Ibsens lengselsfabrikk

By Terje J Tveit, Master of Arts, cand. mag.

Ibsen-studier gjennom Lacans hegelske glassøye

Produced with the generous support of

University of Copenhagen


2015 - 2019

Ibsen's Sense of Yearning

Ibsen studies through Lacan's Hegelian Looking Glass



This study examines how the work and ideas of the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831) has informed Henrik Ibsen's (1828 – 1906) notion of self and his expose of the human psyche in a modern world permeated by anxiety, loneliness and alienation. In doing so, the paper provides a reappraisal of the incipient modernism of the playwright's dramatic works.

On this premise, the study adopts a psychoanalytic approach in which Hegel's ideas are read through the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's (1901 – 1981) theory of the split subject in order to unveil Hegel’s significant, yet often evaded and feared, influence on Ibsen’s inner dramas and knowledge of human psychology. This approach is exemplified through analysis of the dialogue, characters, character configurations, stage directions, symbolism and dramaturgical composition of five plays from Ibsen’s late works: Rosmersholm  (1886), The Lady from the Sea (1888), Little Eyolf (1894), John Gabriel Borkman (1896) and When We Dead Awaken (1899). The study's findings are then juxtaposed with the work of John Northam (1922 – 2004), Daniel Haakonsen (1917 – 89), Vigdis Ystad (1942 - 2019), Jørgen Dines Johansen (1943 – 2018), and Toril Moi (1953 - ), whose approach reflects the dominant tendency in post-war Ibsen research to exclude Hegel's influence on Ibsen’s later works.

In bringing Hegel's thinking and Lacan's ideas together, the study shows how Ibsen's dramas provide a sharp and often painful insight into the playwright's deep-seated human understanding of ourselves where idealism and modernism are in harmony, not conflict; where the psychological corresponds to the philosophical; and where we do not have to locate Ibsen’s work in a specific context or period to appreciate the voice that still engage and speak to us every time we read his plays or watch them on stage.

Keywords: Ibsen, Hegel, Lacan, idealism, modernism, new criticism, symbolism, psychoanalysis

The thesis is written in Norwegian and is dedicated to Michael Head for his ceaseless support of Ibsen Stage Company's work.

Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about the thesis.