When We Dead Awaken is the last play written by Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Published in December 1899, Ibsen wrote the play between February and November of that year. The first performance was at the Haymarket Theatre in London, a day or two before publication. The first act takes place outside a spa overlooking a fjord. Sculptor Arnold Rubek and his wife Maia have just enjoyed breakfast and are reading newspapers and drinking champagne. They marvel at how quiet the spa is. Their conversation is lighthearted, but Arnold hints at a general unhappiness with his life. Maia also hints at disappointment. Arnold had promised to take her to a mountaintop to see the whole world as it is, but they have never done so. The hotel manager passes by with some guests and inquires if the Rubeks need anything. During their encounter, a mysterious woman dressed in white passes by, followed closely by a nun in black. Arnold is drawn to her for some reason. The manager does not know much about her, and he tries to excuse himself before Squire Ulfheim can spot him. Unable to do so, Ulfheim corners him and requests breakfast for his hunting dogs. Spotting the Rubeks, he introduces himself and mocks their plans to take a cruise, insisting that the water is too contaminated by other people. He is stopping at the spa on his way to a mountain hunt for bears, and he insists that the couple should join him, as the mountains are unpolluted by people. Maia takes Ulfheim up on his offer to watch his dogs eat breakfast, leaving Arnold alone with the mysterious woman. He quickly realizes that she is Irena, his former model. Irena constantly refers to herself as being 'dead'. During their conversation, she explains that posing for Arnold was akin to a kind of 'self murder', where he captured her soul and put it into his masterpiece, a sculpture called Resurrection. He confesses that he has never been the same since working with Irena. Though Resurrection brought him great fame and an abundance of other work, he feels a similar kind of death as Irena feels. Irena mysteriously alludes to killing all of her lovers since posing for Arnold. She claims to always possess a knife, and also admits to murdering every child she has had, sometimes while they are still in the womb. When Irena asks where Arnold is going after his stay at the spa, she dismisses the idea of the cruise and asks him to meet her up in the high mountains. Maia returns with Ulfheim, asking Arnold if they can abandon the cruise and join Ulfheim on his mountain hunt. Arnold tells her that she is free to do so and says that he is thinking of going that way himself. The second act takes place outside a health resort in the mountains. Maia finds Arnold beside a brook. She has spent the morning with Ulfheim. The couple return to their discussion of Arnold's unhappiness, and he confesses that he has grown tired of Maia. He wants to live with Irena because she had the key to the lock which holds his artistic inspiration. Their relationship was never sexual, because Arnold felt it would have ruined Resurrection. Maia is hurt but insists that Arnold should do as he pleases. She even suggests that perhaps the three of them could live together if she cannot find a new place to live. Irena enters, and Maia urges Arnold to speak with her. The pair cast flower petals into the brook and reminisce sentimentally about their long-ago collaboration. At one point, Arnold refers to their 'episode', and Irena draws her knife, preparing to stab him in the back. When he turns around, she hides the knife. Arnold asks Irena to come live with him and work with him again, explaining that she can unlock his artistic vision once more. She insists that there is no way to resurrect a partnership like theirs, but they agree to pretend they can. Maia returns with Ulfheim, on their way to a hunt. She is happy and explains that she feels like she is finally awake.
When We Dead Awaken
av Henrik Ibsen
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