master builder

The Master Builder

The Master Builder (original Norwegian title: Bygmester Solness) is a play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It was first published in 1892 and first performed in Berlin on January 19, 1893.


The action of the play occurs in the home of Halvard Solness, a middle-aged architect who has clawed his way to prominence. His single-minded focus on his job, however, has hardened him and prevented him and his wife Aline from having a meaningful private life. The costs of Solness's ambition are also symbolized in Solness's assistant, Knut Brovik, Solness's former employer whom he "scalped" to reach the top. Brovik, now dying, wants his son Ragnar to have more independence in the firm. Solness, however, fears that he will be eclipsed by a younger generation of architects, and refuses to allow Ragnar either to design original houses or to leave the firm and strike out on his own. This has by many historians been viewed as Ibsens way of admitting his own inadequacy, and thus being defeated by the young, up-and-coming author Knut Hamsun. Who in time would overshadow his countryman. Jeg slaar Ibsen til døde her i Paris. Begrav ham!, Hamsun wrote after experiencing success with his novel Pan

Into this tension comes Hilda Wangel, a vivacious young woman who has idolized Solness since ten years before, when, in the early stages of his career, he had built a large church in her hometown and climbed to the top of its tower during its dedication ceremony. While in town, Solness had promised Hilda, then a girl of twelve, "a kingdom". Now, Hilda says earnestly, she has come to collect her kingdom. In long conversations with Hilda, Solness describes his career and his frustration with how his ambition has kept him from achieving true satisfaction. Hilda urges him to allow Ragnar Brovik to leave the firm; Solness eventually acquiesces.

The play's final part deals with a new house which Solness has been building for himself and his wife. Now nearly complete, the house features a tall tower which both Solness and his wife fear is too great for him to climb in the dedication ceremony (like the one in Hilda's hometown). However, at Hilda's repeated requests, Solness agrees to make the climb, telling her that the two of them will together build "castles in the air ... the most wonderful thing in the world." In the play's final scene, Solness climbs to the top of the tower, but then falls to his death.

List of characters

  • Halvard Solness, master builder.
  • Aline Solness, his wife.
  • Doctor Herdal, physician.
  • Knut Brovik, formerly an architect, now in Solness' employment.
  • Ragnar Brovik, his son, a draughtsman.
  • Kaja Fosli, his niece, a book-keeper.
  • Ms. Hilda Wangel, a character introduced earlier, in Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea.


The Master Builder was the first work Ibsen wrote upon after his return to Norway from Europe in July 1891. It is generally grouped with the three other works written during this late period of Ibsen's life - Little Eyolf, John Gabriel Borkman, and When We Dead Awaken - as "symbolic plays" which lack the thematic clarity of such earlier works as Hedda Gabler. Early reactions to the play by Ibsen's critics were mixed, probably due its heightened symbolism, much of which is unclear. Hilde, for example, seems to alternate roles between an inspiring force, urging Solness to temper his rampant ambition and pursue real happiness, and a temptress, pushing Solness to commitments he cannot possibly make. English critic William Archer, however, has suggested that the play is not as completely symbolic as some have maintained, interpreting it instead as "a history of a sickly conscience, worked out in terms of pure psychology." He notes that in this regard the play is similar to earlier Ibsen works which deal mainly with a retrospective look at a character's psyche

In popular culture

The Master Builder is the play referenced at the beginning of the musical Aspects of Love by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The female protagonist of the musical, Rose, is called "courageous" due to her undertaking the role of Hilde.

The Master Builder is the name of the principle saint or deity worshipped by the Hammerite and Mechanist factions in the videogames Thief: The Dark Project and Thief 2: The Metal Age. The character of Father Karras in the second game has some resonance with the story of Halvard Solness in The Master Builder.

The Master Builder is the inspiration for the Malayalam movie "Aakasha Gopuram", starring Mohanlal.

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