When We Dead Awaken (1899), Ibsen's final play and "Dramatic Epilogue", is one of a series of reflective works on the nature of the artist, his work and the price that must be paid for it. Professor Rubek is a sculptor who, disillusioned by the reception to his masterpiece - The Resurrection Day - which he believes no-one has truly understood, has abandoned his art for meaningless commercial work. His disillusionment with his work and its reception has however come at some cost to his humanity and at the expense of the people around him. At a mountain spa, the professor's aloofness consequently causes a certain bitterness, restlessness and detachment to creep into his marriage to Maia.
The distance between them is measured in other figures who "haunt" the spa. One is a woman, Irene, an old acquaintance who inspired Rubek's masterpiece. She believes that her soul has been destroyed since her time with the professor - she blames the professor for sucking the life out of her for his work with no concern for the person beneath ("The work of art first - then the human being") - and, now dead to the world, she has subsequently brought death to everyone around her. Maia, on the other hand, is inspired by the bear-hunter Ulfheim towards the physical, natural world, simultaneously repelled and attracted by his baseness.
Unlike Ibsen's other brooding plays with supernatural symbolism, there's little consequently that is subtle, mysterious or unexplained in When We Dead Awaken. The subtext that remains beneath the surface of the dramatist's previous play John Gabriel Borkman is here given foreground and precedence at the expense of realism, pushing it almost to the point of caricature, the play full of ominous foreshadowing and heavy metaphors (carving life out of a dead stone, a statue a "child" placed in a "grave" of a museum). It's quintessentially full-blooded Ibsen however, deeply moody, reflective and some of the imagery (Rubek's time with Irene "an episode" that she takes "so painfully to heart", the patching together of lives into a tattered rag) are at times brilliantly incisive in establishing an overall tone of dark cynicism, disillusionment and derision.