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The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters. The egoist in tragedy. The University of Chicago radio office presents the last in a series of three talks by David Greene poet translator and professor in the committee on social thought at the University of Chicago. Today's program is entitled Ibsen's The Master Builder. Mr. Green I'd like to start by restating the theme. I think that's a healthy thing to do because given three factors let us talk to you quite a lot of time quite long enough it seems to me to give the audience and the lecturer a chance to forget what he's talking about. And secondly because I'd also like to indicate just where I think it fits. In the theme that I set out for myself. Now I had said at the beginning that these plays were
concerned with the story of a central figure in each of them in whose case fantasy was set against the ordinary world. I meant that the tragic day should consist in the way in which big burden or a word either in virtue of the quality of time of causation or of a number of other ordinary commonsense sanctions. Prevented are just right. The fulfillment of the fantasy which the hero had sightings in some cases in the case of fire then as we saw are really a character completely formed out of fantasy. In the case of TT's we had this fantasy focused on a particular object and the element of time that the
destroying force was the all important. But in both of these preceding years the world of common sense or of mercy or of ordinary causation however you like to put it was entirely solid against the latest fancy fantasy. In fact it's on to say this about. The demi god Herrick players have to say to convince for the vine and there is of course the various common sense. The prospect of QR the return of ambition and what actually overcomes courier liners at the gates of Rome is also Marsay in a commonsense way.
The hope of being the peacemaker between the two peoples. But it's really very interesting to see the revolution the power that overcome the egotist in these two players and the world of common sense. When you compare the absence. Because it's quite apparent as I try to explain it quite apparent how Philip TT's. After the TV is a dream for him that conflicts with the ordinary ways of ambition cure in the case of cholera and if you might be tempted to say well after a while Romney a really fun car Elaine is in her own image and she did and the proud mother of clouds. But actually that's in virtue of which she conquers that is
exactly the appeal to ordinary sense ordinary principles of life and that is how Actually she breaks the pride which is the very life of her. As I said at the time. Volumnia over comes in because she has actually created a general pattern which he has got to follow and then proceeds to give him a lot of special and specific advice which he cannot actually understand and use. Now the very clear thing is that as soon as you turn to a person you find the dark world of common sense has been dissolved. There are sorts of marks of its dissolution. Notice for instance the fact that to the end of the play Psalm was the master builder. Sadness is never really sure whether he
burnt that house or not. And the particular significance which I'll try to enlarge on later are of the climbing of the tower as far as sadness and selflessness are. And most notable of all and the particular point of the comparison with the other plays this is probably the I want to illustrate to you in the lecture if I can. But the power that destroys soundness. Is not a power in virtue. The appeal to the ordinary proceedings of the world or common sense or mercy or anything about kind but an egotist as great as thoughtless. Somebody possessed of the same fantasies as ours. And somebody who is at once a projection of himself.
And being with the same passions as himself who then actually destroys it. It is the exact reverse of the correlates we're seeing in correlators alumna and her son are very closely related. Not a problem but because the one is the pattern of the other. But Volumnia breaks coddling as. Is the appeal to the world side of their own pride their own path. But why kill the brakes are left with is a fantasy that entirely is only extended and with himself not any longer as the chief actor but the second actor. I want.
Him before I actively commence the analysis of the Master Builder proper. I want to call your attention to the fact very often observed the close connection between this play and the last three or four plays of apes and specifically the connection between Master Builder and Brockman little II. And when we get away I don't think there would have been any doubt that we would have noticed it on our own but in case we were in any hesitation about it. Epson wrote in a letter to current pres R.. He says that the Master Builder is the beginning of the series of plays. After which the epilogue. By that he means when we get awaken the epilogue is logical way the last. I want to think about me for a while and I thought good way to do it was first of all to indicate to you what
everybody says. That is to say that there is an obvious connection between them that in all these plays I think will drop out a little lie out for the moment because it's not a real it's an exceedingly bad play in my opinion. But there are other complications in it that simply can't be dealt with in the short space at our disposal. But if you take a master builder and Borkman And when we dead awaken the common pattern of first strike looks quite obvious there is a man who is either an artist or is at least somebody in a commanding position in his creative fantasy. It can have its way. And in some way this artist or egotist is probably in several place
makes a mistake. He violates some fundamental human law in some way and he chooses the road of the trout and the trial in apes and is the spirit complete selfishness and egotism in which the man who is possessed by the trial made for many many years lived entirely a life for himself. This is a feature of a person's work says the early days in Fair Game. Even in these plays the egotist hero sometimes the artist sometimes as in Bachman the businessman has made this fundamental misstep. There are been years of still relishing deadness and somehow in the conclusion he finds his way back to the real creation
in conjunction with a woman who is somehow connected with the first mistake or the first time he served a vision and didn't follow it right. That is a common pattern of the last place and I don't want to spend too much time over it because also it leads one into almost endless observations of a person's own life which are probably really not very fruitful. That is somewhere he thought. He himself had gone brown as an artist is I think absolutely undeniable. Lee Frank these last play is where it's employed to explore his own desperate dilemma artistically and to find some solution fallers I'm also quite certain people are going
about trying to identify killer gardeners who not you know. But did that is really quite senseless. The connection with the two women clearly also has a pretty personal none of that very much. What does matter is the meaning of these last plays and in my opinion what is really important about the Master Builder. Only comes out as soon as you realize the striking differences from the last place. Of course when a person says this is the first of a series of which when we dead awaken is the last. You mustn't neglect that and I will try and show how I think it's true according to my interpretation. But I also don't think it's true in the simple and conventional analysis that given your poor plays put
together. Let's first of all just have a look at what considerations I think are most relevant in analyzing the Master Builder which also illustrate exactly why it doesn't fit. An analysis common to the last plays. I think they maybe put in tree head first. Why is Saunders shown to us from the outside for so much of the play. I mean in his affect on other people so much more for instance than Bachmann or Ruth back I take it that most of you actually read read and we did awaken. Secondly Prout is the real relation. Hilder and solvers. Doesn't control her as he does other
persons in the play by the transference of his power and if so why is this so very different from the relation for instance between route back Maya and I really. Bachmann and Mrs. Brocklehurst sister every third day. Why does the emphasis in the master builder so heavily on the relation OB soundness his fantasy to reality. I'm the problem of real responsibility whereas in the other place the responsibility is fully assumed and it is the egotist efforts to do something about it. What is the point. Let's look at these things in order. One person spends a great deal of this play presenting solace xterm in presenting him so
that we see him through the eyes of other people. The bro Vicks hire fast Larry finally are leaving the impression of a cruel and ruthless man. And as yet we do not know any reason for his conduct the interview with her girl for instance lets us understand something but it doesn't render the character sympathetic in the least. And that's all the more remarkable because invariably the result in the absence players of a character explaining something is to render him sympathetic rubric. I've even broken. It gets us on the other side as soon as we grasp the Pli up their action. Perhaps a move left right than the manner in which they fell
things at the moment that they committed their particular offenses. But Saunders only explains why he was brought into his employment and that he has denied young Brobeck a chance to show the marriage he has. And furthermore he said old bro Vic to a very miserable there because he's afraid of the younger generation and of retribution. Were given a portrait of just complementary to that just recovered and both are portraits. Neither of them has that inward truth which is the mark of Ibsen's characters when they tell you about themselves. Then the imprint of a lien on her comments on her husband's relation to Kiara. And again sadness is partial explanation of his actions or heard of all carry our understanding of sadness for there are exactly the same level one trial after another piled up on his record his
confession of the missing. Also is prompted only by a kind of news that he has been teasing her for who he thinks thinks a man and perhaps to a very slight degree by a rather uneasy doubt in his own mind as to present the opinion of his madness might have some justification. So that so far all we've got is the story of a man who had been several times the murder the car or perhaps the madmen and the emphasis is always on the objective on his acts his victims that a good deal more explain that hears and has a question when the crime says Well. We don't yet know activate the full story of bullying which is a far more measurable than either Kyra the robotics.
And I think when she finally tells Hilda her story storey dog's house there really was hardly any more pitiable and any more repulsive figure in apes and. The play is so far internally concerned with action the point against solace and the actions are I think the actions of a crowd. And my interpretation back the play from the entrance of Hilda on the story have one how one trial destroyed another. Now I'm not asserting you see the majesty and taking the sayings all muscles but it's not the end of prions and exultantly and tears at the end when we get awakened. And that is because in a certain very important way
rubric and Bachmann both make the last decisions themselves. And South does some of this is actually being driven to his last decision by somebody decided itself. Yet the somebody who is guiding them there. Is in a very particular way the projection of himself. That's what I want to explain. The thing I want to look at the aspect of the play which clearly pointed in the direction of the analysis I've given you Hilda is the younger generation the comes knocking at the door and according to solace themselves would make an end of Harvard. She describes herself as a bird of prey. Why shouldn't I hunt. And when I have driven home my talons cling to my prey and sorry about the translation. Translation these are two things I'm
just absolutely fearful of there's nothing to be done about it. Curiously enough if you really want to get inside the place it seems to me that even this power translation doesn't destroy its its meaning. But it is a very bad corporation. Now the most impressive instruments I've got however and one that of ours I know has not been stressed at all by any of the commentators of apes and other very curious stage directions in Act 3 where hot soundless and Hilda come to their understanding. Let me indicate to you where the thing is in the play it's pretty hard to follow this when you're not looking at the text. It's just after our Hilda has had her conversation with a lean the conversation in which the story of the dolls come up and about which Hilda says dishonest that she feels as if she had just come out of the grave.
She don't understand the lean in and she pities argufying So the reports of the same time. She tells songs that she can stay with them because if she was going to stay with them should certainly become his mistress and she couldn't take and probably leave. The soundless tells her that she doesn't need to take him from leaving. And again one's reminded of course the group back who were in the conversation with Wildfire raining and doesn't want to give up. My are I there are shadows of Ibsen's own like Lionel at that. And some will say when we start trying to persuade him. And after the scene that follows Hilda changes. Now notice the. Reading and stage direction. Hilda it all seems to me so foolish so foolish. Silent Hill. Not to be able to grasp at your own happiness that your own life merely
because someone you know happens to stand in your way. Sollers. One whom you have no right to set aside. I wonder whether one really has the right. And yet. And yet open to only sleep. The whole thing the way. She lays her arms flat on the table rests the left side of her head in her hands and shuts her eyes. Sawers. Had you a cosy happy home up there with your father Hilda held without storing answers it half asleep. K.. Are you determined not to go back to it Hilda. As before the wild bird never wants to go into the quay soundness rather range through the free air. Hilda still is for. The bird of prey loves to range some pieces of left out that are not relevant
soundness. Let his eyes rest on her. If only one had the Viking spirit in life Hilda in her usual tone opens her eyes but doesn't move. And that other thing saying pop back was. Sourness. A robust conch. Hilda sits back on the bench with animation a rise of once more sparkling expression of gladness. She nods to it. I know what you're going to build next the castle. Now what I suggest is that saltness into this scene for the first time conscious play trying to exert on him the power he has used less conscious lay on the lean. Not to mention the humans are inanimate objects and events to make or yield. Why couldn't the said is a recapitulation and phrases she has used before and
which attracts ours. The Viking spirit for instance in the Bird of Prey our lines are the our previous space. He prompts her directly after lie out of both conscious. And the strange direction rounds let his eyes rest on Mark. I think this is quite revealing you know that I suppose that a person makes a tremendous fuss about the importance of his stage directions anyhow. I think this is quite revealing because I was already told us that his power over his victims is exerted through the eyes. For instance on Firefox there quote is a quote silences in conversation with her. Yes but they're not. But then I didn't read a word read a word across in my mind. I merely student looked at her and kept wishing intently that I could have been there. Well the next day pretty late in the evening she came here again and behaved but made an arrangement with.
Me and again solace and hurdle if I happened to look at her when our back is turned back and tell the tree feels it. And in the case of a living Saunders talking with Hilda. Have you noticed tell you that as soon as I come she goes. Yes I've noticed that I've noticed that as soon as you come you make up. Perhaps I can't help it. And then Hilda says that brings you up here now. I caught sight of you from over there but then you must have seen her too. Yes but I knew she'd go at once if I came. It's quite clear I think that her solace in striving to hypnotize to use all of his powers of suggestion to make her stay with him and what happens here is that Lugar is capable of taking the suggestions and carrying them out to her own is. I think this is probably indicated by you know those words.
You don't seem so foolish not to be able to grasp your own happiness your own life merely because someone you know happens to stand in the way. While whom you have no right to set aside. I wonder whether they'll really have that. For these words are said by him and understood by sought to refer to someone's and his relation with their lead. But in another sense they're going to be true. And some who are happy consciously Hilda knows that. She's going to come out of her trance and she's going to find her kingdom and her castle. She's going to make songless occupy again. The position you have. To hear the sound in the air are. What she's going to kill in the process. From here to the end of play she never shows the slightest sign of pity for soundness nor any speculation about the possibility of his incapacity to carry out the task.
And when he falls she says. But he mounted right to the top. And I heard harps in the air. Mine knowing the Master Builder. Saw almost as someone to his help the crowd she is impart the consummation of himself. With her already can be more completely free and more completely. Nobody but himself and anywhere any other way. But this involves death. And this strange being partly evocation of himself and partly that which is more daring than himself in his own way. And partly perhaps and will have the truth on all levels at once. As a young and beautiful girl of her youth and her beauty dominated the middle aged an happy man. And sent him to death.
There is something else that must be said about. The passage of this post later that is relevant here and I'll just indicate. For a moment someone does actually know that he is going to his death. We see. That he's not like Coriolanus. Who is obeying his mother in a curse which is alien to her and is therefore giving his life as a sacrifice. For his confirmation is now horrors. And both are fantasy. The reality the child has them comes. In the peculiar picture of God which it didn't take. Now notice in the passage I read and hear the stage directions and her bearing. Hilda sits back on the bench with animation arises once more the sparkling expression of blackness.
Hilda nods to him and says I know what you're going to build next castle. Now the way in which apes and men. This must certainly be I think there in some sense. Saunders this triumph. In his endeavor to keep up with him.
Egoist in tragedy
Ibsen's The Master-Builder, part one
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features the first part of David Grene's lecture on Henrik Ibsen's The Master-Builder.
Series Description
Three lectures by David Grene, poet, translator, and Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago. He discusses a particular kind of tragedy and focuses on three examples.
Broadcast Date
Ibsen, Henrik, 1828-1906--Criticism and interpretation.
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Grene, David
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-12-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:22
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Chicago: “Egoist in tragedy; Ibsen's The Master-Builder, part one,” 1955-05-15, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “Egoist in tragedy; Ibsen's The Master-Builder, part one.” 1955-05-15. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: Egoist in tragedy; Ibsen's The Master-Builder, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from