The London premieres of Henrik Ibsen’s plays in the late 1880s and 1890s sparked strong reactions both of admiration and disgust. This controversy, I suggest, was largely focused on national identity and artistic cosmopolitanism. While Ibsen’s English supporters viewed him as a leader of a new international theatrical movement, detractors dismissed him as an obscure writer from a primitive, marginal nation. This essay examines the ways in which these competing assessments were reflected in the English adaptations, parodies, and sequels of Ibsen’s plays that were written and published during the final decades of the nineteenth century, texts by Henry Herman and Henry Arthur Jones, Walter Besant, Bernard Shaw, Eleanor Marx and Israel Zangwill, and F. Anstey (Thomas Anstey Guthrie). These rewritings tended to respond to Ibsen’s foreignness in one of three ways: Either to assimilate the plays’ settings, characters, and values into normative Englishness; to exaggerate their exoticism (generally in combination with a suggestion of moral danger); or to keep their Norwegian settings and depict those settings (along with characters and ideas) as ordinary and familiar. Through their varying responses to Ibsen’s Norwegian origin, I suggest, these adaptations offered a uniquely practical and concrete medium for articulating ideas about the ways in which art shapes both national identity and the international community.
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