Henrik Ibsen

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The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom — these are the pillars of society.

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828-03-201906-05-23) was a Norwegian playwright who was largely responsible for the rise of the modern realistic drama. It is said that Ibsen is the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare.


To live is to battle the demons in the heart as well as the brain. To write is to preside at judgement day over one's self.
  • At leve er - krig med trolde
    i hjertets og hjernens hvælv.
    At digte, - det er at holde
    dommedag over sig selv.
    • To live is to battle the demons
      in the heart as well as the brain.
      To write is to preside at
      judgement day over one's self.
      Et vers (A Verse), (published 1877, 1886) from the volume Poems
    • Leben, das heisst bekriegen
      In Herz und Hirn die Gewalten;
      Und dichten; über sich selber
      Den Gerichtstag halten.
    • Most probably Ibsen wrote this, the alleged original version, in German as a dedication to a female reader. It was originally published in a German paper in 1886. [1]

Brand (1866)

  • Ikke tusend ord
    sig prenter, som én gernings spor.
    • A thousand words can't
      make the mark a single deed will leave.
    • Manden, Act II
  • Tabets alt din vinding skabte —
    Evigt ejes kun det tabte!
    • Losing all was winning's cost!
      Eternally owned is but what's lost!
    • Brand, Act IV
  • Brand: Svar mig, Gud, i dødens slug!
    gælder ej et frelsens fnug
    mandeviljens quantum satis?
    [Skreden begraver ham; hele dalen fyldes.]
    En Røst: [Räber gennem tordenbragene] Han er deus caritatis!
    • Brand: Answer me, God, in the jaws of death:
      Is there no salvation for the Will of Man?
      No small measure of salvation?
      [The avalanche buries him. The valley is swallowed up.]
      A Voice: [Calls through the crashing thunder] He is the God of Love.
    • Act V

Peer Gynt (1867)

[First performed in Oslo (then called Christiania) on February 24, 1876, with incidental music by Edvard Grieg]

  • Peer, du lyver!
    • Peer, you are lying!
    • Åse, Act I, Scene I
  • Om jeg hamrer eller hamres,
    ligefuldt så skal der jamres!
    • Whether I pound or am being pounded,
      all the same there will be moaning!
    • Peer Gynt, Act I, Scene I
    • Peer complains that no matter what he does, it is not what people want.
  • Ja, tænke det; ønske det; ville det med;
    men gjøre det! Nej, det skjønner jeg ikke!
    • To think it, wish it, even want it —
      but do it! No, that I cannot understand.
    • Peer Gynt, Act III, Scene I
    • Peer Gynt says this after he sees a boy cut off his finger to avoid serving in the army.
  • Really to sin you have to be serious about it.
    • Button-Moulder, Act V, Scene VII

The Pillars of Society (1877)

  • I'm afraid for all those who'll have the bread snatched from their mouths by these machines. You are very fond, sir, of talking about the consideration we owe to the community; it seems to me, however, that the community has its duties too. What business has science and capitalism got, bringing all these new inventions into the works, before society has produced a generation educated up to using them!
    • Aune, Act II
  • Look into any man's heart you please, and you will always find, in every one, at least one black spot which he has to keep concealed.
    • Bernick, Act III
  • The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom — these are the pillars of society.
    • Lona, Act IV

A Doll's House (1879)

  • There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt.
    • Torvald Helmer, Act I
  • What's to become of the morally sound? Left out in the cold, I suppose. We must heal the sick.
    • Dr. Rank, Act I
  • Many a man can save himself if he admits he's done wrong and takes his punishment.
    • Torvald Helmer, Act I
  • I've had the most extraordinary longing to say 'Bloody Hell'!
    • Nora Helmer, Act II
  • You don't get nothing for nothing in this life.
    • Dr. Rank, Act III
  • There is a big black hat and it makes you invisible. Have you heard of that hat? You put it on and then no one can see you.
    • Dr. Rank, Act III, speaking of death
  • The black, cold, icy water. Down and down, without end - if it would only end.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
  • But our home's been nothing but a playpen. I've been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa's doll-child. And in turn the children have been my dolls. I thought it fun when you played with me, just as they thought it fun when I played with them. That's been our marriage, Torvald.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
    • Variant translation: Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa's doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald.
  • If I'm ever to reach any understanding of myself and the things around me, I must learn to stand alone. That's why I can't stay here with you any longer.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
  • I have other duties equally sacred ... Duties to myself.
    • Nora Helmer, Act III
    • Variant translation: I have another duty equally sacred ... My duty to myself.
  • Helmer: First and foremost, you are a wife and mother.
    Nora: That I don't believe any more. I believe that first and foremost I am an individual, just as you are.

Ghosts (1881)

  • To crave for happiness in this world is simply to be possessed by a spirit of revolt. What right have we to happiness?
    • Manders, Act I
  • I am half inclined to think we are all ghosts, Mr. Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our fathers and mothers that exists again in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and all kinds of old dead beliefs and things of that kind. They are not actually alive in us; but there they are dormant, all the same, and we can never be rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper and read it, I fancy I see ghosts creeping between the lines. There must be ghosts all over the world. They must be as countless as the grains of the sands, it seems to me. And we are so miserably afraid of the light, all of us.
    • Mrs. Alving, Act II

An Enemy of the People (1882)

You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.
  • A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.
    • Billing, Act I
  • The majority never has right on its side.
    • Dr. Stockmann, Act IV
    • Robert Farquharson translation
  • You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.
    • Dr. Stockmann, Act V
    • Robert Farquharson translation
  • Sagen er den, ser I, at den stærkeste mand i verden, det er han, som står mest alene.
    • You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.
    • Dr. Stockmann, Act V

The Wild Duck (1884)

  • Always do that, wild ducks do. They shoot to the bottom as deep as they can get, sir — and bite themselves fast in the tangle and seaweed — and all the devil's own mess that grows down there. And they never come up again.
    • Ekdal, Act II
  • A marriage based on full confidence, based on complete and unqualified frankness on both sides; they are not keeping anything back; there's no deception underneath it all. If I might so put it, it's an agreement for the mutual forgiveness of sin.
    • Hjalmar, Act IV
  • Forget that foreign word "ideals." We have that good old native word: "lies."
    • Relling, Act V
  • Tar De livsløgnen fra et gennemsnitsmenneske, så tar De lykken fra ham med det samme.
    • If you take the life lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well.
    • Relling, Act V

Hedda Gabler (1890)

  • Our common lust for life.
    • Lövborg, Act II
  • Oh courage...oh yes! If only one had that...Then life might be livable, in spite of everything.
    • Hedda, Act II
  • Back he'll come...With vine leaves in his hair. Flushed and confident.
    • Hedda, Act II
  • Everything I touch seems destined to turn into something mean and farcical.
    • Hedda, Act IV

The Master Builder (1892)

  • The younger generation will come knocking at my door.
    • Solness, Act I
  • A forest bird never wants a cage.
    • Hilda, Act III
  • Castles in the air — they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.
    • Hilda, Act III

When We Dead Awaken (1899)

  • People who don't know how to keep themselves healthy ought to have the decency to get themselves buried, and not waste time about it.
    • Ulfhejm, Act I


  • Neither moral concepts nor art forms can expect to live forever. How much are we obliged to hold on to? Who can guarantee that 2 plus 2 don't add up to 5 on Jupiter?
  • I hold that man is in the right who is most closely in league with the future.


  • It is inexcuseable for scientists to torture animals; let them make their experiments on journalists and politicians.
  • One of the qualities of liberty is that, as long as it is being striven after, it goes on expanding. Therefore, the man who stands in the midst of the struggle and says, "I have it," merely shows by doing so that he has just lost it.
  • The future cannot come, for when it comes it's already past.
  • The great secret of power is never to will to do more than you can accomplish.
  • The great task of our time is to blow up all existing institutions - to destroy.
  • Tvertimot!
    • Translation: On the contrary!
    • Notes: This was his answer to the nurse who said she thought he looked better than usual. These were his last words.

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