The Master Builder
Large Print Edition
By Henrik Ibsen
Echo Library (2006), 240 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - May 3, 2010
This is a new, more colloquial English translation of this famous play.
Halvard Solness is a well-respected master builder at the top of his profession. His success was due to a chance fire that destroyed his home and made it possible for him to build many new homes on the large land mass. However, the fire caused the death of his two children and left his wife unable to bear others. This mixture of good and bad luck gnaws at him.
Solness is convinced that people have a demon inside them that can control them and force them to do evil. He also believes that certain people, such as he, can summon other demons outside themselves to do their will. He knows that he wanted his house, inherited from his in-laws, to burn down so that he could show his skill by using the land to build many houses. He thinks that the demons obeyed his will and he is therefore responsible for what happened to his children and his wife.
It is difficult if not impossible to decide what Ibsen meant by the demons. Was he mocking a Christian belief, as he did in other plays? This interpretation fits well with Mrs. Solness thinking that the fire was a divine punishment for her sins, his notion that he deserves divine punishment, and the final outcome of the play. Or, was Ibsen describing a psychological guilt feeling? Or, perhaps Ibsen was portraying a man going insane because of his guilt feelings.
Solness is also concerned that his "luck" will change. He fears that a younger man will compete with him and pass him by. He uses all kinds of strategies to keep his employee Ragner from leaving him and starting his own business. He claims, deceitfully, that Ragner's work as a draughtsman is not good enough for him to take a job on his own and refuses to give him permission to accept a job where he can show his talent. He hires an attractive young girl who Ragner likes solely to keep Ragner from leaving his employ. Ironically, while he is fearful of young people, the young girl falls in love with him.
Then Hilda arrives. She says that Solness had kissed her several times when she was twelve or thirteen years old and promised her that he would give her a kingdom in ten years. She came, she says, because the ten years are up today. This young lady is also ironically seemingly fascinated with the builder who is deathly afraid of the young. Solness does not remember the kissing or the promise and Hilda may have imagined it. Her presence adds to the questions previously raised. Did she cause Solness to be punished? Was she sent by God? Is she insane?
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.