Peer Gynt (, Norwegian: [peːr ˈjʏnt, - ˈɡʏnt]) is a five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, written in Italy and published by the Danish publisher Gyldendal in 1867. It is one of the most widely performed Norwegian plays.
Peer Gynt chronicles the journey of its title character from the Norwegian mountains to the North African desert and back. According to Klaus Van Den Berg, "its origins are romantic, but the play also anticipates the fragmentations of emerging modernism" and the "cinematic script blends poetry with social satire and realistic scenes with surreal ones." Peer Gynt has also been described as the story of a life based on procrastination and avoidance.
Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt in deliberate disregard of the limitations that the conventional stagecraft of the 19th century imposed on drama. Its forty scenes move uninhibitedly in time and space and between consciousness and the unconscious, blending folkloric fantasy and unsentimental realism. Raymond Williams compares Peer Gynt with August Strindberg's early drama Lucky Peter's Journey (1882) and argues that both explore a new kind of dramatic action that was beyond the capacities of the theatre of the day; both created "a sequence of images in language and visual composition" that "became technically possible only in film."
Ibsen believed Per Gynt, a Norwegian fairy tale the play is loosely inspired by, to be rooted in fact. Ibsen also wrote that he had used his own family and childhood memories as "as some kind of model" for the Gynt family; he acknowledged that the character of Åse—Peer Gynt's mother—was based on his own mother, Marichen Altenburg, while Peer's father Jon Gynt is widely interpreted as based on Ibsen's father Knud Ibsen. He was also generally inspired by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen's collection of Norwegian fairy tales, published in 1845 (Huldre-Eventyr og Folkesagn).
The play was written in Italy and a first edition of 1,250 copies was published on 14 November 1867 by the Danish publisher Gyldendal in Copenhagen. Although the first edition swiftly sold out, a reprint of two thousand copies, which followed after only fourteen days, did not sell out until seven years later. During Ibsen's lifetime Denmark and Norway had a largely identical written language based on Danish, but Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt in a somewhat modernized Dano-Norwegian that included a number of distinct Norwegian words.
Peer Gynt was first performed in Christiania (now Oslo) on 24 February 1876, with original music composed by Edvard Grieg that includes some of today's most recognised classical pieces, "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and "Morning Mood". It was published in German translation in 1881, in English in 1892, and in French in 1896. The contemporary influence of the play continues into the Twenty-First Century; it is widely performed internationally both in traditional and in modern experimental productions.
While Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson admired the play's "satire on Norwegian egotism, narrowness, and self-sufficiency" and described it as "magnificent", Hans Christian Andersen, Georg Brandes and Clemens Petersen all joined the widespread hostility, Petersen writing that the play was not poetry. Enraged by Petersen's criticisms in particular, Ibsen defended his work by arguing that it "is poetry; and if it isn't, it will become such. The conception of poetry in our country, in Norway, shall shape itself according to this book." Despite this defense of his poetic achievement in Peer Gynt, the play was his last to employ verse; from The League of Youth (1869) onwards, Ibsen was to write drama only in prose.