife for a person like Morell, but he is not the best husband for her and this is all that Marchbanks, her lover, wants to say. Morell who is a preacher speaks rather than listen, so he understands less than a man should.
In the second act when Candida talks to Morell taking into account her regret that she couldn’t teach love to Marchbanks, she realizes that her husband understands nothing from her words.

Candida: Don’t you understand? (He shakes his hand. She turns to him again, so as explain with the fondest intimacy) I mean, will he forgive me for not teaching him myself? For abandoning him to the bad woman for the sake of my goodness, of my purity, as you call it? Ah James how little you understand me, to talk of your confidence in my goodness and purity! I would give them both to poor Eugene [Marchbanks] as willingly as I would give him my shawl to beggar dying of cold, if there were nothing else to restrain me. Put your trust in my love for you, James; for if that went, I should care very little for your sermons: more phrases that you cheat yourself and others with everyday. ( she is about to rise).
Morell: His words
Candida: (checking herself quickly in the act of getting up) whose words?
Morell: Eugene’s
Candida: (delighted) He is always right. He understands you, he understands me; He understands Prossy; and you darling, you understand nothing.

Candida offers Eugene pure motherhood love which symbolizes with the clothes that she endows to beggar to protect him from dying of cold; Although, society doesn’t differentiate pure motherhood love with the other ones. As one can grasp from comparison, Ibsen is significant to Shaw for many reasons. The best ones are ideas concerning exploiting women and the right to live ones own life for women which are originally offered by Ibsen and valued by Shaw skillfully.

5. Criticizing Idealism
Considering marriage community, Bernard Shaw in his book about Ibsen, Quintessence of Ibsenism, categories people into three different groups. Counting them out of one thousand, he set seven hundreds in Philistine seat, those who are satisfied with their marriage life, two hundreds ninety nine are called realists and just one remains as an idealist. In both plays there are list of characters that can be ranked as mentioned above. Helmer and Trovald both are idealist men when Nora and Candida can be called Philistine at the beginning of the play because at the end they are enlightened. Mrs. Linde in A Doll’s House, and Marchbanks in Candida both are realists who see the truth. Mrs. Linde doesn’t let Korgstad to take his letter back and Nora’s secret is divulged to Trovald and Marchbanks is a lover who believes Morell doesn’t deserve such a good wife as Candid.
Presence of two idealist husbands in both plays by Shaw and Ibsen besides characters that can be labeled Philistines and realists show the striking ideological similarities between dramatists. However this can be considered as firm evidence to prove that notion that Shaw has borrowed the idea from Ibsen originally and furnished it skillfully with a theoretical assumption in a book contains studying Ibsen.
In both plays, Candida and A Doll’s House, husbands are described idealist men who evidently powerful manly husbands are offering their protection and support to their wives although reality is totally different. At the end of the play they both figure out that they are neither powerful nor protective or even supportive. Torvald at the last act of the play says Nora:
“only lean on me …… I have wings to shield you.” The dramatic irony expressed by Ibsen has its clue in the first act when Nora explains Mrs. Linde that how painful and humiliating it would be for her husband, Trovald, with his manly self-sufficiency to know that he awed anything to her. In the other hand, Morell offers more or less the same protection to his wife Cnadida, telling her:

Morell: I have nothing to offer you but my strength for your defense, my honesty for your surety, my ability and industry for your livelihood, and my authority and position for your dignity. This is all becomes a man to offer to woman.

Shaw uses the situational irony at the end of the play when Candida announces that she intends to devote herself to the weaker man because he needs protection and that is her husband, Morell. Shaw has used the same idea of attacking an idealist at the end of the play when Morell finds out that he has been chosen not because of his manly offer but because his wife considers him weaker and deserves sympathy and protection.
The way the both plays end is another validation to prove the claim for thematic influence of Ibsen on Shaw. The curtains are down in both plays sooner than a discussion scene told by women appears as regularly at the end of each play concerning the weakness of an idealist husband. The scene is followed by leaving a character at night to seek his or her identity outside the conventional world of family. Nora finds out truth about her life and leaves the family to search the reality. At the same time, Shaw describes Marchbanks departure at night to find truth with a secret in his heart. As a result, as we have seen Ibsen’s play clearly is served as one of Shaw’s models to write Candida. William Raymond about the end of the play declares that: “A major weakness in Candida I feel, is that Marchbanks transformation at the end of the play is too abrupt; it isn’t easy for us to accept, on the basis of what he has gone before his declaration in act three. I no longer desire happiness and his decision to gout into the night. The explanation of this abruptness could have something to do with Ibsen.”
Shaw himself at the end of his preface to three plays for puritans declares, “I am a crow who has followed many ploughs.” He continues that he is echoing Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Ibsen, Tolstoy and some other heresiarch in Europe.

End Notes
Bernard Dukore,(ed), Mac Graw Hill, Encyclopedia of world drama, Vol.2&3, New York, 1946, pp. 338-421.
J.L.Wisenthal, Shaw and Ibsen, The Quintessence of Ibsenism, University of Toronto press, London, 1979, p. 38.
Richard Nickson, G.B.Shaw’s Candida, monarch notes press Paterson college state, London, 1970, p.
J.L.Wisenthal, Shaw and Ibsen, The Quintessence of Ibsenism, University of Toronto press, London, 1979, p. 52.
Richard Nickson, G.B.Shaw’s Candida, monarch notes press Paterson college state, London, 1970, p. 68.
Warren. S. Smith, Bernard Shaw’s plays with background and criticism, Norton critical edition, New York, 1970, p.
John Northan, “Ibsen”, A critical study: A Doll’s House Characterization, Cambridge universitypress, London, 1973, p.42-50
James Macfarlane, The Cambridge companion of Ibsen, Cambridge university press, London, 1994, p. 79.
Richard Nickson, G.B.Shaw’s Candida, monarch notes press Paterson college state, London, 1970, pp. 52-63
.L.Wisenthal, Shaw and Ibsen, The Quintessence of Ibsenism, University of Toronto press, London, 1979, p. 98.
Edward R. Pease, The History of Fabian Society, The Hamlyn Publishing group, London, 1975.
George Bernard Shaw, Candida, acII, p.23
Krogstad is a lawyer who went to school with Torvald and holds a subordinate position at Torvald’s bank. He is a man from whom Nora has borrowed money to save her husband but her forgery is reported to Torvald by Korgstad who asks Nora to enforce her husband to overlook his forgery at the bank.
Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House, act II, p. 66
George Bernard Shaw, Candida, acII, p.26
Raymond Williams, Modern Tragedy, Stanford University press, California, 1985, p.15.
Richard Nickson, G.B.Shaw’s Candida, monarch notes press Paterson college state, London, 1970, pp. 79-92


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