Forbidden Fruit in Ibsen and Chaucer

I am welcoming the U6th back to the most bizarre Spring Term I recall by beginning to review 2 texts studied in the L6th: A Doll’s House and The Merchant’s Tale. Though we have no idea whether an exam will be sat, I want to pick these two texts up now in order to prepare ourselves for whatever the Summer brings.

The question being addressed today and for the next group of lessons is a discussion of the statement ‘forbidden fruits are the sweetest’, an old favourite of OCR A level.

My thoughts as guidance for the group before they go and work together to prepare a detailed plan are these:

Arguments for the statement:

January seeks ‘permission’ to continue a life of debauchery by marrying – seeks a highly sexed partner who knows her business in order to ensure heightened sexual pleasure. He ignores all advice to the contrary. To many 14C religious commentators, sex solely for the purpose of pleasure was still a sin. Sex has always been ‘al his delit’- it seems to drive him more than his ostentatious pursuit of wealth.Helmer and Nora have children (3) and are obviously sexually attracted to each other, something which Nora is adept at playing upon in her physical interaction with Helmer (and her teasing of Rank). Yet their life is not one of debauchery and the eventual split is not derived from a wish to indulge further in any sexual manner. Similarly, Linde marries for practical purposes, not simply because she is seeking a physical relationship.
Pluto represents a rapist and has abducted Proserpina against her will. The arrangement in the end has resulted in some form of compromise. This does not seem to be the sweetest outcome, any more than the compromise found by Januarie and May. There are obvious similarities with the manner in which Januarie chose May.Whilst there is no direct comparison here, we might consider the fate of Rank, whose syphilis is a direct (and unjust) result of his father’s promiscuity. Again, the forbidden fruits of his relationships have given only pain to his son.
Januarie creates a Locus Amoenus in which to pursue his physical lovemaking, on the assumption it will bring joy. He will be betrayed in the love garden and we need to see the link with the Eden myth. Forbidden fruit (literally) prove too attractive to ignore but ultimately lead to utter disaster. The LA is overseen by Pluto and Proserpina.The Helmer’s flat is a creation of Helmer, into which he places his ‘little songbird’ in expectation of prolonged joy. Before she awakens to her need to shake off the gender determinism of 19C, Nora is routinely deceiving him in small ways and revelling in her ‘freedom’ to do so within these boundaries. She has also her ‘secret’…
The secret held by May is her affair with Damyan which can be seen as a typical act of Courtly Love – thus it is forbidden, though conversely is also expected of them in their positions in society. Both play a conventional part in the deception, yet there is obvious pleasure to be found in the plot for both.The secret is Nora’s greatest joy and is founded solely upon a forbidden act – albeit one forbidden by custom and practice rather than by morality. It drives her onto destruction as the inevitable reveal draws nearer. She enjoys the teasing of Linde suggesting she may have an ‘admirer’, but there is no suggestion of real sexual impropriety here.
Eve’s fall is the pursuit of ‘knowledge’, urged on by Satan in the form of the serpent (the ‘naddre’) and mankind is ruined, never to be the same again. Damyan can be seen as the serpent figure from the moment he writes the letter.Nora also seeks knowledge and leaves with no idea of her future, though the underlying symbolism of her nicknames suggests that her outlook is bleak. If her aim is to establish herself in her own right, irrespective of gender, she will
Courtly Love requires adultery as an ultimate end. Thus the ‘forbidden’ is sought by the lower status lover and granted by his high status mistress. We have a version of this, though the suffering and the quests are much reduced. We need to consider whether the outcome in this tale really is the ‘sweetest’.19C society would fight against all forms of immorality and there can be no hint of adultery in this society. This makes the Act 2 scene with the stockings immensely complex. Whilst Rank can be seen as lower status as a bachelor, the roles are muddled – Nora looks up to him for advice and as some form of soul mate in whom she can confide. When the moral boundaries are transgressed even slightly, this leads to panic on her part.
Linde and Krogstad get together, though this has to be seen as practicality rather than an explosion of rekindled love.
Januarie has established a court with great wealth and many hangers on – Placebo and Justinus are his advisors -one a flatterer, the other speaking sense. He fails to heed good advice.Helmer’s great joy is his promotion – this will inevitably lead to a crisis around the employment of Krogstad and is not to be enjoyed, therefore. His moral rigidity is his biggest weakness perhaps. His conversations with rank have the effect of sustaining his misguided moral certainty.

I suppose my eventual thesis would say that the statement is flawed and perception is not sustained by reality. Whilst our characters believe that joy awaits, the outcome is different – compromise in MLT and destruction in ADH.