'Emperor and Galilean - A World Historical Drama'
By Henrik Ibsen (Author), Brian Johnston (Translator)
Emperor and Galilean was published in 1873 when Ibsen was at the height of his creative powers. He saw it as the cornerstone of his entire dramatic output. He had completed the two great poetic dramas, Brand and Peer Gynt, and was about to embark on the cycle of twelve modern plays, beginning with Pillars of Society and concluding with When We Dead Awaken , which were to establish his unrivaled international fame. While the plays of the Realist Cycle are well-known, Emperor and Galilean still awaits discovery by modern readers, actors and directors.
The publisher continues its "Great Translations for Actors" series with this 1873 epic, from Ibsen's middle period, which Ibsen considered his masterpiece. The story of Emperor Julian the Apostate, this was his last play to have a classical setting, and it signaled his adoption of a more prosy and less poetic dialog. But it is still drama on a vast scale; written in two parts, with five acts in each part, it covers the years 351-363 C.E. Under Constantine, Prince Julian becomes emperor, turns against the austere piety of Christianity, and embraces the superstitions and passions of Hellenic paganism. The events lend themselves to some highly dramatic scenes, and Ibsen makes the most of them. His dialog reads smoothly in this skillful translation. The work is seldom performed (owing to its length), but the translator has provided the full text, leaving it up to a director to decide what to cut. Recommended for large theater arts collections.
(A. Howard E. Miller, Rosary H.S. Lib., St. Louis)
Translator Johnston points out that this 2-part, 10-act historical drama is a transitional work for Ibsen. Before it, his plays were histories, fantasies, and beefed-up folktales; after it, he wrote his great realist dramas, 12 in all, from Pillars of Society (1877) to When We Dead Awaken (1899). For that reason alone, Ibsen's seldom-produced, gargantuan masterpiece is worth reading, and Johnston's clear, contemporary translation makes it all the more so. The vast play focuses on Roman emperor Julian's rise to power and his misbegotten attempts to roll back the clock and return the increasingly Christian eastern half of the empire to its former pagan glory. But the Christians were inspired, determined, and driven. The pagans were not. As Ibsen demonstrates, Julian's motives were pure, and his critique of the early Christians, especially their hypocrisy and contentiousness over every small point of dogma, was sound. Why Ibsen found Julian's story relevant in 1873 remains a question--for scholars, however. Meanwhile, Johnston's beautiful English rendering of it compels our attention today.
(Jack Helbig )
Henrik Johan Ibsen was a major Norwegian playwright largely responsible for the rise of modern realistic drama. He is often referred to as the "father of modern drama." Ibsen is held to be the greatest of Norwegian authors and one of the most important playwrights of all time, celebrated as a national symbol by Norwegians.
His plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe and any challenge to them was considered immoral and outrageous. Ibsen's work examined the realities that lay behind many facades, possessing a revelatory nature that was disquieting to many contemporaries.
Ibsen largely founded the modern stage by introducing a critical eye and free inquiry into the conditions of life and issues of morality. Victorian-era plays were expected to be moral dramas with noble protagonists pitted against darker forces; every drama was expected to result in a morally appropriate conclusion, meaning that goodness was to bring happiness, and immorality pain. Ibsen challenged this notion and the beliefs of his times and shattered the illusions of his audiences.