synopsis and list of characters
As the story opens, we get the measure of our hero – Peer Gynt. His widowed mother, Aase, despairs of his selfishness, and propensity to lie and shirk responsibility. Peer laughs off her claim that he is the same as his unreliable father.
At a village wedding Peer’s story hits its first turning point. He meets the innocent and beautiful Solveig – the love of his life. Typically, Peer goes the wrong way.
The wonderful village wedding turns into a wedding scandal when Peer abducts the bride, Ingrid, and spends the wedding night with her in place of her bridegroom. Next day, Peer abandons Ingrid, and she pursues him down the mountain imploring him to stay.
Finding the villagers up in arms, Peer flees. However, his amatory adventures are only beginning. His pattern of exploitative relationships - seducing and being seduced – continues throughout the play.
Peer is first tempted by some raunchy herd girls who are waiting for their troll lovers. A mysterious “woman in green” also seduces him. At the Hall of the Mountain King, we find she is none other than the King’s daughter. Although he refuses to become a troll, Peer is in complete accord with their boasted way of life – greedy, selfish, and careless. He henceforth commits to a self-serving path of least resistance – in the mysterious Bøyg's parlance, “to go around”.
An opportunity to reset his course is presented when Solveig finds Peer building a mountain hut. She will sacrifice her reputation, her family, and community for love of him. Will he stay with her? Of course not. The “woman in green” appears and presents him with a child – his son. Will Peer take responsibility? Peer leaves them both.
Later Peer is grief stricken to find his mother dying. However, he quickly escapes from his obligations in Norway and travels to exotic faraway places – Egypt, China, Turkey, Greece, Africa and America.
We next see a much older Peer in Morocco after he has amassed a fortune from several nefarious businesses, including slave trading and arms dealing. He is engaged in geopolitical negotiation with his German and American business associates. He wants an escalation of conflict between Greece and Turkey because it will benefit his arms businesses.
Peer’s business associates double-cross him and steal his ship, leaving him stranded on the beach. The ship explodes dramatically at sea, but this is cold comfort for Peer who is again destitute and alone.
Fate again takes a hand. A thief and his 'fence' are forced to abandon jewels and a white stallion stolen from an Arabian prince. Peer uses his good fortune to pose as a prophet for a Bedouin tribe. Through this imposture, he wins the affections of the harem women who dance for him. Peer tries to seduce the chieftain’s daughter, Anitra, but she tricks him and steals everything.
In this dark time, Peers hears the voice of Solveig, faithfully calling him to another life, Norway and home.
The journey back is bleak. During a wild storm he meets another passenger - the terrifying ‘Stranger’. Peer is shipwrecked on the Norwegian coast and haunted by his past. He is pitiful and desperate. His return is blocked by fearsome creatures that reflect his bad choices and worse deeds. The Troll King says Peer is still a Troll inside. A mysterious figure, the “Button moulder”, weighs up the value of his soul and finds it wanting.
At last, Peer sees Solveig waiting faithfully for his return. She tells him his “real self” exists in her faith, hope, and love. He sinks and buries his head in her lap.
Does he die? We are not sure.
Peer Gynt, youthful braggart, idler, brawler, and dreamer who grows old in the course of the play.
Aase, Peer's devoted but exasperated mother.
Solveig, Peer's ideal love, beautiful and always patient. She grows old and almost blind waiting for Peer's return.
Ingrid, the daughter of the owner of Haegstad Farm, the bride who Peer steals on her wedding day.
Matt Morgan, Ingrid's bumbling, cuckolded groom.
Aslak, a young blacksmith who voices the ridicule and dislike that most of the villagers show toward Peer.
Three Herd Girls, who take Peer Gynt into their beds after he has abandoned Ingrid.
The Woman in Green, the daughter of the Troll King and the mother of Peer's child.
The Troll King of the Mountains. Although Peer later believes that he has left Trolldom behind him, the King says that Peer has been a Troll in secret ever since he ate and drank with the Trolls and took away their motto graven on his heart.
The Great Boyg, a grim, impassable monster, identified only by a voice in the darkness. His advice is, “Go round about, Peer.”
The Button Moulder, an agent of God who is waiting for Peer when he returns to Norway. He intends to take Peer's soul and melt it down with other worthless ones, neither good enough to merit Heaven, nor bad enough to deserve Hell.
Kari, Aase's friend.
Mr Cotton, Monsieur Ballon, and Herr von Eberkopf Peer Gynt's business associates who steal his ship in the hope of obtaining his fortune. They are destroyed when the vessel blows up after Peer's prayer to God.
A Moroccan Thief and a Fence (receiver of stolen goods), who flee at Peer Gynt's approach, leaving behind them a fortune and stallion they stole from an Arabian prince. With these, Peer impersonates an Arab chieftain and prophet.
Anitra, a Bedouin chieftain’s daughter. While Peer Gynt is singing and dancing to show her how young and vigorous he is, she rides away with his horse and fortune.
A Stranger, who encounters Peer Gynt on a ship off the Norwegian coast. He asks Peer for his corpse.
The Ship's Cook, who Peer, to save his own life, pushes off the keel after the ship capsizes during a storm.