Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work, Publication, and First Performance
Gabler is a stage play that focuses in depth
on the last day-and-a-half
in the life of the title character. Ibsen published
the play in Copenhagen,
Denmark, on December 16, 1890. It debuted on the
stage on January 31, 1891,
at the Königliches Residenz Theater in Munich,
wrote the play in Dano-Norwegian, a mixture of the
Danish language and
Norwegian dialects. Dano-Norwegian evolved from
Danish while Norway was
a province of Denmark. Although Norway gained its
independence in 1814,
Norwegians continued to speak and write in
Dano-Norwegian, also known as
Riksmål. Beginning in the middle of the
nineteenth century, Norway
began developing a new Norwegian language,
Landsmål (the language
of the land or country), free of Danish influence.
developed further and eventually became known as
Bokmål, the language
of books. Today both varieties of Norwegian are
written and spoken in Norway.
Dano-Norwegian of Ibsen is simple, concise, to the
point. However, it takes
a talented translator to capture the subtleties of
the language and the
nuances written into the dialogue of Hedda
Gabler. Therefore, English-speaking
students of Ibsen should choose their translations
carefully. One highly
respected Ibsen translator was William Archer
(1856-1924), a Scottish-born
London journalist, drama critic, and playwright who
translated many of
Ibsen's works, including
A Doll's House. The 1889 translation helped
popularize the play in the English-speaking world.
directions describing the burning of a lamp indicate
that the play is set
before the invention of the electric light bulb.
Most likely, the action
takes place in the 1860s. The place is the home of
George Tesman and his
new wife, Hedda Gabler Tesman. The author describes
the home as a villa
once owned by a government minister, Secretary Falk.
The scenes take place
over one-and-a-half days in the elegant villa. On
one of the walls hangs
a portrait of Heddas late father, General
Tesman: Cheerful and well-meaning
thirty-three-year-old academic with
a stout frame and a round, bearded face. He has a
scholarship to research
the history of civilization and expects to receive a
to maintain his homea villa that once belonged to a
to sustain his new wife, Hedda, in the elegant
lifestyle she expects as
the daughter of the late esteemed aristocrat and
military officer, General
Gabler. George was reared by two aunts and their
servant, Berta. He tries
hard to please his picky, unpredictable wife.
Beautiful young woman who had many male admirers
before marrying George
Tesman to capitalize on the benefits he offered: a
fine home, a respectable
calling, a substantial income from an expected
and the promise of certain amenitiesher own
footman, a saddle horse, and
the freedom to host a select circle of local
society. During the Tesmans'
six-month wedding trip, she becomes bored with
George and his research.
After they return from the trip, she refuses to talk
about the child with
which he impregnated her. She has little to occupy
her active mind except
memories of her days with an accomplished but
irresponsible academic rival
of George, Eilert Løvborg. Although he
catered to her romantic longings,
she broke up with him because he lacked the cachet
of social respectability.
When she learns that Løvborg has struck up a
relationship with Thea
Elvsted, a woman Hedda despises, she sets herself to
the task of destroying
them. In his stage directions, Ibsen describes Hedda
as a woman whose "face
and figure show refinement and distinction. Her
complexion is pale and
opaque. Her steel-grey eyes express a cold,
unruffled repose. Her
hair is of an agreeable brown, but not
(Ejlert) Løvborg: Thirty-three-year-old
researcher and writer
who has published a popular book. He once had a
relationship with Hedda
Gabler. A recovering alcoholic, he had sworn off
drink after meeting Mrs.
Thea Elvsted, who helped him write his second book.
Ibsen's stage directions
describe him as a "slim and lean . . . His hair and
beard are of a blackish
brown, his face long and pale, but with patches of
colour on the cheeks."
Wife of Sheriff Elvsted and stepmother to his
children. After Eilert Løvborg
comes to tutor the children, she falls in
love with him while helping
him prepare the manuscript for his second book. She
is ready to abandon
her husband to be with Løvborg. Ibsen's stage
her as a "woman of fragile figure, with pretty, soft
features. Her eyes
are light blue, large, round, and somewhat
prominent, with a startled,
inquiring expression. Her hair is remarkably light,
almost flaxen, and
unusually abundant and wavy. She is a couple of
years younger than Hedda."
Hedda notes that she was an "old flame" of George.
Tesman: Aunt of George Tesman. Along with her
sister, Rina, she reared
George in her home. She posted
security from an annuity
for the carpets and furniture in George's home.
The stage directions describe
her as "a comely and pleasant- looking lady of
Rina Tesman: Invalid sister of
Brack: Friend of Hedda and George Tesman. He
arranged financing for
George's home. He enjoys flirting and toying with
Hedda, and she allows
him to do so as long as he keeps his distance.
After he learns that one
of Hedda's pistols caused Løvborg's
death, Hedda fears that
he will tell the police what he knows unless she
allows him to have his
way with her. The stage directions describe Brack as
a "man of forty-five;
thick set, but well-built and elastic in his movements.
His face is roundish with an aristocratic profile.
His hair is short [and
his] eyebrows thick. His moustaches are also
thick, with short-cut ends.
He wears a well-cut walking-suit, a little too
youthful for his age. He
uses an eye-glass, which he now and then lets
Plain, middle-aged woman who was a servant in the
home of Juliana Tesman
before becoming a servant to George and Hedda.
Girl hired to help Juliana take care of Rina after
Juliana transfers Berta
to the home of George and Hedda.
Husband of Thea Elvsted for five years. Thea is very
unhappy with him.
She tells Hedda, "Oh those five years! Or at
all events the last
two or three of them! Oh, if you could only
Operator of a brothel visited by Løvborg, who
believes he lost his
manuscript while in her company. He dies in her
boudoir when the pistol
he is carrying, Hedda's, accidentally discharges and
lodges a bullet in
father of Hedda.
minister who once owned the Tesman house.
Brother of Juliana
Tesman: Father of George Tesman.
remains objective and neutral throughout the play,
never using the dialogue
to present his views or to exhibit pity or scorn for
Hedda or any other
character. Instead, Ibsen simply presents the story
as it unfolds.
a parasol, Juliana Tesman enters the drawing room
in the villa of her nephew,
George Tesman, whom she reared as a son after his
father, Juliana's brother,
died. Following her with a bouquet is Berta, a
servant. George and his
new wife, Hedda, are still asleep. They had
arrived home by steamboat the
night before from a six-month wedding trip.
Juliana had met them at the
pier with an acquaintance, Judge Brack.
Michael J. Cummings...©
a pleasant lady of sixty-five, throws open a glass
door to admit fresh
air. Berta places the bouquet on a piano. She had
been in the service of
Juliana and her sister, Rina, in their home when
George lived with them.
Now, Juliana has assigned her to attend George and
his new wife in a different
home, and Berta worries that her work might not
suit the young lady. As
the daughter of the late General Gabler, Hedda had
been used to elegant
living and refinements beyond the ken of
has recently become a university doctora
on him while he was on his wedding tripBerta is
now to call him Dr. Tesman
instead of Master George, Juliana tells Berta..
enters the drawing room with an empty portmanteau
and greets his aunt warmly.
While on his honeymoon, he had conducted research
and filled the suitcase
with notes and copies of documents. Berta takes
the portmanteau to the
attic while George compliments Julianawhom he
calls Aunt Juliaon the
new bonnet he helps her remove. She bought it, she
says, so that Hedda
neednt be ashamed of me if we happened to go out
waiting for Hedda to come in, George and his aunt
discuss the health of
Rina, who is bedridden and is expected to remain
that way but is not in
imminent danger of death. They also discuss his
marriage to the beautiful
Hedda and their wedding vacation, during which
George did considerable
research and used his traveling scholarship to
pay expenses. Juliana
asks whether he has any expectations, meaning a
have every expectation of being a professor one of
these days, he says.
Juliana asks how he likes the house, he expresses
delight in it but does
not know what to do with two empty rooms near
Heddas bedroom. Laughing,
his aunt says they will come into use in due time,
again hinting at the
children he and Hedda will have. But George
answers, You mean as my library
villa will be expensive to maintain, but George
says Judge Brack told Hedda
in a letter that he had obtained favorable terms
for her and George. Juliana
says she has posted security from an annuity for
the carpets and furniturean
arrangement of which George was unaware. When
George expresses concern
that she and Rina need the annuity to live on,
Juliana assures him there
is nothing to worry about. Besides, she says,
George will soon have a salary
to rely on after receiving an expected government
appointment. What is
more, she says, the people who wanted to bar the
way for you have all
suffered downfalls. Your most dangerous rival,
she says, has taken the
worst fall. She is referring to Eilert Løvborg,
a talented researcher and writer who succumbed to
alcoholism. He has recently
published a book, but Juliana predicts that it
will be nothing compared
to the one George plans to publish. When she asks
him its subject, he tells
her that it will focus on the domestic industries
of Brabant during the
Hedda enters and exchanges pleasantries with
Juliana, she complains about
the open glass door admitting so much sunlight.
When Juliana goes to close
it, Hedda tells her simply to draw the curtains to
soften the light.
she ends her visit, Juliana gives George a
giftthe old slippers he used
to wear, embroidered by his Aunt Rina. George
remarks on what a prize they
are, but Hedda is more interested in the bonnet
Juliana had earlier placed
on a chair. Pretending that it is Bertas, she
says they must get rid of
the servant for being so careless as to allow such
an ancient bonnet to
Juliana claims the bonnet as her own, Hedda feigns
an apology, saying she
really had not gotten a good look at it. As
Juliana leaves, George tells
her to take a good look at Hedda, saying Have you
noticed what splendid
condition she is in? How she has filled out on the
curtly asserts that she has not changed at all.
Juliana kisses her good-bye
and promises to visit her every day. While George
sees Juliana out, Hedda
clenches and shakes her fists as if in
desperation, the stage directions
George returns to the parlor, Hedda looks at the
flowers on the piano.
An attached card says they are from Mrs. Thea
Elvsted, who will call upon
the Tesmans later in the day. Hedda remembers the
woman from school as
the girl with the irritating hair, that she was
always showing off. An
old flame of yours Ive been told.
Oh, that didnt last long; and it was before I
met you, Hedda.
Mrs. Elvsted arrives in a state of nervous
agitation, she tells Hedda that
has returned to town
and faces many temptations on all sides. Løvborg
had been the tutor to her step-children after she
married Sheriff Elvsted,
she says. Although Løvborg's conduct
has been exemplary for two years after swearing
off alcohol, she worries
that he will succumb to his old habits, especially
now that he has a considerable
amount of money he made from a published book that
became a great sensation.
George observes that he must have written it
before he descended into alcoholism,
but Mrs. Elvsted says he wrote it within the last
year, when he was tutoring
that good news, Hedda, George saysperhaps not
without some envy.
says she has discovered Løvborgs address
and asks the Tesmans to keep an eye on him and
treat him kindly if he comes
to call. Hedda suggests that George write to him
at that moment to invite
him to their home. Thea gives him a slip of paper
with the address.
George writes the letter, Hedda and Thea talk
about their school days.
When Hedda pretends that they had been friends,
Mrs. Elvsted reminds Hedda
that she once threatened to burn the hair off her
head. Hedda makes excuses,
then gradually manages to draw information out of
Mrs. Elvstedin particular,
that she is not happy with her home and her
had first served as governess to Sheriff Elvsted
and his invalid wife.
After she died, Thea married him. That was five
years ago. Eilert Løvborg,
who lived in the neighborhood, visited the house
regularly to teach the
children when the sheriff was out on his job and
struck up a cordial relationship
with Thea. Thea confides to Hedda her loathing of
her husband: "Everything
about him is repellent to me! We have not a
thought in common. We
point of sympathyhe and I."
she tells all. She has packed her bags and does
not plan to return home.
Instead, she plans to live in town near Løvborg.
Over time, she says, she helped him get over his
bad habits. In turn, he
made a real human being of metaught me to think,
to understand so many
things. Then she began helping him in his work,
and they got along beautifullyexcept
a womans shadow stands between Eilert Løvborg
and me . . . someone he has never been able wholly
to forget. The someone
is of course Hedda. When Løvborg and
the woman separated, Thea says, the woman
threatened to shoot him. Thea
thinks the woman is a Mademoiselle Diana, who also
lives in town and is
a temptation to Løvborg.
George brings in the finished letter, Berta
announces that Judge Brack
has come calling. Hedda gives Berta the letter to
mail. After Mrs. Elvsted
leaves, Hedda and George exchange pleasantries
with Brack. When George
mentions that Løvborg is expected at
their house that evening, Brack reminds George
that he has already agreed
to attend a bachelor party the judge is giving.
The judge then delivers
unsettling news: Løvborg has applied
for the same government position that George is
seeking. George had thought
he was a shoo-in for the job, which he has been
counting on as a source
of income to maintain his villa and the lifestyle
Hedda had been accustomed
to as the daughter of General Gabler. After Brack
leaves, George frets
about the situation, saying, There is no
denyingit was adventurous to
go and marry and set up house upon mere
Hedda complains that without the government job he
will be unable to fulfill
the promises he made to her before their marriage:
that she could entertain
guests in high style and have a butler and a
Judge Brack returns later to pick up George for
the party, he comes in
the back way through the garden. Hedda takes one
of two pistols from a
caseheirlooms from her fatherand fires playfully
into the air, frightening
the judge. When he enters through the glass door,
he takes the gun from
her, saying, Now we wont play at that game any
what in heavens name would you have me do with
myself? Hedda says.
the judge asks where George is, Hedda tells him
that he went off to visit
his aunts shortly after lunch.
didnt expect you so early, she says.
doesnt mind waiting, for he will have Hedda all
to himself until George
arrives. Brack enjoys her conversation and
delights in flirting with her
even though she is a married. For her turn, Hedda
likes to confide in the
judge. On this day, she tells him that boredom has
dogged her since marrying
George. On her wedding trip, she says, What I
found most intolerable of
all . . . was being everlastingly in the company
ofone and the same person.
When the judge tells her that the person is the
one she loves, Hedda says,
Faughdont use that sickening word [love].
and by, George arrives with booksincluding
Eilerts, which he praisesand
informs them that his Aunt Rina has taken a turn
for the worse.
then arrives and greets everyone cordially. After
about his book, he dismisses it as insignificant
compared to the one he
is now completing. Withdrawing the handwritten
manuscript from a coat pocket,
he says, This is the real bookthe book I have
put my true self into.
The first part focuses on the civilizing forces
of the future, he says,
and the second on the probable line of
offers to read from it, but George says he is
about to leave with the judge
for the party. Brack then invites Eilert to the
party, but he declines
the invitation (apparently to shun the temptation
of drink). Hedda suggests
that he have supper with her and another guest who
is coming, Mrs. Elvsted.
He accepts the invitation, then tells George
heartening news: He has withdrawn
as a candidate for the government job George
seeks. Tesman is jubilant.
He and Hedda will be able to live the life they
had planned on.
Brack and George go to another room to drink
punch, smoke, and talk while
Hedda shows Løvborg album pictures
from her wedding trip. Løvborg calls
her Hedda Gabler as he recalls their own days
together and asks her how
she could have thrown herself away on George. She
admits she does not love
him but says she wont hear of any sort of
unfaithfulness. However, of
her past relationship with Løvborg,
she says, there was something beautiful and daring
in its secret intimacy.
Thea Elvsted arrives, Løvborg compliments
her and calls her a comrade. Hedda, obviously
jealous, offers her and Løvborg
punch, but both refuse it. Hedda then taunts Løvborg,
saying he fears alcohol and that it was the reason
he did not accept an
invitation to Bracks party. When that ploy fails,
she tells Mrs. Elvsted
firm resolve demonstrates
there was no need for her to come to Hedda that
morning to express her
concern that Løvborg might succumb
to temptation. This betrayal of a confidence not
only upsets Thea but also
disappointed that his
comrade lacked faith in him. He takes up a glass
of punch, saying, To
your health, Thea. Then he drinks it and pours
himself another. Theas
only interest in him, he says spitefully, is to
get him to help her husband
in his office.
moment later, however, he calms down and makes up
with Thea, again calling
her a comrade. Thea is jubilant, saying, Oh,
heaven be praised. However,
to her dismay, Løvborg decides to go
to the judges party.
he gets thoroughly drunk. While Løvborg
reads portions of his manuscript, George realizes
it is a masterpiece certain
to receive widespread attention as one of the
great books of the age. When
the party breaks up, it is early in the morning.
George and several others
home, for he is in no
condition to go alone. On the way, George drops
back from the others for
a moment. When he hurries to catch up, he finds Løvborgs
manuscript on the ground. Apparently, he dropped
it or it fell out of his
pocket. George retrieves it but does return it to
Eilert because, in his
condition, he could lose it again. There are no
copies of it.
George arrives home, he tells Hedda of his find
and says he will return
it later to Løvborg. Hedda gives him
a letter from his Aunt Juliana that arrived while
he was out. It informs
him that his Aunt Rina is on her deathbed. Before
leaving to see her, he
entrusts the manuscript to Hedda.
George leaves, Judge Brack arrives. He tells Hedda
and Mrs. Elvsted, who
stayed the night at the Tesmans, that Løvborg
ended up after the party at the rooms of
Mademoiselle Diana, who was giving
a soiree for her friends and admirers. Brack says
she is a mighty huntress
of men whose services Løvborg at one
time frequently used. During his visit, Løvborg
noticed that his manuscript was missing and
accused Mademoiselle Diana
or one of the other ladies of stealing it. A fight
ensued in which both
male and female guests took part. When police
assaulted an officer and was taken to the
the future, Brack says, Every respectable house
will be closed against
Hedda should be among
those who anathematize him, Brack says. (Brack
for the attention he had received from Hedda in
the past.) After Brack
leaves by the garden, Hedda goes to a writing
table and takes out the manuscript.
The only other person who knows it is in her
possession is George. When
she is about to begin examining it, she hears a
disturbance at the front
door. It is Løvborg pushing his way
past Berta. Hedda hurriedly locks the manuscript
in a drawer.
is looking for Mrs. Elvsted. When he inquires
whether George told her anything
when he arrived home, Hedda says George told her
only that Løvborg
had a rousing time at the party. Mrs. Elvsted
enters. Relieved to see Løvborg,
she says, At last. Løvborg says,
Yes, at last. And too late! . . . It is all over
with me. He and Thea
must part, he says, and she must live her life as
if she had never met
him. But what about the book she helped him
completetheir child? He
says he has destroyed ittorn it into a thousand
pieces, along with his
life. Thea says he has killed their child. With
nothing more left for her,
says he plans to end his life, Hedda says he must
end it beautifully. She
withdraws a pistol from the case and gives it to
him, the same pistol with
which she had once threatened him. After he
leaves, Hedda removes the manuscript
and burns it in the fireplace, saying, Now I am
burning your child, TheaBurning
Aunt Juliana arrives dressed in black. She is in
mourning for her sister,
who has died. When George comes in shortly
thereafter, his aunt tells him
that life must go on and now she will now find
another occupant for the
vacant roomperhaps an invalid who needs carefor
It is an absolute necessity
for me to have some one to live for. After she
leaves, George tells Hedda
that he is upset not only about the death of Rina
but also about the trouble
of course you told him that we had [the
informs him that she burned it. George, shocked,
asks how she could do
such a terrible thing.
could not bear the idea that any one should throw
you into the shade.
is overjoyed at hearing such a surprising
statement from Heddain effect,
an expression of love for him. He has no idea that
she is lying.
Elvsted returns to inform the Tesmans that she
heard rumors at her boardinghouse
was in the hospital. Deeply
concerned, she made inquiries at the building
where he lodges and discovered
that he had not been seen there since the
afternoon of the previous day.
Brack comes in just then and reports that Løvborg
lies dying in the hospital. Apparently, in the
afternoon between 3 and
4, he shot himself in the heart, Brack says.
says, There is beauty in this . . . . Eilert Løvborg
himself has made up his account with life. He has
had the courage to dothe
one right thing.
Elvsted says he must have been deliriousjust as
he probably was when he
destroyed his manuscript.
then hits upon an idea: She and George could piece
the book together from
notes. She has kept a copy of them with her.
Tesman enthusiastically approves
of the idea, and he and Thea go into another room
to discuss the project.
and Hedda discuss Løvborg. She
tells the judge, Eilert Løvborg has
had the courage to live his life after his own
fashion. And thenthe last
great act, with its beauty! Ah! that he should
have the will and the strength
to turn away from the banquet of lifeso early."
then discloses a disturbing fact. He had changed
the account of Løvborgs
death to spare Mrs. Elvsted its sordid details. In
truth, he died by accident
in Mademoiselle Dianas boudoir. He had gone there
to demand the return
of his lost child. While there, the pistol in
his pocket discharged and
lodged in his bowels. A moment later, Hedda
withdraws an object from the
desk and covers it with sheet music. Brack,
meanwhile, says he recognized
pistol as one of the two Hedda had shot the day
before into the air. Løvborg
must have stolen it, he says. It is now in the
possession of the police.
But Judge Brack says they will not discover the
owner unless he tells them
who it is.
says, "And supposing the pistol was not stolen,
and the owner is discovered?
Hedda, then comes the scandal.
and Mademoiselle Diana would have to appear in
court. Hedda's reputation
would be in jeopardy.
fortunately, there is no danger, so long as I say
nothing," Brack says,
implying that if Hedda yields to him he will keep
the incriminating secret.
then goes to another room and shoots herself in
Will vs Environmental
the very beginningeven before her marriage to
George TesmanHedda's failure
to act on her primal longings springs in large part
from her upbringing
in a rigidly conventional, male-dominated society,
one that emphasizes
propriety and conformacy in women and hinders the
free and independent
spirit inside of them. But if society stifles her
spirit, it does not paralyze
it. She yet retains free will. She could be
different. She could
take risks. Her counterpart and foil, Thea Elvsted,
did so, acting decisively
to escape her environment. But Hedda keeps her will
in check. To the end,
she is her father's child, Hedda Gabler, and never
risks becoming anyone
the daughter of the late and esteemed General
Gabler, Hedda requires a
husband with social standing, an elegant home,
money, servants, and other
amenities stamping her as a refined and respectable
stirring within her is a desire to live with
democratic derring-doto think
and act independently, to take risks. But she
largely represses this desire,
preferring to maintain the appearances of propriety
and stability instead.
Thus, she rejects the intriguing but irreputable
Løvborg for the
humdrum but reputable Tesman. She lets it be known
that she will not tolerate
even insignificant offenses to her standards of
propriety, such as Juliana
Tesmans new bonnet. Just fancy, if any one should
come and see it, Hedda
portrait of her decorous father hangs in her home to
remind her of the
traditional values she is expected to uphold.
Heddas repressed longings
embroil her in conflict after she learns that
Løvborg has sworn
off alcohol and struck up an amiable relationship
with a woman Hedda loathes,
Thea Elvsted, a childhood acquaintance who is now
the wife of a sheriff.
Hedda wants Løvborg but refuses to allow
herself to have him. Scandal
might develop; her reputation could suffer. Hedda
decides that if she cannot
have Løvborg, neither can anyone else. She
then becomes a juggernaut
of destruction, destroying Løvborgs book
manuscript, his relationship
with Thea, and Løvborg himself. In the end
her scheming leads to
her own self-destruction.
she arrives at the Tesman home after her wedding
trip, Hedda begins exercising
control over others. First, she orders Berta to
remove chintz covers from
the furniture in the drawing room. Berta then learns
from Juliana Tesman
that Hedda had earlier directed that the drawing
become the newlyweds'
"everyday sitting room." The audience and readers
next discover that it
was Hedda who arranged for the six-month wedding
trip. George tells his
aunt, "Hedda had to have this trip, Auntie!
She really had to. Nothing
else would have done." Also, she had obtained
financing for the Tesman
home through Judge Brack.
she enters the drawing room in Act 1, Hedda
immediately orders the curtains
drawn over the veranda door to soften the light. She
also orders the piano
moved to another room because "it doesn't go at all
well with all the other
things." Next, to show the manipulative Brack that
she is the boss, she
takes one of the pistols she inherited from her
father and points it at
him as he arrives for a visit at the back entrance
through the garden.
He cries out, "No, no, no! Don't stand aiming
at me!" She says, "This
is what comes of sneaking in by the back way." Then
she fires a bullet
over his head. Hedda, of course, is only warming up.
Later, she schemes
to ruin lives and succeeds. But she also ends up
destroying her own life
after Judge Brack gains the upper hand and after she
realizes that she
lacks the wherewithal to control her own life. Her
suicide, which is an
attempt to assert her control over her ultimate
destiny, is really little
more than a coward's way out.
takes but does not give. She thinks only of herself.
What she cannot have
or control she rejects or destroys. Judge Brack also
acts out of selfish
motives. His assistance in securing financing for
the Tesman home is a
way to ingratiate himself with Hedda. Later, his
report to Hedda of Løvborg's
behavior at Mademoiselle Diana's is an attempt to
so that he, Brack, can eliminate the competition for
Hedda. Finally, his
veiled threat to implicate Hedda in Løvborg's
death is an attempt
to gain control over her.
the other hand, Juliana and Rina Tesman as well as
Thea Elvsted care about
others and make sacrifices for them. Juliana rears
George, provides him
financial backing, and takes care of her invalid
sister, Rina. Rina, though
bedridden, embroiders slippers for George. Thea
in the preparation of his manuscript. Even George,
though somewhat of a
slacker, is attentive to his aunts, sees to the
needs of Hedda, and helps
piece together Løvborg's book with Thea after
Hedda destroys the
Thea regard the manuscript of his next bookone
destined for greatness,
according to Georgeas their child. Hedda
enviously compares it with
Georges child growing in her womb, which she does
not care about and does
not want. Fiercely jealous, she destroys the
manuscript and provides Løvborg
the means to kill himself, the same pistol she fired
to scare Judge Brack.
tragedy of Hedda Gabler is that she lacks the
courage to act on her human
instinct. Instead, she follows the dictums of a
conformist society preoccupied
with the appearances of propriety and
respectability. In so doing, she
paralyzes her ability to act with meaning and
resolve except when injuring
others. Her suicide is a cowardly reaction to the
prospect of scandal,
not a glorious declaration of independence.
Hedda and her marriage. After only six months, she
is utterly bored with
her life with George. Whatever hopes and
expectations she had for it are
already dying. Here is the dialogue, which occurs
after Juliana leaves:
the slippers from the floor.] What are you
looking at, Hedda?
The unfinished state of his scholarly endeavors.
George is a collector
of information but seems to lack the creative fire to
interpret and present
it. As his aunt tells him in a statement meant as a
compliment, "Yes, collecting
and arrangingno one can beat you at that." The notes
in the portmanteau
he brings home from his wedding trip end up in the
[Once more calm and
mistress of herself.] I am only looking at the
leaves. They are so
[Wraps up the slippers
and lays them on the table.] Well, you see, we
are well into September
Yes, to think of it!already inin September.
His simple, easygoing personality.
(1) Hedda's finickiness and preoccupation with
appearances; (2) her old
life as General Gabler's daughter. Here is the
dialogue supporting these
anything the matter with you, Hedda? Eh?
Hedda Gabler herself and the explosive emotions
building inside her. Ibsen
hints that she is a weapon in his description of her:
"Her steel-grey eyes
express a cold, unruffled repose." In other words, she
is like the guns
in the case: steel, grey, cold, unruffleduntil the
trigger is pulled.
at my old piano. It doesn't go at all well with all
the other things.
first time I
draw my salary, we'll see about exchanging it.
I don't want to part with it. Suppose we put it
there in the inner room,
and then get another here in its place. When it's
convenient, I mean.
aback.] Yesof course we could do that.
(1) The growth and creativity she fosters in
Løvborg; (2) a source
of power, like Samson's hair in the Bible. In his
stage directions, Ibsen
describes her hair as "remarkably light, almost
flaxen, and unusually abundant
and wavy" and Hedda's as "an agreeable brown, but not
As a school girl, Hedda envied Thea for her hair and
threatened to burn
it. After receiving flowers and a calling card from
Thea, Hedda identifies
her to George as "the girl with the irritating hair,
that she was always
Vine leaves were an ancient symbol associated with the
Greek god Dionysus
(Roman name: Bacchus), god of wine and revelry and a
in nature. He was often depicted as wearing an ivy
wreath. Women called
maenads, or Bacchantes, followed him to participate in
his wild, orgiastic
rites. Later he became associated with Greek drama as
its patron. Hedda
uses the term vines leaves to refer to the dissolute,
side of Løvborg that she coaxed to the
climax occurs when Hedda burns Eilerts manuscript.
This vindictive act
destroys the child that Eilert fathered with the
help of Thea Elvsted
and precipitates developments that lead to the
Brack's description of Mademoiselle Diana as a
"mighty huntress of men"
is an allusion to the goddess of the hunt in Greek
and Roman mythology.
The Greeks called this goddess Artemis, and the
Romans called her Diana.
This important goddess had many duties, including
presiding over and protecting
wild animals and all of nature in the company of
of course, was wild and licentious in his drinking
days and frequently
visited the mademoiselle's brothel to seek the arms
of Mademoiselle Diana
herself or one of her "nymphs." Ironically, most of
the mythological tales
about this goddess describe her as a chaste deity,
although her nymphs
were said to have had many love affairs. Brack's
reference to Mademoiselle
Diana as a nineteenth-century nature goddess helps
Ibsen add significant
brushstrokes to his portrait of Løvborg as
wild and unpredictable.
keeping with his realistic plots and dialogue,
Ibsen's stage sets attempt
to capture the atmosphere of the everyday life of
his characters. On the
Ibsen stage, actors did not embellish their lines
with broad flourishes
of a hand or other exaggerated body movements. They
become ordinary people
going about their ordinary lives. The proscenium
arch was important, however.
This arch, from the sides of which a curtain opens
and closes, acts in
an Ibsen drama as a frame for the realistic portrait
painted by Ibsen,
a portrait that moves. The proscenium arch became a
doorway or window through
which the audiencepeeping through the archcould
eavesdrop on people in
quiet turmoil. The arch helped Ibsen create the
illusion of reality.
Questions and Essay
1. Who is
the most admirable
character in the play? Who is the least admirable?
Explain your answers.
2. Write a
profile of Hedda Gabler that attempts to explain
what motivates her.
the significance of the following observation made
by Juliana Tesman
in Act 1: "Well, you can't wonder at thatGeneral
Gabler's daughter! Think
of the sort of life she was accustomed to in her
father's time. Don't you
remember how we used to see her riding down the road
along with the General?
In that long black habitand with feathers in her
4. Write an
the significance of the children in the play: (1)
the stepchildren of Sheriff
Elvsted; (2) the child developing in Heddas womb;
and (3) Løvborgs
manuscript, referred to by him and Thea Elvsted as
5. Is Hedda
victim of circumstances beyond her control or a
hellhound who manipulates
circumstances to her benefit? Or is she both?
6. To what
extent did author
Ibsen draw upon his own experiences when writing Hedda