Master Builderby Henrik Ibsen
The most gripping of Ibsen's later, brooding self-portraits, The Master Builder explores the nature of a messianic hero pulled down from the heights to reside in the community of men, and now painfully laboring to drag himself up again. Plays for Performance Series.
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The Master Builder
By HENRIK IBSEN, SUSAN L. RATTINER
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Master Builder
A plainly furnished work-room in the house of Halvard Solness. Folding doors on the left lead out to the hall On the right is the door leading to the inner rooms of the house. At the back is an open door into the draughtsmen's office. In front, on the left, a desk with books, papers and writing materials. Further back than the folding-door, a stove. In the right-hand corner, a sofa, a table and one or two chairs. On the table a water-bottle and glass. A smaller table, with a rockingchair and arm-chair, in front on the right. Lighted lamps, with shades, on the table in the draughtsmen's office, on the table in the corner and on the desk.
In the draughtsmen's office sit Knut Brovik and his son Ragnar, occupied with plans and calculations. At the desk in the outer office stands Kaia Fosli, writing in the ledger. Knut Brovik is a spare old man with white hair and beard. He wears a rather threadbare but well-brushed black coat, spectacles and a somewhat discoloured white neckcloth. Ragnar Brovik is a well-dressed, light-haired man in his thirties, with a slight stoop. Kaia Fosli is a slightly built girl, a little over twenty, carefully dressed and delicate-looking. She has a green shade over her eyes. — All three go on working for some time in silence.
Knut Brovik (rises suddenly, as if in distress, from the table; breathes heavily and laboriously as he comes forward into the doorway). No, I can't bear it much longer!
Kaia (going up to him). You are feeling very ill this evening, are you not, uncle?
Brovik. Oh, I seem to get worse every day.
Ragnar (has risen and advances). You ought to go home, father. Try to get a little sleep —
Brovik (impatiently). Go to bed, I suppose? Would you have me stifled outright?
Kaia. Then take a little walk.
Ragnar. Yes, do. I will come with you.
Brovik (with warmth). I will not go till he comes! I am determined to have it out this evening with — (in a tone of suppressed bitterness) — with him — with the chief.
Kaia (anxiously). Oh no, uncle — do wait awhile before doing that.
Ragnar. Yes, better wait, father!
Brovik (draws his breath laboriously). Ha — ha — ! I haven't much time for waiting.
Kaia (listening). Hush! I hear him on the stairs.
[All three go back to their work. A short silence. Halvard Solness comes in through the hall door. He is a man no longer young, but healthy and vigorous, with close-cut curly hair, dark moustache and dark thick eyebrows. He wears a greyish-green buttoned jacket with.an upstanding collar and broad lapels. On his head he wears a soft grey felt hat, and he has one or two light portfolios under his arm.]
Solness (near the door, points towards the draughtsmen's office, and asks in a whisper:) Are they gone?
Kaia (softly, shaking her head). No.
[She takes the shade off her eyes. Solness crosses the room, throws his hat on a chair, places the portfolios on the table by the sofa and approaches the desk again. Kaia goes on writing without intermission, but seems nervous and uneasy.]
Solness (aloud). What is that you are entering, Miss Fosli?
Kaia (starts). Oh, it is only something that —
Solness. Let me look at it, Miss Fosli. (Bends over her, pretends to be looking into the ledger, and whispers:) Kaia!
Kaia (softly, still writing). Well?
Solness. Why do you always take that shade off when I come?
Kaia (as before). I look so ugly with it on.
Solness (smiling). Then you don't like to look ugly, Kaia?
Kaia (half glancing up at him.) Not for all the world. Not in your eyes.
Solness (stroking her hair gently). Poor, poor little Kaia —
Kaia (bending her head). Hush — they can hear you.
[Solness strolls across the room to the right, turns and pauses at the door of the draughtsmen's office.]
Solness. Has any one been here for me?
Ragnar (rising). Yes, the young couple who wants a villa built, out at Lövstrand.
Solness (growling). Oh, those two! They must wait. I am not quite clear about the plans yet.
Ragnar (advancing, with some hesitation). They were very anxious to have the drawings at once.
Solness (as before). Yes, of course — so they all are.
Brovik (looks up). They say they are longing so to get into a house of their own.
Solness. Yes, yes — we know all that! And so they are content to take whatever is offered them. They get a — a roof over their heads — an address — but nothing to call a home. No thank you! In that case, let them apply to somebody else. Tell them that, the next time they call.
Brovik (pushes his glasses up on to his forehead and looks in astonishment at him). To somebody else? Are you prepared to give up the commission?
Solness (impatiently). Yes, yes, yes, devil take it! If that is to be the way of it —. Rather that, than build away at random. (Vehemently.) Besides, I know very little about these people as yet.
Brovik. The people are safe enough. Ragnar knows them. He is a friend of the family. Perfectly safe people.
Solness. Oh, safe — safe enough! That is not at all what I mean. Good Lord — don't you understand me either? (Angrily.) I won't have anything to do with these strangers. They may apply to whom they please, so far as I am concerned.
Brovik (rising). Do you really mean that?
Solness (sulkily). Yes I do, — For once in a way.
[He comes forward. Brovik exchanges a glance with Ragnar, who makes a warning gesture. Then Brovik comes into the front room.]
Brovik. May I have a few words with you?
Brovik (to Kaia). Just go in there for a moment, Kaia.
Kaia (uneasily). Oh, but uncle —
Brovik. Do as I say, child. And shut the door after you.
[Kaia goes reluctantly into the draughtsmen's office, glances anxiously and imploringly at Solness, and shuts the door.]
Brovik (lowering his voice a little). I don't want the poor children to know how ill I am.
Solness. Yes, you have been looking very poorly of late.
Brovik. It will soon be all over with me. My strength is ebbing — from day to day.
Solness. Won't you sit down?
Brovik. Thanks — may I?
Solness (placing the arm-chair more conveniently). Here — take this chair. — And now?
Brovik (has seated himself with difficulty). Well, you see, it's about Ragnar. That is what weighs most upon me. What is to become of him?
Solness. Of course your son will stay with me as long as ever he likes.
Brovik. But that is just what he does not like. He feels that he cannot stay here any longer.
Solness. Why, I should say he was very well off here. But if he wants more money, I should not mind —
Brovik. No, no! It is not that. (Impatiently.) But sooner or later he, too, must have a chance of doing something on his own account.
Solness (without looking at him). Do you think that Ragnar has quite talent enough to stand alone?
Brovik. No, that is just the heartbreaking part of it — I have begun to have my doubts about the boy. For you have never said so much asas one encouraging word about him. And yet I cannot but think there must be something in him — he can't be without talent.
Solness. Well, but he has learnt nothing — nothing thoroughly, I mean. Except, of course, to draw.
Brovik (looks at him with covert hatred and says hoarsely). You had learned little enough of the business when you were in my employment. But that did not prevent you from setting to work — (breathing with difficulty) — and pushing your way up and taking the wind out of my sails — mine, and so many other people's.
Solness. Yes, you see — circumstances favoured me.
Brovik. You are right there. Everything favoured you. But then how can you have the heart to let me go to my grave — without having seen what Ragnar is fit for? And of course I am anxious to see them married, too — before I go.
Solness (sharply). Is it she who wishes it?
Brovik. Not Kaia so much as Ragnar — he talks about it every day. (Appealingly.) You must — you must help him to get some independent work now! I must see something that the lad has done. Do you hear?
Solness (peevishly). Hang it, man, you can't expect me to drag commissions down from the moon for him!
Brovik. He has the chance of a capital commission at this very moment. A big bit of work.
Solness (uneasily, startled). Has he?
Brovik. If you would give your consent.
Solness. What sort of work do you mean?
Brovik (with some hesitation). He can have the building of that villa out at Lövstrand.
Solness. That! Why, I am going to build that myself.
Brovik. Oh, you don't much care about doing it.
Solness (flaring up). Don't care! I? Who dares to say that?
Brovik. You said so yourself just now.
Solness. Oh, never mind what I say. — Would they give Ragnar the building of that villa?
Brovik. Yes. You see, he knows the family. And then — just for the fun of the thing — he has made drawings and estimates and so forth —
Solness. Are they pleased with the drawings? The people who will have to live in the house?
Brovik. Yes. If you would only look through them and approve of them.
Solness. Then they would let Ragnar build their home for them?
Brovik. They were immensely pleased with his idea. They thought it exceedingly original, they said.
Solness. Oho! Original! Not the old-fashioned stuff that I am in the habit of turning out!
Brovik. It seemed to them different.
Solness (with suppressed irritation). So it was to see Ragnar that they came here — whilst I was out!
Brovik. They came to call upon you — and at the same time to ask whether you would mind retiring —
Solness (angrily). Retire? I?
Brovik. In case you thought that Ragnar's drawings —
Solness. I? Retire in favour of your son!
Brovik. Retire from the agreement, they meant.
Solness. Oh, it comes to the same thing. (Laughs angrily.) So that is it, is it? Halvard Solness is to see about retiring now! To make room for younger men! For the very youngest, perhaps! He must make room! Room! Room!
Brovik. Why, good heavens! there is surely room for more than one single man —
Solness. Oh, there's not so very much room to spare either. But, be that as it may — I will never retire! I will never give way to anybody! Never of my own free will. Never in this world will I do that!
Brovik (rises with difficulty). Then I am to pass out of life without any certainty? Without a gleam of happiness? Without any faith or trust in Ragnar? Without having seen a single piece of work of his doing? Is that to be the way of it?
Solness (turns half aside and mutters). H'm — don't ask more just now.
Brovik. I must have an answer to this one question. Am I to pass out of life in such utter poverty?
Solness (seems to struggle with himself; finally he says, in a low but firm voice:) You must pass out of life as best you can.
Brovik. Then be it so.
[He goes up the room.]
Solness (following him, half in desperation). Don't you understand that I cannot help it? I am what I am, and I cannot change my nature!
Brovik. No, no; I suppose you can't. (Reels and supports himself against the sofa-table.) May I have a glass of water?
Solness. By all means.
[Fills a glass and hands it to him.]
[Drinks and puts the glass down again. Solness goes up and opens the door of the draughtsmen's office.]
Solness. Ragnar — you must come and take your father home.
[Ragnar rises quickly. He and Kaia come into the work-room.]
Ragnar. What is the matter, father?
Brovik. Give me your arm. Now let us go.
Ragnar. Very well. You had better put your things on, too, Kaia.
Solness. Miss Fosli must stay — just for a moment. There is a letter I want written.
Brovik (looks at Solness). Good night. Sleep well — if you can. Solness. Good night.
[Brovik and Ragnar go out by the hall door. Kaia goes to the desk. Solness stands with bent head, to the right, by the arm-chair.]
Kaia (dubiously). Is there any letter —?
Solness (curtly). No, of course not. (Looks sternly at her.) Kaia!
Kaia (anxiously, in a low voice). Yes!
Solness (points imperatively to a spot on the floor). Come here! At once!
Kaia (hesitatingly). Yes.
Solness (as before). Nearer!
Kaia (obeying). What do you want with me?
Solness (looks at her for a while). Is it you I have to thank for all this?
Kaia. No, no, don't think that!
Solness. But confess now — you want to get married!
Kaia (softly). Ragnar and I have been engaged for four or five years, and so —
Solness. And so you think it time there were an end to it. Is not that so?
Kaia. Ragnar and Uncle say I must. So I suppose I shall have to give in.
Solness (more gently). Kaia, don't you really care a little bit for Ragnar, too?
Kaia. I cared very much for Ragnar once — before I came here to you.
Solness. But you don't now? Not in the least?
Kaia (passionately, clasping her hands and holding them out towards him). Oh, you know very well there is only one person I care for now! One, and one only, in all the world! I shall never care for anyone else.
Solness. Yes, you say that. And yet you go away from me — leave me alone here with everything on my hands.
Kaia. But could I not stay with you, even if Ragnar —?
Solness (repudiating the idea). No, no, that is quite impossible. If Ragnar leaves me and starts work on his own account, then of course he will need you himself.
Kaia (wringing her hands). Oh, I feel as if I could not be separated from you! It's quite, quite impossible!
Solness. Then be sure you get those foolish notions out of Ragnar's head. Marry him as much as you please — (alters his tone.) — I mean — don't let him throw up his good situation with me. For then I can keep you, too, my dear Kaia.
Kaia. Oh yes, how lovely that would be, if it could only be managed!
Solness (clasps her head with his two hands and whispers). For I cannot get on without you, you see. I must have you with me every single day.
Kaia (in nervous exaltation). My God! My God!
Solness (kisses her hair). Kaia — Kaia!
Kaia (sinks down before him). Oh, how good you are to me! How unspeakably good you are!
Solness (vehemently). Get up! For goodness' sake get up! I think I hear some one!
[He helps her to rise. She staggers over to the desk. Mrs. Solness enters by the door on the right. She looks thin and wasted with grief, but shows traces of bygone beauty. Blonde ringlets. Dressed with good taste, wholly in black. Speaks somewhat slowly and in a plaintive voice.]
Mrs. Solness (in the doorway). Halvard!
Solness (turns). Oh, are you there, my dear —?
Mrs. Solness (with a glance at Kaia). I am afraid I am disturbing you.
Solness. Not in the least. Miss Fosli has only a short letter to write.
Mrs. Solness. Yes, so I see.
Excerpted from The Master Builder by HENRIK IBSEN, SUSAN L. RATTINER. Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Plays for Performance series is edited by Nicholas Rudall, former artistic director of the Court Theatre at the University of Chicago where he is professor of classics, and Bernard Sahlins, founder and director of the Second City. They both live in Chicago, Illinois.
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