Plays I love to teach: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

I love teaching A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. It is a brilliant play to teach as it always throws up so many dividing opinions about the characters actions and motivations that the students are in constant debate and conversation about it.

The story is simple but relies on a basic knowledge of late 19th Century Society and, in particular, the role of women in that society. That women in this society were subservient to men in all forms of life and that men, as well as women, have a particular role to play (and be seen playing) in a formal relationship is important to understand. This is because once that is understood the frustrations of all the characters, male and female, can be truly recognised and explored.

The central relationship between the two principle characters of Nora and Torvald are tested to breaking point. This is not a 21st Century relationship of love but a 19th Century relationship based on social status, power and authority. It is doubtful that any 21st Century notion of love ever entered into this relationship.

Nora is frustrated and is in want for something more, something better and something with responsibility. She has had a taste of that, she secretly arranged a loan from a loanshark called Krogstad. Of course, she has to re-pay this loan and has to do so in secret. This is where her desire for the new clashes with the old. She has never been independent, never been away from direct male influence having been passed from her father to her husband. Whilst it could be argued that her childish and skittish appearance is a role in itself to play up to her husband and distract him from the truth, her naivety and inexperience can not be argued away. She does not understand the seriousness of the situation and her actions, and the potentially damaging consequences they might have on her and her family. Of course her naivety of life has meant that she hasn’t seen that  her actions and her desire to have freedom juxtaposes the roles and constraints of society at the time. When she finally does realise that, it is almost too late and so she is faced with a choice – to back down and conform to society or to break free completely.

There is so much to this play and the students can relate to it through that struggle to find a definition for yourself in the society around oneself. It has caused so many arguments over the years I’ve been teaching it, it is really very engaging.

Another great benefit to this text is that it is perfect for exploring through the lens of Stanislavski. I have a great scheme of work that I’ve taught for many years for both AQA and Edexcel As Level courses that explores both the play and the theories of Stanislavski.

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