Henrik Ibsen is one of the world's greatest dramatists. He was the leading figure of an artistic renaissance that took place in Norway around the end of the nineteenth century, in which the work of artist Edward Munch also played a large part. Ibsen lived from 1828 to 1906. He grew up in poverty, studied medicine for a while, and then abandoned that to write plays. In 1858, he published his first play, The Vikings at Helgeland, and married Susannah Thoresen, the daughter of a pastor.
Ibsen obtained a scholarship to travel to Italy, where he wrote the plays that would establish his reputation, Brand and Peer Gynt. These were long, historical verse plays. He lived most of the rest of his life in Italy and in Germany. Starting in 1869, he began to write prose plays, giving up the verse form. Some critics characterize this switch as an abandonment of poetry in favor of realism. In 1877, Ibsen began what would become a series of five plays in which he examines the moral faults of modern society. The group includes A Doll's House, The Wild Duck, and Ghosts.
Like all of Ibsen's plays, Ghosts was originally written in Norwegian, and is full of untranslatable wordplay. James Joyce admired Ibsen so much that as a youth he attempted to teach himself the language in order to read Ibsen in the original. In the case of Ghosts, perhaps the most important problem of translation is that of the word "livsglede," which can be translated as "the joy of life," only this sounds too pretentious for the Norwegian word.
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