By Henrik Ibsen
Audio Book Contractors, (2009)
An Unabridged Audio Recording on CD
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - May 3, 2010
The Norwegian title of this famous and now highly extolled play could be translated "That which returns," suggesting that the consequences of an evil deed is another evil deed. Written in 1881, Ibsen's contemporaries considered it a terrible and offensive morality play that was indecent, scandalous, morbid, and filthy. It spoke of subjects – sex without marriage, adultery, syphilis, suicide, and marriage of siblings – that shouldn't be mentioned publically. One figure in the play is a minister who takes the Christian moral position of the time and makes statements and performs acts that reflect this belief, but they result in harm to others. He is certain, for example, that God protects good people and harms those who are evil; therefore it is irreligious to protect a building with insurance. He insists upon the sanctity of marriage and that husband and wife should stay together even if the husband mistreats his wife and has repeated adulterous relationships.
This story is about a widow who suffered from such an abusive husband. She needs to send her son from home so that he would not be affected by his father's deeds. The son has syphilis, which he acquired at birth because of his father's acts. The son wants to marry a girl who, unknown to him, is one of the illegitimate daughters of his father, his half sister. Thus on the tenth anniversary of her husband's death when her son comes home and reveals his disease and intention to marry, the wife is revisited with her husband's ghost.
Will she remain silent, ignore the dictates of her church, and allow her son, who is deathly ill, to have happiness? What effects did his father's improper behavior have upon her son other than the syphilis? Health aside, has his life been ruined? What about her husband's illegitimate daughter, how much of his character did she inherit? Did it ruin her life? Was there once a chance for both the wife and the minister to have a happy life together, which was destroyed because of the minister's misguided piety? Does the minister ever realize that his way is wrong and is demolishing the lives of many people? Ibsen addresses these and other issues brilliantly, with superb and suspenseful dialogue.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.