Ibsen, Henrik. Rosmersholm. N.p.: n.p.,. Project Gutenberg. 2000. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
by Vivien Oye, Eileen Paige, and Devina Rambharose
Rosmersholm is a play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1886. Act one opens with two characters, Rebecca and Mrs. Helseth, discussing the whereabouts of Rosmer, a widower, who lost his wife Beata to suicide before the opening of the play. Kroll, Beata’s brother who has not been seen since the death of his sister, enters and joins the discussion. Shortly after, Rosmer returns and Kroll and Rosmer converse.
When Kroll enters, Rebecca talks about how much Rosmer and she have missed him. Kroll starts to inquire about how things have been since Beata’s passing, and whether or not Rebecca thinks she will remain living in the house with Rosmer. She says the house feels empty and has stayed the same as it was when Beata was alive, except now she can have flowers in the house. Rebecca reveals to Kroll that she reads the Radical Newspaper, and he expresses his disapproval about women’s participation in civic disputes. Kroll begins to question Rebecca’s actions. In contrast, he speaks to Rosmer about his students’ revolt. He perceives their participation in his rival Peter Mortensgaard’s paper Searchlight as a serious problem, because even his own two children are going against his beliefs. In response, Kroll and his friends have purchased the “County News” to start an opposition paper. He asks Rosmer to work as an editor for his paper, placing emphasis on how Rosmer’s family name as well as his status as a former clergyman would benefit his paper, but he is quickly turned down. Ulrik Brendel, Rosmer’s old tutor, makes an unexpected visit in Rosmersholm. Brendel recognizes Kroll as someone who got him kicked out of a debating society and draws a chilly response from Kroll, who wants nothing to do with a man of different ideologies. Rebecca’s acknowledgement of Brendel’s writings opens a dialogue about Brendel’s wish to deliver his ideals across the country through poetry. Brendel borrows clothes and money from Rosmer to continue his travels, receiving Kroll’s disdain. In response, Rosmer questions Kroll about his fixed ideals. He informs Kroll that he supports the movement of emancipation and has left his faith. He also highlights Kroll’s bad behavior in public meetings, which is contrary to Rosmer’s beliefs in peace in the human soul. This provokes Kroll into severing relations with Rosmer. Kroll resurrects the memory of Beata with Rosmer, causing Rebecca and Mrs. Helseth to briefly discuss Beata.
Act two opens with Rebecca checking in on Rosmer to see how he slept. Rosmer claims to feel refreshed, renewed, and excited that he was able to have that talk with Kroll. Rebecca then confesses to sending Brendel out with a letter to Mortensgaard, and Rosmer is unhappy with this. As she explains herself, Mrs. Helseth interrupts saying that Kroll is downstairs and wishes to talk with Rosmer immediately. Kroll asks to speak to him alone, and Rebecca leaves the room. He then begins to talk about what he thinks may be going on behind Rosmer’s back, and wants to know if Rosmer is aware of Rebecca’s whereabouts. Kroll realizes that Rosmer refers to Rebecca by her first name and not her formal name, “Miss West.” Kroll then talks about how she has contacted Searchlight. Rosmer says he is aware of this and also that she is independent and can do as she pleases. Kroll begins to ask about how much Rosmer was aware of Beata’s activities before she took her own life. Flabbergasted, Rosmer demands that Kroll stop speaking nonsense. Kroll then divulges that Beata came to him a few times before her death, saying she had little time left and that Rebecca and Rosmer must marry immediately. He also says that Beata wanted nothing more than for Rosmer to be happy and be with whom he desired. Rosmer is horrified.
Unexpectedly, Mortensgaard pays a visit to Rosmer, asking Rosmer to lend his name and reputation to his publication, Searchlight. To Mortensgaard’s surprise, Rosmer informs him about his departure from church, thwarting Mortensgaard’s goal to introduce a Christian element to his movement. In response, Mortensgaard mentions a letter from Beata, which revealed that Rosmer caused Mortensgaard to be dismissed from his position as schoolmaster. Mortensgaard promises to publish the information in Searchlight. Rebecca who has been listening to the conversation, appears and watches Rosmer berate himself for believing he caused his wife’s death. He believes that time spent reading books with Rebecca led Beata to perceive a relationship between them. Rebecca highlights the importance of a new life, leading Rosmer to propose a marriage between them. To the dismay of Rosmer, Rebecca turns down his proposal, threatening to leave Rosmersholm if he continues questioning her.
In act three, Rebecca and Mrs. Helseth begin talking about a letter that was sent from Rosmersholm to Mortensgaard. They wonder who wrote it. Rebecca prompts Mrs. Helseth to reveal what she knows about the letter by persuading Mrs. Helseth that they are friends. Then Rosmer tells Rebecca that he has been enchanted by her the whole time. Once Kroll enters, he talks with Rebecca about how she bewitched Beata, which is why Beata wanted Rebecca to stay with them. He accuses Rebecca of having a “cold heart.” Rebecca starts to agree and admits that he is right about his inquiries. She says, “I mean, John, that you could never have attained freedom except in the full glory of the sunshine. And, instead of that, here you were—ailing and languishing in the gloom of such a marriage as yours.” To Rosmer’s horror, Rebecca confesses that she led Beata to suicide for his happiness, since Beata felt it was her duty to replace herself as a childless wife. Rebecca did not try to dissuade Beata that Rosmer had to choose between two lives. After her revelation, Rosmer and Kroll depart, having convinced Rebecca to leave Rosmersholm.
The final act of Rosmersholm shows Rebecca getting ready to leave and asking Mrs. Helseth why she thinks she’s leaving. Mrs. Helseth, being unaware, has a different view of what is happening. Rosmer wonders what will become of all of this and asks if Rebecca is really leaving, almost as though he would rather she stayed. She decides she will take a boat north, and they discuss what has happened. He wants her to explain herself fully; she is almost incapable of doing so. She rambles about how what she has done has a logic, and she agrees to having lost herself for a while. Rebecca proceeds to talk about Rosmer’s dreams, and her actions have been for his good. They are interrupted by Brendel announcing his departure and disillusionment with his empty ideals. He discovers that, in contrast to himself, Mortensgaard has the strength of living without ideals. Brendel also suggests that Rebecca’s love for Rosmer should be measured through concrete and self-destructive actions, such as chopping off her body parts for him. This leads Rosmer to ask Rebecca if she is willing to end her life with him, in the manner of Beata’s suicide. Rebecca agrees to his request, revealing that she is under Rosmersholm’s view of making amends for offences. The play concludes with Rosmer taking Rebecca as his lawful wife and leaving Rosmersholm. As Mrs. Helseth looks out the window, she sees them on the foot bridge. To her horror, they end their lives by throwing themselves into the mill-race.