An enemy of the people, Ibsen adapted by Arthur Miller, Gate Theatre
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Lonergan, Patrick. (2013). An Enemy of the People, Ibsen adapted by Arthur Miller, Gate Theatre. Irish Theatre Magazine Online.
Ibsen’s 1882 An Enemy of the People is sometimes described as a problem play, in that it dramatises a compelling debate between two brothers about the nature of morality and individual responsibility. But that term might obscure the fact that it’s also quite a confused play: Ibsen himself was unsure whether to see it as a comedy or something more serious. It has many of the ingredients of a Restoration-style romp (improbable entrances and exits, characters hiding behind screens to eavesdrop upon their enemies). Yet it also has what Ibsen called a “serious basic theme” – namely, the question of what happens when an individual forces a society to accept as true something we would much rather ignore. In exploring that issue, Ibsen was responding to the public outcry to Ghosts, a play notoriously described as an “open sewer” and a “loathsome sore unbandaged” by scandalised critics. Ibsen’s hero Dr Stockmann is thus often seen as a surrogate for Ibsen himself, and the play’s suggestion that the truth must be told, whatever the cost, is often viewed as Ibsen’s defence of the necessity of plays like Ghosts. But because of that identification between the writer and his hero, it’s sometimes forgotten that Ibsen was ambivalent about Stockmann, describing him as “an oddball and a hothead", while also acknowledging that there was much to admire about him.