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November 8, 2018

#Classic: Ibsen “Rosmersholm”

by N@ncy


Finished: 08.11.2018
Genre: play (94 pages)
Rating: A++++



  1. The play opens one year after the suicide at mill-race pond
  2. …of Rosmer’s wife, Beata.
  3. Rebecca had previously moved into the family home Rosmersholm
  4. ….as a friend of Beata.
  5. It becomes plain that she and Rosmer are in love
  6. …but he insists that their relationship is completely platonic.



  • Johannes Rosmer: former clergyman; owner of Rosmersholm
  • Rebecca West: resident at Rosmersholm
  • Professor Krol: Rosmer’s brother-in-law
  • Brendel: Rosmer’s childhood tutor
  • Mortensgaard: newspaper editor
  • Mrs. Helseth: housekeeper at Rosmersholm


Motif:    water (mill-race pond)

  1. Act 1:
  2. Rosmer has difficulty walking on the mill-path near mill-race pond
  3. Act 2:
  4. Kroll: “No. You (Rosmer) must solve the mystery of the mill-race
  5. …according to your conscience.”
  6. Act 3:
  7. Rosmer:  “You can’t possibly judge of (guilt). But I–
  8. ( Rosmer points out the window) The mill-race. (pond)
  9. Act 4:
  10. Mill-race pond…..symbol of redemption, cleansing
  11. that appeals to both the intellect and the emotions.


Strong point: detailed stage directions

  1. Ibsen tells the reader: charcter is hesitating,
  2. …speaking in subdued voice
  3. …a faint smile, sitting wearily on sofa,
  4. …springing up, wringing her hands etc.
  5. This helps me (only reading play…no stage preformance)
  6. …to create a vivid mental picture.
  7. Ibsen was less detailed about lighting:
  8. …lamp with shade over it, lighting the lamp.


Strong point:  dramatic scene endings

  1. For example…
  2. Act 1:
  3. Rebecca mentions the myth of the white horse.
  4. Housekeeper mutters: Will someone die soon?
  5. Act 2:
  6. Why does Rebecca refuse to marry the man she loves?
  7. These curtain calls are the muscle that drives the play forward!
  8. Every closing scene will effect the next…until the climatic moment!


Strong point: characterization by  stage exits

  1. The character’s inner life on stage by their ‘exits’! (external action).
  2. For example:
  3. Act 1:
  4. Mrs. Helseth (housekeeper)
  5. shaking her head and muttering to herself
  6. ..she is confused about strange conversation with Rebecca
  7. Act 2:
  8. Rosmer slaming the door shut
  9. seeking relief from tension: Rebecca refuses to marry him!
  10. Act 3:
  11. Rebecca and Mrs. Helseth…leaving stage
  12. …in search of Rebecca’s ‘ travel trunk. (…suddden journey?)
  13. Act 4: …no spoilers


Quote:  puzzling

  1. Act 4 Rebecca: “Now I’ve submitted to an alien law.”
  2. What does this mean?
  3. Rebecca has been infected by the Rosmer view of life…
  4. it enobles, but kills joy.


Prop:  secret letter

  1. Plot turns on a letter written on fine paper, red sealing wax
  2. sent from Rosmersholm to publisher of the Beacon, a newspaper.
  3. The letter is passed from character to character:
  4. Beata (Mrs Rosmer) –> Mrs. Helseth, housekeeper –> Mortensgaard
  5. The reader feels tension about the letter throughout the play
  6. …concealment, interception, revelation of secrets?



  1. Act 2:
  2. There is nothing like quoting a commandment
  3. …to give the reader a clue about the plot!
  4. Kroll  –> Mortensgaaard (publisher newspaper)
  5. “…we shall not bear false witness against our neighbour…”
  6. Act 2: Kroll –> Rosmer: 
  7. “…here in your house some game or other’s going on behind your back.”



  1. Rosmer criticizes (as a former clergyman)
  2. …Mortensgaard’ s behavior (affair with woman)
  3. ….but Rosmer does exactly the same!
  4. Monrtensgaard: …SHE wants to marry him  ..HE could not manage it.
  5. Rosmer: ….HE wants to marry….SHE could not manage it.



  1. Read introduction and Act 1-4
  2. Each act takes 40 minutes to read
  3. it feels like a novella!
  4. We meet Johannes Rosmer leading a
  5. …stormy personal and political life.


  1. The only way to really appreciate all the
  2. subtle clues in this play…is to read it twice!
  3. Once you know what happens in
  4. Act 4
  5. …the poignant conversation between
  6. Rebecca and Rosmer in the beginning of
  7. Act 3
  8. …will amaze you.
  9. You will realize the reaction of Rebecca is based on
  10. a long hidden secret that is gnawing at her heart.


  1. Theme: is obvious….confession of sins.
  2. The characters (Rosmer and Rebecca) examine
  3. their consciences without the help of the clergy.
  4. Theme: seen in many Ibsen’s plays
  5. …the redemptive power of love.


  1. Act 4:
  2. Dark in parts….but an ending
  3. with crackling dialogue
  4. ….between Rosmer en Rebecca
  5. ….filled with guilt and forgiveness.
  6. Act 2:
  7. Lesson learned?
  8. What is your most precious possession?
  9. …your ideals.
Read more from Classic, plays

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