The Wild Duck

The Wild Duck

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by Henrik Ibsen

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"Should the truth be pursued whatever the cost? The idealistic son of a wealthy businessman seeks to expose his father's duplicity and to free his childhood friend from the lies on which his happy home life is based." The Wild Duck with its innovatory symbolism and its touching portrait of a fourteen-year-old girl held in thrall by her feckless father is one of…  See more details below


"Should the truth be pursued whatever the cost? The idealistic son of a wealthy businessman seeks to expose his father's duplicity and to free his childhood friend from the lies on which his happy home life is based." The Wild Duck with its innovatory symbolism and its touching portrait of a fourteen-year-old girl held in thrall by her feckless father is one of Ibsen's most frequently staged plays. This new version by David Eldridge premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in December 2005.

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The Wild Duck


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15814-3



At WERLE's house. A richly and comfortably furnished study; bookcases and upholsterer furniture; a writing-table, with papers and documents, in the centre of the room; lighted lamps with green shades, giving a subdued light. At the back, open folding-doors with curtains drawn back. Within is seen a large and handsome room, brilliantly lighted with lamps and branching candlesticks. In front, on the right (in the study), a small baize door leads into WERLE's office. On the left, in front, a fireplace with a glowing coal fire, and farther back a double door leading into the dining-room.

WERLE's servant, PETTERSEN, in livery, and JENSEN, the hired waiter, in black, are putting the study in order. In the large room, two or three other hired waiters are moving about, arranging things and lighting more candles. From the dining-room, the hum of conversation and laughter of many voices are heard; a glass is tapped with a knife; silence follows, and a toast is proposed; shouts of "Bravo!" and then again a buzz of conversation.

Pettersen (lights a lamp on the chimney-place and places a shade over it). Hark to them, Jensen! now the old man's on his legs holding a long palaver about Mrs. Sörby.

Jensen (pushing forward an armchair). Is it true, what folks say, that they're—very good friends, eh?

Pettersen. Lord knows.

Jensen. I've heard tell as he's been a lively customer in his day.

Pettersen. May be.

Jensen. And he's giving this spread in honour of his son, they say.

Pettersen. Yes. His son came home yesterday.

Jensen. This is the first time I ever heard as Mr. Werle had a son.

Pettersen. Oh, yes, he has a son, right enough. But he's a fixture, as you might say, up at the Höidal works. He's never once come to town all the years I've been in service here.

A Waiter (in the doorway of the other room). Pettersen, here's an old fellow wanting——

Pettersen (mutters). The devil—who's this now?

OLD EKDAL appears from the right, in the inner room. He is dressed in a threadbare overcoat with a high collar; he wears woollen mittens and carries in his hand a stick and a fur cap. Under his arm, a brown paper parcel. Dirty red-brown wig and small grey moustache.

Pettersen (goes towards him). Good Lord—what do you want here?

Ekdal (in the doorway). Must get into the office, Pettersen.

Pettersen. The office was closed an hour ago, and——

Ekdal. So they told me at the front door. But Gråberg's in there still. Let me slip in this way, Pettersen; there's a good fellow. (Points towards the baize door.) It's not the first time I've come this way.

Pettersen. Well, you may pass. (Opens the door.) But mind you go out again the proper way, for we've got company.

Ekdal. I know, I know—h'm! Thanks, Pettersen, good old friend! Thanks! (Mutters softly.) Ass!

[He goes into the office; PETTERSEN shuts the door after him.]

Jensen. Is he one of the office people?

Pettersen. No he's only an outside hand that does odd jobs of copying. But he's been a tip-topper in his day, has old Ekdal.

Jensen. You can see he's been through a lot.

Pettersen. Yes; he was an army officer, you know.

Jensen. You don't say so?

Pettersen. No mistake about it. But then he went into the timber trade or something of the sort. They say he once played Mr. Werle a very nasty trick. They were partners in the Höidal works at the time. Oh, I know old Ekdal well, I do. Many a nip of bitters and bottle of ale we two have drunk at Madam Eriksen's.

Jensen. He don't look as if he'd much to stand treat with.

Pettersen. Why, bless you, Jensen, it's me that stands treat. I always think there's no harm in being a bit civil to folks that have seen better days.

Jensen. Did he go bankrupt, then?

Pettersen. Worse than that. He went to prison.

Jensen. To prison!

Pettersen. Or perhaps it was the Penitentiary. (Listens.) Sh! They're leaving the table.

The dining-room door is thrown open from within by a couple of waiters. MRS. SÖRBY comes out conversing with two gentlemen. Gradually the whole company follows, amongst them WERLE. Last come HIALMAR EKDAL and GREGERS WERLE.

Mrs. Sörby (in passing, to the servant). Tell them to serve the coffee in the music-room, Pettersen.

Pettersen. Very well, Madam.

[She goes with the two Gentlemen into the inner room and thence out to the right. PETTERSEN and JENSEN go out the same way.]

A Flabby Gentleman (to a THIN-HAIRED GENTLEMAN). Whew! What a dinner!—It was no joke to do it justice!

The Thin-haired Gentleman. Oh, with a little good-will one can get through a lot in three hours.

The Flabby Gentleman. Yes, but afterwards, afterwards, my dear Chamberlain!

A Third Gentleman. I hear the coffee and maraschino are to be served in the music-room.

The Flabby Gentleman. Bravo! Then perhaps Mrs. Sörby will play us something.

The Thin-haired Gentleman (in a low voice). I hope Mrs. Sörby mayn't play us a tune we don't like, one of these days!

The Flabby Gentleman. Oh, no, not she! Bertha will never turn against her old friends.

[They laugh and pass into the inner room.]

Werle (in a low voice, dejectedly). I don't think anybody noticed it, Gregers.

Gregers (looks at him). Noticed what?

Werle. Did you not notice it either?

Gregers. What do you mean?

Werle. We were thirteen at table.

Gregers. Indeed? Were there thirteen of us?

Werle (glances towards HIALMAR, EKDAL). Our usual party is twelve. (To the others.) This way, gentlemen!

[WERLE and the others, all except HIALMAR and GREGERS, go out by the back, to the right.]

Hialmar (who has overheard the conversation). You ought not to have invited me, Gregers.

Gregers. What! Not ask my best and only friend to a party supposed to be in my honour——?

Hialmar. But I don't think your father likes it. You see I am quite outside his circle.

Gregers. So I hear. But I wanted to see you and have a talk with you, and I certainly shan't be staying long.—Ah, we two old schoolfellows have drifted far apart from each other. It must be sixteen or seventeen years since we met.

Hialmar. Is it so long?

Gregers. It is indeed. Well, how goes it with you? You look well. You have put on flesh and grown almost stout.

Hialmar. Well, "stout" is scarcely the word; but I daresay I look a little more of a man than I used to.

Gregers. Yes, you do; your outer man is in first-rate condition.

Hialmar (in a tone of gloom). Ah, but the inner man! That is a very different matter, I can tell you! Of course you know of the terrible catastrophe that has befallen me and mine since last we met.

Gregers (more softly). How are things going with your father now?

Hialmar. Don't let us talk of it, old fellow. Of course my poor unhappy father lives with me. He hasn't another soul in the world to care for him. But you can understand that this is a miserable subject for me.—Tell me, rather, how you have been getting on up at the works.

Gregers. I have had a delightfully lonely time of it—plenty of leisure to think and think about things. Come over here; we may as well make ourselves comfortable.

[He seats himself in an armchair by the fire and draws HIALMAR down into another alongside of it.]

Hialmar (sentimentally). After all, Gregers, I thank you for inviting me to your father's table; for I take it as a sign that you have got over your feeling against me.

Gregers (surprised). How could you imagine I had any feeling against you?

Hialmar. You had at first, you know.

Gregers. How at first?

Hialmar. After the great misfortune. It was natural enough that you should. Your father was within an ace of being drawn into that—well, that terrible business.

Gregers. Why should that give me any feeling against you? Who can have put that into your head?

Hialmar. I know it did, Gregers; your father told me so himself.

Gregers (starts). My father! Oh, indeed. H'm.—Was that why you never let me hear from you?—not a single word.

Hialmar. Yes.

Gregers. Not even when you made up your mind to become a photographer?

Hialmar. Your father said I had better not write to you at all, about anything.

Gregers (looking straight before him). Well, well, perhaps he was right.—But tell me now, Hialmar: are you pretty well satisfied with your present position?

Hialmar (with a little sigh). Oh, yes, I am; I have really no cause to complain. At first, as you may guess, I felt it a little strange. It was such a totally new state of things for me. But of course my whole circumstances were totally changed. Father's utter, irretrievable ruin,—the shame and disgrace of it, Gregers——

Gregers (affected). Yes, yes; I understand.

Hialmar. I couldn't think of remaining at college; there wasn't a shilling to spare; on the contrary, there were debts—mainly to your father, I believe——

Gregers. H'm——

Hialmar. In short, I thought it best to break, once for all, with my old surroundings and associations. It was your father that specially urged me to it; and since he interested himself so much in me——

Gregers. My father did?

Hialmar. Yes, you surely knew that, didn't you? Where do you suppose I found the money to learn photography, and to furnish a studio and make a start? All that cost a pretty penny, I can tell you.

Gregers. And my father provided the money?

Hialmar. Yes, my dear fellow, didn't you know? I understood him to say he had written to you about it.

Gregers. Not a word about his part in the business. He must have forgotten it. Our correspondence has always been purely a business one. So it was my father that——!

Hialmar. Yes, certainly. He didn't wish it to be generally known; but he it was. And of course it was he, too, that put me in a position to marry. Don't you—don't you know about that either?

Gregers. No, I haven't heard a word of it. (Shakes him by the arm.) But, my dear Hialmar, I can't tell you what pleasure all this gives me—pleasure, and self-reproach. I have perhaps done my father injustice after all—in some things. This proves that he has a heart. It shows a sort of compunction——

Hialmar. Compunction——?

Gregers. Yes, yes—whatever you like to call it. Oh, I can't tell you how glad I am to hear this of father.—So you are a married man, Hialmar! That is further than I shall ever get. Well, I hope you are happy in your married life?

Hialmar. Yes, thoroughly happy. She is as good and capable a wife as any man could wish for. And she is by no means without culture.

Gregers (rather surprised). No, of course not.

Hialmar. You see, life is itself an education. Her daily intercourse with me——And then we know one or two rather remarkable men, who come a good deal about us. I assure you, you would hardly know Gina again.

Gregers. Gina?

Hialmar. Yes; had you forgotten that her name was Gina?

Gregers. Whose name? I haven't the slightest idea——

Hialmar. Don't you remember that she used to be in service here?

Gregers (looks at him). Is it Gina Hansen——?

Hialmar. Yes, of course it is Gina Hansen.

Gregers. ——who kept house for us during the last year of my mother's illness?

Hialmar. Yes, exactly. But, my dear friend, I'm quite sure your father told you that I was married.

Gregers (who has risen). Oh, yes, he mentioned it; but not that——(Walking about the room.) Stay—perhaps he did—now that I think of it. My father always writes such short letters. (Half seats himself on the arm of the chair.) Now tell me, Hialmar—this is interesting—how did you come to know Gina—your wife?

Hialmar. The simplest thing in the world. You know Gina did not stay here long, everything was so much upset at that time, owing to your mother's illness and so forth, that Gina was not equal to it all; so she gave notice and left. That was the year before your mother died—or it may have been the same year.

Gregers. It was the same year. I was up at the works then. But afterwards——?

Hialmar. Well, Gina lived at home with her mother, Madam Hansen, an excellent hard-working woman, who kept a little eating-house. She had a room to let, too; a very nice comfortable room.

Gregers. And I suppose you were lucky enough to secure it?

Hialmar. Yes; in fact, it was your father that recommended it to me. So it was there, you see, that I really came to know Gina.

Gregers. And then you got engaged?

Hialmar. Yes. It doesn't take young people long to fall in love——; h'm——

Gregers (rises and moves about a little). Tell me: was it after your engagement—was it then that my father—I mean was it then that you began to take up photography?

Hialmar. Yes, precisely. I wanted to make a start and to set up house as soon as possible; and your father and I agreed that this photography business was the readiest way. Gina thought so, too. Oh, and there was another thing in its favour, by-the-bye: it happened, luckily, that Gina had learnt to retouch.

Gregers. That chimed in marvellously.

Hialmar (pleased, rises). Yes, didn't it? Don't you think it was a marvellous piece of luck?

Gregers. Oh, unquestionably. My father seems to have been almost a kind of providence for you.

Hialmar (with emotion). He did not forsake his old friend's son in the hour of his need. For he has a heart, you see.

Mrs. Sörby (enters, arm-in-arm with WERLE). Nonsense, my dear Mr. Werle; you mustn't stop there any longer staring at all the lights. It's very bad for you.

Werle (lets go her arm and passes his hand over his eyes). I daresay you are right.

[PETTERSEN and JENSEN carry round refreshment trays.]

Mrs. Sörby (to the Guests in the other room). This way, if you please, gentlemen. Whoever wants a glass of punch must be so good as to come in here.

The Flabby Gentleman (comes up to MRS. SÖRBY). Surely, it isn't possible that you have suspended our cherished right to smoke?

Mrs. Sörby. Yes. No smoking here, in Mr. Werle's sanctum, Chamberlain.

The Thin-haired Gentleman. When did you enact these stringent amendments on the cigar law, Mrs. Sörby?

Mrs. Sörby. After the last dinner, Chamberlain, when certain persons permitted themselves to overstep the mark.

The Thin-haired Gentleman. And may one never overstep the mark a little bit, Madame Bertha? Not the least little bit?

Mrs. Sörby. Not in any respect whatsoever, Mr. Balle.

[Most of the Guests have assembled in the study; servants hand round glasses of punch.]

Werle (to HIALMAR, who is standing beside a table). What are you studying so intently, Ekdal?

Hialmar. Only an album, Mr. Werle.

The Thin-haired Gentleman (who is wandering about). Ah, photographs! They are quite in your line, of course.

The Flabby Gentleman (in an armchair). Haven't you brought any of your own with you?

Hialmar. No, I haven't.

The Flabby Gentleman. You ought to have; it's very good for the digestion to sit and look at pictures.

The Thin-haired Gentleman. And it contributes to the entertainment, you know.

The Short-sighted Gentleman. And all contributions are thankfully received.

Mrs. Sörby. The Chamberlains think that when one is invited out to dinner, one ought to exert oneself a little in return, Mr. Ekdal.


Excerpted from The Wild Duck by HENRIK IBSEN, SUSAN L. RATTINER. Copyright © 2000 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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