Sunday, February 20, 2011

Peer Gynt

Peer Gynt is the title of a beautiful play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It is also the name of the music composed for the play by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg upon the request of Henrik Ibsen. The play consists of five acts and in the original Norwegian language is like a long poem.

Peer Gynt is the son of the formerly highly-regarded Jon Gynt. Unfortunately, Jon Gynt wastes all his money on parties and luxuries until nothing is left. He has to leave his farm as a travelling salesman, leaving his wife and son in debt. ├ůse, Peer's mother, wishes to raise her son to restore the family's lost fortune, but Peer is a lazy dreamer who fails to live up to his mother's wishes.

Later in the play Peer marries a woman named Solveig but he is banished because he marries her against her family's wishes. He has a bad reputation and Solveig's family wants nothing to do with him. After he is banished, Peer's mother, Solveig and Solveig's father look for him in the mountains. They cannot find him.

Peer builds his own cottage in the hills. Solveig appears and insists on living with him. She has made her choice and has no plans to return. Peer is delighted and welcomes her warmly. However, Peer starts to remember all his previous sins and cannot face Solveig. He tells Solveig he has something heavy to collect, returns to his childhood home in time for his mother's death and then travels overseas.

Peer spends years abroad where he engages in several occupations. These include the role of a slavetrader, missionary, businessman and historian. The reader is aware that much of Peer's life is a dream. He has a vivid imagination and many of his experiences are not reality.

In the final act, Peer returns home as an old man. He has lost all his possessions and feels that he is nothing. At that moment, Solveig starts to sing. The cabin he built is near but he does not dare enter. He feels guilty for having abandoned her. In one of the most touching parts of the entire play, Peer asks her, "Where has Peer Gynt been since we last met? Where was I as the one I should have been, whole and true, with the mark of God on my brow?" She answers, "In my faith, in my hope, in my love." With these words, Peer understands that she has never abandoned him and truly loves him.

Peer Gynt is a fascinating play which explores a number of themes. These include love and duty, sin and forgiveness, and reality and imagination. The themes of love and forgiveness are clearly expressed in Solveig's words at the end of the play.

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