The geography of consciousness in Ibsen's theatrical practice


  • Philip Larson University of California



Henrik Ibsen, Rosmersholm, The Lady from the Sea, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, perceptual psychology, mythic action, imagery, well-made play


When a director stands in the cockpit of a rehearsal he or she sees a different object than a person reading the text of a play. This article attempts to outline a style of criticism that may be useful to persons preparing to produce Ibsen’s plays. Several critical principles are presented: first, that Ibsen’s plays have a systematic pattern of imagery; second, that Ibsen’s characters have a certain way of seeing the world, and that this way of seeing amounts to a psychology, what could now be termed a perceptual psychology; third, that the plays have a double action, one action motivated in the mature plays by the conventions of the well-made play, and the other action motivated by a mythic logic, in which the Ibsen character desires to see the world in a certain way. This desire can have potentially disastrous consequences if pursued too insistently, because of the disparity between a character’s mythic vision and the facts of life as it is actually lived.

Author Biography

Philip Larson, University of California

Philip Larson was educated at the University of California in Berkeley, California, where he received the PhD degree in dramatic art. He has taught theatre and drama at Berkeley, Stanford University, and St. Lawrence University. He has also taught English literature and history at five universities in China, including Zhejiang University and Nanjing University. He has directed Ibsen’s plays in Berkeley, California; Canton, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Seattle, Washington. He is the author of Ibsen in Skien and Grimstad: his education, reading and early works, published by the Ibsen museums in Grimstad and Skien, 1999. This book is available free online at, together with an extensive website of research materials on Ibsen’s early cultural environment. Mr. Larson lives with his son and grandson in northern California, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.




How to Cite

Larson, Philip. 2015. “The geography of consciousness in Ibsen’s theatrical practice”. Nordlit, no. 34 (February):303–314.