The Wild Duck  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Wild Duck (original Norwegian title: Vildanden) is an 1884 play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.


In The Wild Duck there is an "idealist," Gregers Werle, who continually talks as though he had been reading Ibsen's previous plays. He returns to his hometown after an extended exile and meddles in the affairs of a strange family, producing disastrous results. Living in a house whose closets are chock-full of skeletons. Over the course of the play the many secrets that lie behind the Ekdals' apparently happy home are revealed to Gregers, who insists on pursuing the absolute truth, or the "Summons of the Ideal". This family has achieved a tolerable modus vivendi by ignoring the skeletons (among the secrets: Gregers' father impregnated his servant Gina then married her off to Hjalmar to legitimize the child, and Hjalmar's father has been disgraced and imprisoned for a crime the elder Werle committed.) and by permitting each member to live in a dreamworld of his own—the feckless father believing himself to be a great inventor, the grandfather dwelling on the past when he was a mighty sportsman, and little Hedvig, the child, centering her emotional life around an attic where a wounded wild duck leads a crippled existence in a make-believe forest.

To the idealist all this appears intolerable. To him as to other admirers of Ibsen it must seem that the whole family is leading a life "based on a lie"; all sorts of evils are "growing in the dark". (Krutch, Joseph Wood, 1953) The remedy is obviously to face facts, to speak frankly, to let in the light. However, in this play the revelation of the truth is not a happy event because it rips up the foundation of the Ekdal family. When the skeletons are brought out of the closet, the whole dreamworld collapses; the weak husband thinks it is his duty to leave his wife, and the little girl, after trying to sacrifice her precious duck, shoots herself with the same gun. One of the famous quotes from the doctor Relling who built up and maintained the lies the family is founded on is "Deprive the average human being of his life-lie, and you rob him of his happiness.” "


In 1963 the play was made into a motion picture by Tancred Ibsen, Henrik Ibsen's grandson.

A 1983 film version in English, with the character's names completely Anglicized, starred Jeremy Irons.

Playwright Paul Grellong based his play Radio Free Emerson on The Wild Duck, receiving its world premiere at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket in May 2007.

List of characters

  • Håkon Werle, a wholesale merchant
  • Gregers Werle, his son, the idealist and protagonist
  • Old Ekdal, the former business partner of Håkon Werle, now ruined and living with his son, Hjalmar
  • Hjalmar Ekdal, Old Ekdal's son, a photographer
  • Gina Ekdal, Hjalmar's wife, former housekeeper to Håkon Werle
  • Hedvig, their daughter, aged fourteen
  • Mrs. Sørby, housekeeper to Håkon Werle
  • Relling, a doctor, neighbor to the Ekdals. Serves as a foil to Gregers Werle.
  • Molvik, formerly a student of theology, neighbor to the Ekdals
  • Pettersen, servant to Håkon Werle
  • Jensen, a hired waiter
  • Mr. Balle, a dinner guest
  • Mr. Flor, a dinner guest
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