Play by Henrik Ibsen
In Ibsen’s Ghosts Mrs. Alving, a dutiful and loving mother is haunted by regret as she struggles to atone for the moral and physical corruption she perpetuated by performing her social duty as a wife and mother.
Set in a remote town in Norway, the characters are consumed by the environments they seek to escape, whether it is the social environment that stifles Mrs. Alving or the bleak climate that banishes all vibrancy, condemning her son Oswald to the Old Norwegian belief that life is short and misery is inescapable.
The clothing of the affluent Alvings conforms to the style lines and fashionable expectations of 1881, allowing structured restraint for Mrs. Alving’s silk taffeta dress and Parisian flair for Oswald’s artistic influence. Those with less monetary influence wear clothing that is dated; for example: Pastor Menders’ double breasted frock coat is of quality but at least ten years old, the product of his moral frugality and patronizing restraint while Engstrand’s outmoded clothing is the result of hard wear and personal neglect. Regina, likely dressed by Mrs. Alving, wears a respectable but comparatively plain dress, of cotton and wool that she will soon grow out of as she comes into her own as a young woman.
The clothing reflects the oppression of both the climate and the social environment, taking their brooding color palate of blues and cool burgundies from Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s early painting of Starry Night. This subdued color palate is reinforced by heavy, period accurate fabrics, which work together to give the costumes opaque weight that is suitable to the period and indicative of Munch’s emotional yet starved and bleak perspective of rural Norway. Throughout the play each character uses their clothing to shield themselves from the harshness of the environment, whether it be Pastor Manders who is afraid of the light, Oswald, who seeks the sun on his long walks though the rain, or Mrs. Alving carrying the weight of her husband’s secrets her whole life. Supported by the subdued color palate, heavy treatment of period-accurate clothing, and many layers and structural details that constrain and shield the characters Mrs. Alving is chained to the sense of duty that makes an otherwise strong and free-thinking woman obediently stay.