A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions

The audience was shocked by the subject matter of "Ghosts," -- venereal disease.  The play concerns the damage done to a woman by strict adherence to the conventions of marriage, regardless of the circumstances.  Married to a profligate husband, whose excesses she discovers soon after the wedding, she flees to Pastor Manders for refuge.  Despite their affection for each other, Manders encourages her to return to Alving and preserve the marriage.  To save their son, Oswald, from learning the truth about his father, she sends the boy away to school, and creates for him and the community at large an image of Alving as an upstanding philanthropist and citizen.  Pastor Manders encourages this endeavor.

As the action begins, Oswald, now grown but in ill health, returns home for the dedication of an orphanage in the name of his father, perpetuating the myth of Alving’s virtues.  Manders, who has handled the details of the building, arrives to welcome Oswald, and although the parson has not changed his narrow views over the years, Mrs. Alving has read liberal publications and has widened her outlook – she is the New Woman.  But she is trapped once again, as Oswald’s illness increases and his symptoms reveal that he has inherited the venereal disease of his father.

A brilliant production in London in the summer of 2001 starred Francesca Annis as Mrs. Alving and Anthony Andrews as Parson Manders.  In their memorable encounter, in which we learn how the years have affected each of them, these expert actors revealed hidden depths of feeling through their nuances in speech and gesture.   In the final scene, when Oswald pleads for euthanasia, Annis was brilliant as his anguished mother.