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"This [play] will be my masterpiece," Ibsen declared.
Emperor and Galilean was published in 1873 when Ibsen was at the height of his creative powers. He saw it as the cornerstone of his entire dramatic output. He had completed the two great poetic dramas, Brand and Peer Gynt, and was about to embark on the cycle of twelve modern plays, beginning with Pillars of Society and concluding with When We Dead Awaken which were to establish his unrivaled international fame. While the plays of the Realist Cycle are well-known, Emperor and Galilean still awaits discovery by modern readers, actors and directors. The major Shakesperean scholar, G. Wilson Knight has written of the play, "It is certainly the greatest dramatic document of it's century...it is stageworthy...[It is} conceived dramatically, even theatrically...under a spectacular production the result could be triumphant."
Dramatizing the tragic career of Julian the Apostate, the play represents Western Civilization itself at a most crucial point. It is indispensable for understanding the later plays: themes, situations, and characters from Emperor and Galilean continually reappear in the modern realist plays.