Plays from Upper Secondary School

This is one of a series of posts covering books I read after I started star-rating them, but before I started writing proper reviews for them. They will consist of a few words on what I remember about the books, and what I thought about them.

This post will cover plays I read in a school-capacity during the IB at St. Olav, in Stavanger.

Death of a SalesmanDeath of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Released: February 10, 1949
Pages: 112
Show synopsis

In the spring of 1948 Arthur Miller retreated to a log cabin in Connecticut with the first two lines of a new play already fixed in his mind. He emerged six weeks later with the final script of Death of a Salesman - a painful examination of American life and consumerism. Opening on Broadway the following year, Miller's extraordinary masterpiece changed the course of modern theatre. In creating Willy Loman, his destructively insecure anti-hero, Miller himself defined his aim as being 'to set forth what happens when a man does not have a grip on the forces of life'.

Death of a Salesman is one of the first plays I can remember reading, and really liking. At the time it was relatively new to me that a play could be read in book-form, and still create the same kind of images in ones head as a “normal” book does. For this play I remember for the first time managing to properly immerse myself in it the way I would in a regular book.

GhostsGhosts by Henrik Ibsen
Released: January 1, 1881
Pages: 64
Show synopsis

Powerful psychological drama (1881) exposes hypocrisy of social conventions. Mrs. Helen Alving is haunted by her husband's infidelities and the disease he has passed to their son.

I don’t remember that much of Ghosts, other than that I read it in both Norwegian and English, and preferred the English version. I recall liking the last few scenes of it, to the point where I went back and read the last few scenes again immediately after reading them the first time, but up until that point I recall thinking that there was just a lot of people speaking about a lot of things without there being much point to any of it.

HamletHamlet by William Shakespeare
Released: January 1, 1602
Pages: 289
Show synopsis

Among Shakespeare's plays, "Hamlet" is considered by many his masterpiece. Among actors, the role of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is considered the jewel in the crown of a triumphant theatrical career. Now Kenneth Branagh plays the leading role and co-directs a brillant ensemble performance. Three generations of legendary leading actors, many of whom first assembled for the Oscar-winning film "Henry V", gather here to perform the rarely heard complete version of the play. This clear, subtly nuanced, stunning dramatization, presented by The Renaissance Theatre Company in association with "Bbc" Broadcasting, features such luminaries as Sir John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Emma Thompson and Christopher Ravenscroft. It combines a full cast with stirring music and sound effects to bring this magnificent Shakespearen classic vividly to life. Revealing new riches with each listening, this production of "Hamlet" is an invaluable aid for students, teachers and all true lovers of Shakespeare - a recording to be treasured for decades to come.

Once I bothered to read it properly, I liked Hamlet. We did it in class, a few scenes at a time, which really wasn’t very conducive to me enjoying it. About half way through the classes on Hamlet I read the rest of the play as a whole, and once I did that I kind of got it, and realised why it is good.

I’ve also seen it on stage a few times in Scotland (one of them with someone who I’m sure is famous in the role of Hamlet, though I can’t remember who), and I appreciated it more on stage than I did as a book.

A Doll's HouseA Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
Publisher: Det Kongelige Teater
Released: December 21, 1879
Pages: 72
Show synopsis

A Doll's House, written two years after The Pillars of Society, was the first of Ibsen's plays to create a sensation and is now perhaps his most famous play, and required reading in many secondary schools and universities. The play was highly controversial when first published, as it is sharply critical of 19th Century marriage norms. It follows the formula of well-made play up until the final act, when it breaks convention by ending with a discussion, not an unravelling. It is often called the first true feminist play, although Ibsen denied this.

A dolls house is a tough one for me. I know that I read it in Norwegian before I started rating books, so this rating would reflect what I thought about it when I read it in English a few years later. However, I recall never having liked it much in written form.

That said, I’ve seen at least three productions of it on stage, and I’ve always liked the staged versions a lot, so I undoubtedly think it’s a good play, and a great story. It might just be one of those plays that for me works much better as an actual play than it does in written form.

Oedipus the KingOedipus the King by Sophocles
Released: January 1, 0000
Pages: 114
Show synopsis

Based on the conviction that only translators who write poetry themselves can properly recreate the celebrated and timeless tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the Greek Tragedy in New Translations series offers new translations that go beyond the literal meaning of the Greek in order to evoke the sense of poetry evident in the originals. Under the editorship of Peter Burian and Alan Shaprio, each volume includes a critical introduction, commentary on difficult passages, ample stage directions, and a glossary of the mythical names and geographical references encountered in the dialogue.
Sophocles' Oedipus the King paves the way as the first in the series to appear in paperback. In this highly-acclaimed translation of the greatest of all Greek tragedies, Stephen Berg--the well-known poet--and Diskin Clay--the distinguished classicist--combine their talents to offer the contemporary reader a dazzling version of Sophocles' timeless work. Emphasizing the intensity of the spoken language, they capture the unrelenting power of Sophoclean drama.
No other English translation conveys the same terrifying emotional level, especially in the choral odes, the forceful descriptions of Jokasta's death, the blinding of Oedipus, and the final scene of desolation. Berg and Clay's translation--now available for the first time in paperback--both adheres strictly to the original meaning of the play and breathes new life into its language.

Oedipus I did really like. I recall reading two translations pretty much in parallel – one which was apparently pretty much word-for-word faithful to the original, and this one. This one, which I imagine is less faithful to the language of the original, but more accurately conveys the spirit of it, was much more enjoyable by far. I enjoyed it a lot as a story, and remember really appreciating the soliloquies, with some fascination over how long ago it was actually written, and how something written that long ago can still be at all relevant today.

VildandenVildanden by Henrik Ibsen
Publisher: Gyldendalske Boghandels Forlag
Released: January 1, 1884
Pages: 127
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This 1884 masterpiece may have had its genesis in the hostile reception Ibsen — widely regarded as the father of modern realist drama — had received from the Norwegian public and critics for “Ghosts”, which gave theater-goers a larger dose of truth than most were willing to bear. His next three plays — "The Wild Duck", "An Enemy of the People", and "Rosmersholm" — focused on the consequences of telling the truth, or forbearing to do so.
In "The Wild Duck", the idealistic son of a corrupt merchant exposes his father's duplicity, but in the process destroys the very people he wishes to save. Convinced that reality is always superior to illusion, Gregers Werle forces his friends, the Ekdals, to face the truth about their lives. Unfortunately, the truth, involving scandal, illegitimacy, imprisonment, and madness, only serves to wound the Ekdals further. In the play, the wild duck is a symbol of this injured family, and perhaps of the loss of Ibsen's youthful idealism.
Moving and powerful, this thought-provoking tragedy shows clearly why Ibsen is regarded as one of the giants of modern theater.

Again, The Wild Duck, an Ibsen play which I didn’t appreciate that much in writing, but which I liked a lot when I saw it on stage. I don’t think I appreciate the story in this play as much as I do for A Dolls House, but there are some quotes and scenes in it (especially the ending) which I find to be really entertaining.

Three SistersThree Sisters by Anton Chekhov
Publisher: Moscow Art Theatre
Released: January 31, 1901
Pages: 128
Show synopsis

Olga, Masha and Irina lead a drab life in a provincial garrison town. Because their love lives leave a lot to be desired, they dream of eventually escaping to Moscow. Some critics have called this the best drama of the 20th century.

Three Sisters is a really interesting one. I really, really, disliked it as I was reading it. I found it pointless and boring, and had a hard time following what was going on.

Since then I’ve been reliably informed that it is actually a very funny play, and that I really should give it another chance. I will do at some point: if I ever have a chance to see a production of Three Sisters I will, and then re-read it, hopefully getting things I just didn’t get the first time around.

The Glass MenagerieThe Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Released: January 1, 1944
Pages: 96
Show synopsis

Harold Bloom's introduction suggests Tennessee Williams is the most literary of American dramatists. Examine The Glass Menagerie with some of the best criticism written about it, including Catastrophe without Violence, The Southern Gentlewoman, and Celebration of a Certain Courage.
The title, Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, part of Chelsea House Publishers' Modern Critical Interpretations series, presents the most important 20th-century criticism on Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie through extracts of critical essays by well-known literary critics. This collection of criticism also features a short biography on Tennessee Williams, a chronology of the author's life, and an introductory essay written by Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities, Yale University.

And finally, The Glass Menagerie, a play I think I appreciate more than I liked it. This is another play I would really like to see a production of some day, as I think it could really work for me on stage. In written form, it never really engaged me. There were individual scenes and sentences I really liked, but as a story I just didn’t engage.

And that concludes my wrap-up of the plays I read at St. Olav Videregående Skole, or at least the ones I noted down my ratings of.

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