Books: The Scorpion of the North

IBSEN by Michael Meyer. 865 pages. Doubleday. $12.95.

Henrik Ibsen kept a live scorpion in an empty beer glass on his writing table. "From time to time the brute would ail; then I would throw in a piece of ripe fruit, on which it would cast itself in a rage and eject its poison; then it was well again." As usual in an Ibsen scene, opera glasses are not needed to recognize the symbolism. Tiny, armored, venomous, Ibsen was an ailing spirit whose dramas stung the 19th century's conscience and gave European theater a new seriousness. After launching into poetic tragedy (Brand,...

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