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Role of Nora in 'A Doll's House'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1565 words Published: 11th May 2017

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“Realism was a general movement in 19th-century theatre that developed a set of dramatic and theatrical conventions with the aims of brining a greater fidelity to real life to texts and performances.” [1] In realism theatre, the characters portrayed on stage are close to life, including the setting and staging and a range of dramatic and theatrical strategies are used to create an illusion of reality on stage. Realism revolves around the idea of dramatizing reality of life. The audience must be able to feel the emotions of the characters and connect that with their life. A realism theatre play is based on existing and endemic issues of life which must emotionally strike an audience. Acting for a realism theatre play follows a style that mirrors reality of life on stage. To suite this genre of theatre, Stanislavski developed a concept of “method acting” for actors to recreate life on stage. For an actor to use the conventions of realism theatre and apply them to the character of Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, understanding the use of the conventions, the character and “method acting” is crucial.

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“Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a realistic play written in the mindset of realism.”[2] Nora is the protagonist of the play, and she also plays the role of Torvald Helmer’s wife. Her character has changing personalities from an immature and silly Nora in the first act to the serious, broad-minded Nora. At the beginning of the play Nora is a happy and an excited character. She is surrounded by the boundaries of her doll-like existence, in which she is quoted as a “silly girl” who is fancied and pampered by her husband, Trovald. But behind the silly face, she is actually a clever, intelligent and determined woman who secretly took loan from Krogstad, the antagonist of the play in order to save her husband’s life. Krogstad blackmails Nora and pressurizes her. But driven from this, it opens her eyes to the reality of her husband treating her like a ‘doll’ to admire and play with.

For an actor to traditionally perform the role of Nora, a major convention of realism theatre; method acting must be used. Method acting refers to a series of acting techniques which actors use to create thoughts and emotions of the character they play in order to develop life like performances. Stanislavski’s ‘system’ of method acting is where actors deeply analyze the motivations and emotions of their characters and then portray them with realism and emotional reality. In method acting, the actor is required to have in depth knowledge about the character, knowing the character as well as he knows himself, therefore Stanislavsky’s created certain criteria in order for a character to be believable.

Stanislavski’s criteria for method acting included, Action of the Character. “For each action an actor performs on stage, there has to be a motivation.” [3] An actor performing Nora’s role has to carefully consider the Nora’s psychological motives and personal identification with Nora. The actor may recall the emotions and experience from her life and use them to get more familiar with Nora’s character. Stanslvaski’s developed that actor needs to have this motivation in order to justify the character and assure the audience of Nora’s authenticity. Throughout the play, the actor has to understand every action and intention of Nora and why would she act in a specific way. The actor is required to have all this information, so the actions on stage are believable, therefore creating “theatrical truth”.

The Magic If criterion requires the actor to have a good degree of imagining the different situations Nora gets in. The actor must ask questions to herself and the character she is playing; Nora, and the actor can then think how she would react to a similar situation if she faced one, thus having a real situation on stage, rather than pretending it. This technique is used so that the actor knows how to react to any situation or changes in circumstances that occur in a play. The actor should make use of sense memory to understand certain emotions and feelings deeper. “Sense memory is based on how certain emotions can be connected to what a person hear, see, feel, taste or touch.” [4]

The Given Circumstances, for each scene Nora appears in, the given situation should be explored by the actor, in order to understand how the scene fits into the plot, time and space, the set, costumes and props, sound and light used in the scene. The actor should understand the actions she has to perform as Nora in the scene and what are Nora’s emotions and feelings are in the scene, which may have an impact later as the play progresses. “Just as you can’t perform without a body, you can’t act in a truly vibrant manner without your emotions being drafted into your psycho-physical work at some level or another.”[5]

Imagination is an important criterion of method acting. For an audience watching A Doll’s House to believe that Nora is a real person, it is crucial for the actor to know every detail about Nora’s character. With every entrance of Nora, the actor has to know where she has to enter from, her position, reason for entering in the scene and the aim of being a part of the scene. The actor must ensure that she has a concentrated motivation for entering and making an exit in a scene.

“Focus and concentration is of the utmost importance for any actor.”[6] This method acting technique is called ‘Circle of Attention’. It helps an actor to focus. The technique would require the actor to primarily focus on herself, her goals and motivation. The actor’s next focus must be the scene and the circumstances Nora is in. Her relation and connecting with the other characters in the scene must be considered by the actor. In case if something that wasn’t rehearsed occurs in a scene, the actor must have the improvisation skills to react to such a situation in a very natural manner, as it would be in the real world.

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Stanislavsky’s techniques for method acting suggest that an actor “should always approach a role as directly as possible and then see if it lives.” [7] His system is a complex mix of acting elements in order to produce realistic characters. The system requires an actor to have a deep understanding and analysis of motivations of the character being played. The actor playing the character of Nora in A Doll’s House must be familiar with Nora’s aims and objectives in each scene, and have a main objective for the entire play.

An actor performing the role of Nora should keep in mind the ‘fourth wall’ a convention of realism theatre which must be used to perform the role of Nora. “The fourth wall is the imaginary “wall” at the front of the stage.” [8] This wall draws the imaginary fence between a realism theatre piece and the audience. The fourth wall allows the audience to observe the fiction being portrayed on stage as a real life story or event. Anything that happens on the other side of the fourth wall should have no effect at all on the actor. The actor cannot acknowledge the existence of an audience.

Another convention of realism theatre is the set design which has to be a detailed three dimensional setting in order for the stage to mirror reality. The actor should be able to make connection with the surrounding, including the character and the setting in order to portray life like reality. “Realism aims for almost a photographic copy of real life.”[9] With the set design, the scale is an important factor in realism theatre. Convincing furniture arrangements should be made, therefore appropriate area is required for the setting, as required by the scene. Stage effects used for each scene must be as close to reality as possible. The set of A Doll’s House goes through a strong effect of evolution from light to darkness, paradise to prison and towards the end of the play, the set goes through vast change, mainly because of the situation of that scene where Nora slams the door and leaves. This leaves the image of the set as harsh and cold landscape surrounding the house. The actor has to make use of method acting techniques in a way that fits in with the script and keeping the essence and feel of reality throughout the play. The surrounding of the character greatly affects the impact it leaves on the audience, therefore the set design for A Doll’s House should be a copy of real life. (expand)

“Method acting requires a lot of preparation and understanding from the actor to create a character that is believable and will convince the audience of the character’s authenticity.”[10]

Realism theatre requires recreating life on stage. The audience should be drawn towards believing what they see on stage is real time action actually happening. In order to build this illusion, the actor has to become the character and actually experiences every single emotion of the character being portrayed.


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