Anonym anmelder i The Times
When We Dead Awaken ved The Stage Society anmeldt i The Times i London 27. januar 1903 (No. 36,988).
THE STAGE SOCIETY.
Nothing would be easier than to make fun of When We Dead Awaken. The work we greatly fear it must be called the last dramatic work of an old man in failing health, it has some features which rather caricature than continue the method of Ibsen in his prime. Thus Ulfheim, the bear-hunter and bear might be considered as an unconsciously comic personage, and we can imagine the pen of the ready parodist making fine play with the Inspector at the Baths. Nothing, again, would be easier than to expose the absurdities of the play from the rigorously matter-of-fact point of view adopted by Thomas Rymer in his examination of Othello. What is not so easy, and is therefore better worth doing, is to try to understand the play, to conjecture what Ibsen meant, and to measure how much of his meaning he has expressed. The proper business of criticism was never better expressed than in the words of Spinoza Neque fiere, neque ridere, neque admirare, neque contemnere sed intelligere. If criticism had only minded its business over Ibsen! If it had only tried to understand him a little more, and foolishly contemned or not less foolishly admired him a little less! More than any modern dramatist, he has given us all «something to break our minds upon.» And, for our own part, we find When We Dead Awaken a particularly hard nut to crack.
This play or rather, to use the authors description, this dramatic epilogue is written in Ibsens latest or mystico-symbolical method, and, as we have said, slightly caricatures it. Even at its best that is not a method which we can think a good one for the art of the theatre. There are scores of excellent reasons why a play should, above all things, be plain-sailing, why its characters should say what they mean and mean no more than they say, why their conduct should be referable to the standards of actual life. Now this last play of Ibsens, like its immediate predecessors, is always meaning more than it says, always saying something which is not to be taken literally, but as symbolic of something else, while the conduct of its personages, referred to the actual standards of life, would be mere midsummer madness. It is clear that when a middle-aged sculptor and a young woman in white climb a mountain in a storm and say they are going «up to the Peak of Promise» to hold «their marriage feast,» or when the sculptor tells his wife, who has announced her intention of going off bear-hunting for some days with a strange gentleman, «I have not the slightest objection» it is clear when such things are said and done that more is meant than meets the eye. The fact is the people are not people, but personified ideas embodied états dâme and their actions are not conditioned by probability, or common sense, or any external reality, but by some inner adventure-plot of ideas and soul-states. In such a case it would be absurd to find fault with the external actions on Judge Bracks ground that «people dont do these things.» In such a case all that really matters is the inner adventure-plot. But about that the playgoer is entitled to require that it shall have some logic, some necessity, of its own; and, try as we may, we cannot see the logic of this inner adventure-plot of idea and soul-state in When We Dead Awaken. We say to the author, What exactly is your thesis? What conclusion would you have us draw? But the author (like Dr. Johnson when tackled by an inquisitive lady about ghosts) «prefers to leave the subject in obscurity.» We understand, or think we understand, Rubek, the sculptor, the «artist temperament,» who has æsthetized all the flesh and blood out of life, and who thinks he has cleared his account with sin by modelling himself as a figure in a bronze group in an attitude of remorse. We understand, or think we understand, Irene, whom Rubek has «used» as a model, and whose soul has died within her because he could never see that she was not only model, but woman. We feel reasonably sure that we understand Maia, the frivolous, excitement-loving wife, and Ulfheim, the shaggy half-human animal, the faun, who can give Maia the excitement she needs. We can understand why there should be a chasse-croisé and exchange of partners in this quartet. But what is the logic of the avalanche which wipes out Rubek and Irene? Why should Irene be sometimes a lunatic with homicidal tendencies and sometimes only mad nor nor west endowed, in fact, with remarkable powers of intellectual analysis? And what is the significance of Rubeks artistic degeneration, when he deliberately turned all his portrait-busts into malicious caricatures? All these (and some others) are to us «puzzling questions,» if «not beyond conjecture.» We do not clearly understand the idea-plot of the play.
But there is always this to be said about Ibsen whether you clearly understand him or not, he gives you a thrill which no one else can give you. With him you get glimpses of the strange crepuscular things of life, remote corners of the sub-consciousness as in all the scenes wherein Irene and Rubek review their past history and suddenly some touch of weird poetry will bring up a «lump» in your throat as, at the close of Act II, when Rubek and Irene dream over the brook, throwing in leaves that turn into Lohengrins boat. And then, after all the studies, more particularly in French literature, of the «artist temperament,» studies so numerous that it seemed there was nothing more to be said, here is Ibsen saying something more, something new. There is more illumination of the subject in a flash like Irenes half-scornful, half-pitying reference to the sculptors statue of himself as Remorse than in all the laboured analyses of the Brothers De Goncourt. Puzzled by the play as one constantly is, one cannot resist the spell of it. It is not Ibsen at his best; perhaps it is in some respects Ibsen at his weakest. But the lees of a great mind are better than the «first sprightly runnings» of a small one.
At the performance of the play given by the Stage Society at the Imperial Theatre yesterday afternoon the chief feature was the Irene of Miss Henrietta Watson, an admirable handling of a difficult part, always thoughtful, and sometimes deeply pathetic. The others, Mr. Titheradge (Rubek), Miss Mabel Hackney (Maia), and Mr. Laurence Irving (Ulfheim), were very good, too, in their several ways.