Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Wild Duck (Vilanden) is a tragedy with comic episodes.
Henrik Ibsen himself characterized the play as a tragicomedy. It depicts
ordinary life realistically instead of romantically and sentimentally,
a revolutionary concept in Ibsen's time. Oslo University's Professor Bjørn
Hemmer has written: "More than anyone, he [Ibsen] gave theatrical art a
new vitality by bringing into European bourgeois drama an ethical gravity,
a psychological depth, and a social significance which the theatre had
lacked since the days of Shakespeare. In this manner, Ibsen strongly contributed
to giving European drama a vitality and artistic quality comparable to
the ancient Greek tragedies."
and First Performance
Hegel & Son published the play in November 1884 in Copenhagen, Denmark,
and Oslo (then known as Christiania), Norway. It debuted on the stage in
January 1885 at Den Nationale Scene in Bergen, Norway.
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 at
that time as Riksmål. Beginning in the middle of the 19th Century,
Norway began developing a new Norwegian language, Landsmål (the language
of the land or country), free of Danish influence. Eventually, Landsmål
became known as Nynorsk. Meanwhile, Riksmål developed further and
in 1929 became known as Bokmål, the language of books. Today both
Nynorsk and Bokmål are written and spoken in Norway. The 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. 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.
time is the early 1880s. The action takes place over three days in an unidentified
town in Norway. Act I takes place in the home of Håkon Werle, a wealthy
businessman. The rest of the play takes place in the apartment of photographer
Hjalmar Ekdal and his family.
Werle, Hjalmar Ekdal
Wealthy businessman whose affair with a young woman in the distant past
sets in motion the action of the play.
Mrs. Werle: Late
wife of Håkon Werle. The memory of her plays a role in the rancorous
relationship between Håkon and his son, Gregers Werle.
Gregers Werle: Son
of Håkon Werle. Young Werle is petty, mean-spirited, and vengeful.
Rather than right wrongs, he creates them. In his pursuit of truth and
idealism, he alienates himself from his father, precipitates turmoil in
the Ekdal household, and indirectly causes the death of Hedvig Ekdal. Although
he has laid bare a shocking truth about his father—namely, his dalliance
with Gina Ekdal in the distant past—his vision of reality blots out the
good that his father has done to redeem himself. It also fails to acknowledge
the damage his meddlesome fact-finding could and did do to the Ekdal family.
His only motivation is to expose he truth, whatever the cost. Ironically,
he remains blind to the truth about himself to the very end of the play.
Old Ekdal: Disgraced
former business associate of Håkon Werle.
Hjalmar Ekdal: Son
of Old Ekdal. Hjalmar is self-centered, lazy, and laughably mediocre. As
a family man and provider, he relies on the benefactions of Werle, the
hard work of Gina, and the quixotic dream of a revolutionary invention
to get from one day to the next. His character begins to reveal itself
early on, in Act 1, when he is too ashamed to acknowledge the presence
of his father at the Werle dinner party. Although he feels awkward and
tongue-tied at the gathering and keeps to himself except for his conversation
with Gregers, he tells his family after he arrives home that the guests
coaxed him to recite something but that he denied them the pleasure. “One
at everyone’s beck and call,” he says. Then he pretends that it was he
who enlightened the guests about the qualities of Tokay when in fact it
was they who enlightened him after his display of ignorance about vintages.
As his wife and daughter help him remove his overcoat (which he borrowed
from Molvik, an alcoholic tenant who lives on the floor below them), they
compliment him on his ability to wear fine clothes and on his ability to
set people straight on such subjects as winemaking. “Why, you know everything,
Ekdal,” Gina tells him. Hedvig has been waiting to see the goodies he promised
to bring her from the party. She has been so looking forward to them. When
he tells her he forgot all about them, he brings her to tears and later
says, “It’s monstrous what absurd things the father of a family is expected
to think of; and if he forgets the smallest trifle, he is treated to sour
faces at once.” The playgoer then learns, in this and other acts, that
Hjalmar not only neglects his work—Gina does a good deal of the photography
and retouching work—but also neglects his daughter. He has promised to
read to her but never does, for he is too preoccupied with his invention,
which he believes will restore respectability to the Ekdal name, and with
his puttering in his father’s garret menagerie.
Gina Hansen Ekdal:
Wife of Hjalmar Ekdal. She is practical, hard-working, down-to-earth, and
forgiving. Although homespun and unsophisticated, she has common sense
and a firm grasp on reality. She is several years older than Hjalmar.
of Hjalmar and Gina Ekdal. Hedvig is about to turn fourteen.
Mrs. Bertha Sørby:
Håkon Werle's housekeeper and wife-to-be.
Doctor Relling: Physician
who lives in an apartment on the floor below Hjalmar Ekdal's apartment.
and failed theology student who lives with Relling.
in Håkon Werle's house.
Jensen: Hired waiter
in Håkon Werle's house.
Guest at Håkon Werle's dinner party.
Guest at Håkon Werle's dinner party.
Guest at Håkon Werle's dinner party.
at Håkon Werle's dinner party.
at the apartment building where Hjalmar and Gina Ekdal live.
Porter's Wife: Woman
who cleans the apartment of Gregers Werle after he throws water on a stove
Madam Eriksen: Keeper
of a tavern frequented by Old Ekdal.
Ship Captain: Seaman
called "the Flying Dutchman," although he was not Dutch. He once lived
in the Ekdal apartment. Hedvig plays with curios he left behind after he
drowned at sea.
Couple whose photograph Gina Ekdal takes while her husband is out (referred
to in Act III and at the beginning of Act IV).
Aunts Who Reared Hjalmar
Mrs. Sørby's Former
Husband, a Veterinarian Who Beat Her
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 became 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 audience—peeping through the arch—could eavesdrop on people in
quiet turmoil. The arch helped Ibsen create the illusion of reality.
Michael J. Cummings...©
the handsome study of widower Håkon Werle's house, a servant named
Pettersen and a hired waiter named Jensen tidy up while a fireplace warms
the room. From the dining room come sounds of conversation, laughter, and
clinking glasses as Werle, a wealthy businessman, toasts Mrs. Bertha Sørby,
his housekeeper and wife-to-be. The dinner is in honor of Werle's son,
man known as Old Ekdal—dressed in a frayed overcoat, mittens, and a fur
cap—appears at the doorway of the study. He obtains Pettersen's permission
to enter Werle's private office, accessible by a door in the front of the
study, to see Werle's bookkeeper, Gråberg. Ekdal does odd jobs for
Werle as a copier. After Ekdal goes in, Pettersen tells Jensen that Ekdal
is a former army officer and business partner of Werle who served time
in prison. Before he can explain Ekdal's crime, the diners begin passing
through the study on their way to the music room. Mrs. Sørby directs
Pettersen to serve coffee there. She exits and turns right while Pettersen
goes off to do her bidding.
flabby gentleman and a thin-haired gentleman—both with the same first name,
Chamberlain—enter the study while discussing the dinner, which was three
hours long. A third gentleman informs them that the “coffee and maraschino”
will be served in the music room, and the flabby man expresses the hope
that Mrs. Sørby will play for them. Håkon Werle then passes
through with his son, Gregers, noting that there were thirteen at the dinner
table. Counting himself and Mrs. Sørby, he was expecting a total
of twelve. Gregers works for his father at the out-of-town site of the
Werle business, called the Hoidal works, while his father oversees the
financial aspects of the business in town. Gregers' attendance at the dinner
party is his first visit to his father's home in many years.
the elder Werle leaves for the music room, a guest named Hjalmar Ekdal
(Old Ekdal’s son) comes over to speak to Gregers. Having overheard Håkon
Werle's comment about the thirteenth guest and believing himself to be
that unwelcome guest, he says, “You ought not to have invited me, Gregers.”
Gregers assures Hjalmar that he is indeed welcome and says he invited him
because he wanted to talk with his old school chum. After all, it has been
at least sixteen years since they last talked. When Gregers remarks that
Hjalmar looks well, Hjalmar says he does not feel well inside because of
the “catastrophe” that befell his father during his partnership with the
elder Werle. Hjalmar's father now lives with him because he has no one
else to turn to.
then thanks Gregers for inviting him to the dinner party, “for I take it
as a sign you have got over your feeling against me.” Gregers denies that
he had been upset with Hjalmar, but the latter says Gregers' father told
him otherwise. After all, the “great misfortune” suffered by Hjalmar's
father almost undid Mr. Werle as well. When that misfortune struck, the
elder Werle told Hjalmar it would probably be best not to write to Gregers.
So Hjalmar refrained from communicating any news to him, even that he had
become a photographer after his father's “utter, irretrievable ruin” forced
him to leave college. Hjalmar then surprises Gregers when he tells him
that it was Mr. Werle who provided him money to go into photography and
open a studio. Moreover, he says, it was the elder Werle who “put me in
a position to marry.” Gregers asks him whether he is happy as a married
thoroughly happy,” Hjalmar says, noting that his wife is a good a woman
and "not without culture." When he mentions her name, Gina, Gregers remembers
her: Gina Hansen, “who kept house for us the last year of my mother’s illness.”
He also recalls that his father had mentioned Gina's marriage to Hjalmar.
Gina left her job with the Werles, Hjalmar says, he met her when he rented
a room at her mother’s house, where Gina also lived. Mr. Werle had recommended
the room to him. After they became engaged, Hjalmar took up photography.
He and Gregers’ father had agreed that the occupation was a way to make
quick money to support his future wife.
Sørby enters with Håkon Werle and calls out to the guests
in the other room that punch will be served in the study. At the fireplace
moments later, Werle tells the flabby gentleman that the Tokay (a sweet
but dry wine made near Tokay, Hungary) served at dinner is “one of the
very finest seasons.” Hjalmar shyly asks what the difference is between
seasons. The question sets off further discussion in which Hjalmar is mildly
scolded for his ignorance of wines. Mrs. Sørby points out that “old
vintages are the finest.”
bookkeeper, Gråberg, looks in from the door of Werle’s private office
and tells Werle that he cannot leave from within the office because Flakstad
walked off with the keys. Werle gives him permission to leave through the
study. When Gråberg emerges, Old Ekdal is with him.
says Werle, and the room goes silent.
Ekdal apologizes for the intrusion. Werle is upset, and the guests ask
questions. When Old Ekdal passes through, Hjalmar keeps his distance. Mrs.
Sørby whispers to Pettersen, “Give him [Old Ekdal] something to
take with him.”
aware of who the man was, asks Hjalmar how he could ignore his own father.
if you were in my place—,”says Hjalmar.
Hjalmar decides to go home, Mrs. Sørby tells him to give her regards
to his wife.
Pettersen informs Mrs. Sørby that he gave Old Ekdal a bottle of
cognac, the flabby gentleman proposes that he and Mrs. Sørby play
a duet. Everyone except Werle and Gregers then goes to the music room.
Gregers asks his father why Old Ekdal—calling him “Lieutenant Ekdal”—and
his family have been treated so badly. It was because of Ekdal, Werle answers,
that his own reputation has suffered. Gregers then notes that Ekdal was
not acting alone in “that affair of the forests”; Werle had been part of
the scheme. Werle counters that it was Ekdal who prepared “the fraudulent
map” and illegally had timber cut on government property.
was found guilty and I acquitted,” Werle says.
I know that nothing was proved against you.”
Werle chides Gregers for bringing up the matter after so many years. He
also maintains that he did what he could for the Ekdals when the old man
got out of prison—short of calling down suspicion on himself. Moreover,
he says, he now gives Ekdal copying work and pays him well for it. Gregers
surprises him by asking him whether he has kept account of what he paid
to set up Hjalmar Ekdal in photography. Werle simply answers that the money
for Hjalmar is proof that he has acted on the Ekdal family’s behalf. Gregers
then asks his father to confirm that he helped young Ekdal just before
his marriage to Gina Hansen. When Werle does so, Gregers accuses his father
of having had an untoward interest in the young woman when she worked in
the Werle home.
dare he [Hjalmar] go making such insinuations!” Werle says.
says it was not Hjalmar who insinuated it: “My poor unhappy mother told
dismisses the charge, saying that Gregers and his mother had always conspired
against him. He describes his late wife as a “morbid” and “overstrained.”
He also says Gregers should find something better to do with his time than
“burrowing into all sorts of old rumours and slanders against your own
father!” Werle then tells his son he is foolish to continue to plod away
at the Hoidal works “like a common clerk.” He says he realizes, though,
that Gregers wants to be independent, his own man, then adds that he knows
of a good opportunity for him, one that will enable him to remain independent.
The reason he asked him to come to dinner was to tell him about it.
want you to enter the firm, as a partner.”
his eyesight is failing, he wants Gregers to run the business in town while
he looks after business at the works. He also says he would like to marry
Mrs. Sørby. Gregers does not object to the union, but he says he
now sees why his father invited him to dinner: to get him to approve of
a relationship that “would get up the pretence of a family life in the
house—a tableau of filial affection!” In other words, people will think
that Gregers’ approval of the marriage would obliterate all the old rumors
about the “wrongs the poor dead mother had to submit to.” Gregers again
accuses his father of having had an affair with Gina, whom he “palmed off
upon Hjalmar Ekdal.” They then exchange bitter words. Gregers leaves, saying
he now has a “mission” in life.
Hjalmar Ekdal’s studio his wife, Gina, and daughter, Hedvig, are reviewing
the cost of food supplies as Gina adds up the sums in an account book,
noting that she received received eight crowns fifty for taking photographs
to help offset household costs.
Ekdal enters with the cognac in his pocket and a parcel under his arm.
When Hedvig asks her grandfather whether he received more copying to do,
he shows her the parcel and tells Gina that the contents will “keep me
going a long time.” Ekdal opens a sliding door on one wall, looks in, and
comments, “They’re fast asleep, all the lot of them.” Then he goes to his
and Hedvig are pleased that he has a lot of work to occupy him.
he won’t be able to sit the whole forenoon [drinking] down at that horrid
Madame Eriksen’s,” Hedvig says.
comes out, goes to the kitchen, and returns to his room with a glass. Gina
and Hedvig now realize he has a bottle with him. When Hjalmar comes in,
Gina and Hedvig help him remove his overcoat as Gina asks, “Is Gregers
as ugly as ever?” Hjalmar confirms that he is still “not very much to look
at.” After Hjalmar learns that the old man has a bottle, he says, “[L]et
him sit and get all the enjoyment he can.”
Ekdal comes out again, smoking a pipe, and asks his son, “Who were they,
all those fellows [at the dinner party]?”
recites names, and Gina says, “[T]hey’re terrible genteel in that house
nowadays.” Hjalmar also says he discussed Tokay with the guests. But instead
of admitting that the guests instructed him on vintages, he reports that
he instructed them. Old Ekdal praises him for speaking up to them face
Hedvig then asks Hjalmar for the goodies he promised to bring her from
the dinner, he disappoints her to tears when he tells her that he forgot
about them. Her reaction angers Hjalmar, who says, “It’s monstrous what
absurd things the father of a family is expected to think of; and if he
forgets the smallest trifle, he is treated to sour faces at once.”
asks Gina whether anyone has ordered new prints or inquired about the extra
room they have to rent. The answer is no on both accounts, Hedvig suggests
that he have a bottle of beer, and he consents. When she runs toward the
kitchen to get it, Hjalmar stops her and embraces her. She loves the attention.
dear, kind father!” she says.
he says he will play the flute instead, and Hedvig fetches it from the
bookcase. While Gina and Hedvig sit at a table, he plays a Bohemian dance—but
slowly and sentimentally. There’s a knock at the door. Gina goes out through
a passageway to answer it while Hjalmar puts the flute down. She returns
to the studio with Gregers Werle, who tells Hjalmar he has taken a hotel
room instead of remaining at his father’s. Hjalmar invites him to sit on
the sofa, noting that the family spends most of its time in the studio
because it is so large. When he mentions that they have “capital outer
rooms,” Gina points out that they also have a room to let on one side of
the passageway. Hjalmar sends Hedvig for beer.
she is gone, Hjalmar tells Gregers that the girl “is the joy of our lives”
and their “deepest sorrow,” for their doctor has told them Hedvig has the
first symptoms of an eye disease that leads to blindness. Hedvig brings
a tray of beer and glasses and sets it on the table. When Hedvig returns
to the kitchen for bread and butter, Gregers says the girl, who will turn
fourteen in two days, seems to take after Gina. He then asks how long ago
she and Hjalmar were married, and Gina says “just on fifteen years.”
Edkal comes in a bit tipsy, and Hjalmar introduces him to Gregers. When
Hedvig brings in a plate of buttered bread, Gregers asks Lieutenant Ekdal
whether he remembers the times when he and Hjalmar would visit him in the
summer and at Christmas at the Hoidal works. Edkal says he cannot remember
but notes that he was a good bear hunter in his day.
shot nine of ‘em, no less,” he says.
Ekdal a man of the outdoors, Gregers invites the old man up to the works
so he can enjoy “the free life in the woods and on the uplands . . . .”
Ekdal turns to Hjalmar and says, “Shall we let him see it?” Embarrassed,
Hjalmar says no, but his father rises and takes Gregers behind the sliding
door. There, in a dark room, are poultry, rabbits, pigeons, and a wild
duck in a basket.
wild duck,” Hedvig says.
After they return to the
studio, Old Ekdal says Håkon Werle shot the duck while he was hunting
but only wounded it. When it was sinking in the water, his dog retrieved
it, and Werle took it home. Because it failed to thrive, Pettersen was
told to kill it. However, Old Ekdal, after hearing about the duck, persuaded
Pettersen to give it to him. Now it is thriving.
gets up to leave. Before he goes, he asks to rent Hjalmar’s spare room,
saying he would take it over in the morning. Gina expresses concern that
the room may not be big and bright enough for him and notes that two noisy
tenants—Mr. Molvik and Doctor Relling—live in rooms just below it. But
Gregers insists on taking it and remaining in town. Hjalmar asks what he
will do for his livelihood.
if only I knew, Hjalmar. . .But when one has the misfortune to be called
Gregers . . . and the Werle after it; did you ever hear anything
the morning, Gina comes into the studio from shopping while Hjalmar is
retouching photographs. Gregers has moved in but is out for the morning
after smoking up his room while building a fire in the stove. He made matters
worse by dowsing the fire and getting water all over the floor.
got the porter’s wife to clear up after him, pig,” Gina says.
who has invited Gregers for lunch, tells Gina that there will be two more
guests—Relling and Molvik— and suggests a herring salad for the meal. After
Gina goes to the kitchen, Hjalmar’s father comes out, and the two of them
open the sliding doors and enter the garret to complete a project. While
the pigeons and hens are rustling about, they lower a curtain made of a
fish net and an old sail that hides the floor. Old Ekdal then says the
water trough will have to be relocated.
is a knock at the door—Gregers Werle. Hedvig invites him in, and he waits
while Hjalmar and his father finish their work. While conversing with Hedvig,
he learns that she does not go to school because Hjalmar does not want
her to strain her eyes. Although her father has promised to read to her,
she says, he has not yet found the time. When he asks what she does with
all of her time, she tells him about wonderful things to do in the room
where her father and grandfather are working. She notes, for example, that
it has a cupboard full of books, many with pictures.
there’s an old bureau with drawers and flaps, and a big clock with figures
that go in and out . . . [and] an old paint-box and things of that sort;
and all the books.”
says a ship captain who once lived there left all of these objects behind
after drowning at sea.
great ambition, she says, is to engrave pictures for books but says her
father would not approve. He prefers that she make baskets or plait straw.
However, she notes that if she knew how to weave baskets she could have
made one for the duck. Proudly, she points out that it is her duck. She
pities it, she says, because “she has no one to care for, poor thing.”
She adds, “Nobody knows her, and nobody knows where she came from either.”
Gina comes in to set the table, Gregers apologizes for arriving early and
compliments her on her ability to retouch photos. Hedvig tells him that
her mother takes pictures too.
shot rings out from the garret, startling Gregers. Gina and Hedvig tell
him that Hjalmar and Old Ekdal are just shooting for sport. Hjalmar then
comes out with a double-barreled pistol, and Gina tells him, “You and grandfather
will do yourselves a mischief some day with that there pigstol.”
Hjalmar reminds her that it is a pistol, not a pigstol. Moments later,
Gina says, “Men are such strange beings; they must always have something
to pervert theirselves with.”
Hjalmar puts the pistol
on the top shelf of the bookcase and tells Hedvig not to touch it, for
one of the barrels is still loaded. Gregers looks in at the duck and notes
that one of its wings droops and that “she trails one foot.” Hedvig informs
him that her wing had been broken and that her foot suffered an injury
when the dog bit on it while retrieving it.
closes the sliding doors. When the conversation turns to Hjalmar’s photography,
he tells Gregers that he is working on an invention, a photography device,
that promises to uplift the Ekdal name and restore the honor of his father.
He notes that after his father was sentenced, he had in hand the same pistol
that Gregers just laid down. But he could not use it. Then, when his father
went to prison, Hjalmar took up the pistol himself. “At the decisive moment
I won a victory over myself. I remained in life.”
Gregers asks how long it will take to perfect the invention, Hjalmar says
he cannot predict when he will finish it but says the project preoccupies
him. Gina and Hedvig bring in ale, brandy, and glasses just as Doctor Relling
and Molvik enter. Relling says, “Molvik and I live right under you; so
you haven’t far to go for the doctor and the clergyman, if you should need
anything in that line.”
Everyone begins eating except
Old Ekdal, who will be taking his lunch later. Relling tells Gina that
Molvik was “frightfully screwed” (drunk) the previous evening. Then he
turns to Hjalmar and says, “It comes over him like a sort of possession,
and then I have to go out on the loose with him.” To Gregers he says, “Well,
so you still stick up there at those horrible grimy works?” Relling himself
had once worked there. Gregers answers, “I have stuck there until now.”
make further small talk, and then Old Ekdal comes out with a rabbit skin,
saying, “Shot a big one. . . It’s good tender meat, is rabbit. It’s sweet;
it tastes like sugar. Good appetite to you, gentlemen.” He goes to his
room. Molvik, who has a hangover, suddenly gets up, excuses himself, and
goes down to his room.
says to Gregers, “[D]on’t you find it pleasant . . . to sit at a well-spread
table in a happy family circle?” But Gregers says, “I don’t thrive in marsh
vapours”—a reference to the Hoidal works. “[M]ay it not be you yourself,”
Relling says, “that have brought the taint from those mines up there.”
A bit of a spat develops, and Relling says, “But I must say, Mr. Werle,
it ill becomes you to talk about vapours and taints, after all the mess
you made with your stove.”
a knock at the door, and Gina answers it. It’s Mr. Werle, who tells Gregers
he wishes to speak with him. Hjalmar and Relling go into the parlour, and
Gina and Hedvig go to the kitchen. Werle came by, he says, because he is
convinced that his son plans to make trouble for him. Gregers, saying he
has a guilty conscience about withholding information from the past,
acknowledges that he plans to enlighten Hjalmar Ekdal about Gina and adds,
"I ought to have taken a stand against you when the trap was set for Lieutenant
tells Gregers that his guilty conscience is a “legacy from your mother
. . . the only one she left you.”
Gregers snaps back, “Have
you not yet forgiven her for the mistake you made in supposing that she
would bring you a fortune?”
Gregers then refuses to
return home with him and refuses the offer to make him a partner in the
firm. Seeing it is useless to argue further with Gregers, Werle says that
since he will probably marry Mrs. Sørby he shall arrange immediately
give him his share of the property. Gregers refuses that, too, and also
refuses to go take employment at the works.
leaves. When the others return to the studio, Gregers asks Hjalmar to go
for a long walk. He has things to tell him.
Hjalmar returns late that afternoon, he says he will begin doing all the
photography work himself. Surprised, Gina says, “I can manage the photography
work all right; and you can go on working at your invention.”
says, “And think of the wild duck, Father—and all the hens and rabbits—!
should almost like to wring that wild duck’s neck,” Hjalmar says.
says he will not do so, of course, for her sake. But he would like to because
of where it came from—Håkon Werle's house. He then tells Hedvig to
go for a walk. After the girl is gone, Hjalmar tells Gina he will also
do all the accounts himself—or at least check the receipts. He also questions
her on how she manages to keep the household going on so little money.
He probes further until he finally accuses her of having “an understanding”
with Mr. Werle when she worked for him.
denies the charge, although she acknowledges that Mr. Werle did make advances
toward her. Mrs. Werle then made such a fuss that Gina quit. Later, after
he became a widower, “He gave me no peace until he had his way.” She admits
that it was wrong to hide this information from him, but she says she was
afraid that Hjalmar would not have married her. She does love Hjalmar,
rants on about her deception and says he no longer has the spirit to carry
on with his invention. Gregers comes in, smiling in the belief that he
has done a great service for the Ekdals and that they can now start “an
entirely new life.” But Gina lashes out at him, and Hjalmar says he needs
time to “throw off the bitter cup I have drained.”
enters just then and calls Gregers a “quacksalver” bent on ruining Hjalmar
and Gina’s life. He tells the two men there is no such thing as a perfect
marriage in the first place. Besides, they have the child, Hedvig, to consider.
She is at a sensitive age, and quite vulnerable.
Another visitor enters,
Mrs. Sørby, who exchanges greetings with Gina and says she was hoping
the men were out so she could chat with her and say good-bye. She is going
up to Hoidal in the morning; Werle has already left for the place.
asked me to say good-bye for him,” she says.
After Gregers notes that
Werle and Mrs. Sørby are going to be married, Relling says, “You
are going to marry again?”
says yes, at the works. Gregers wishes her happiness.
comments that to Werle’s credit he never gets drunk and probably will not
beat her as did her former husband, a veterinarian. He then leaves. Gregers
observes that Mrs. Sørby seems to know Relling quite well, and she
says she knew him well enough years ago to consider marrying him.
says Werle is already aware of this fact, pointing out that she believes
in being candid. She says Werle has been frank with her as well, and she
plans to stand by him always—especially “now that he is getting helpless.”
Gregers tries to stop her from saying more, but she continues.
is no disguising it any longer, however much he would like to. He is going
leaving, she tells Hjalmar that if there is anything Werle can do for him,
he is to see Gråberg. Gregers says Ekdal will refuse the offer. Taking
the cue from Gregers, Hjalmar then says he will see Gråberg soon
to arrange for paying off his debt to Werle—with interest. When Gina protests
that they do not have enough money, he says he will use the proceeds from
his invention. Mrs. Sørby then leaves, saying she will speak to
Gina privately at another time.
commends Hjalmar for his decision. Hjalmar then notes how ironic it is
that Werle and Mrs. Sørby will have a “true marriage” based on candor
and forthrightness. Taken aback, Gregers says Hjalmar and Gina cannot be
compared “with those two.” But Hjalmar adds that his blindness will be
“righteous retribution” for having “hoodwinked a confiding fellow creature
in days gone by.”
returning from her walk, Hedvig says, she ran into Mrs. Sørby, who
gave her a present for her birthday. When Hjalmar asks what it is, she
says, “Mother is to give it to me to-morrow morning before I get up.” However,
she says Hjalmar may see it. She withdraws a letter from her pocket and
gives it to him. It is in the hand of Mr. Werle.
writes that Old Ekdal need not do any more copying, for he is granting
him 100 crowns a month. After he dies, Hedvig is to receive the same amount
for the rest of her life. Hjalmar is overjoyed. Hedvig says she will turn
over all the money to her father and mother.
this is a trap he is setting for you,” Gregers says, adding that on his
visit to the studio earlier his father told Gregers that “Hjalmar Ekdal
is not the man you imagine him to be.” Hjalmar says he thinks the remark
meant that he could not “be bought off.” When Hedvig asks what is going
on, Gina sends her out of the room to remove her coat. She leaves by the
kitchen door, crying. Hjalmar then turns to Gina and asks why Werle wanted
them to marry. When she is evasive, Hjalmar says, “Does Hedvig belong to
me—or—?” Gina says she does not know. Hjalmar puts on his coat and says
he is leaving her. Gregers intercedes: “You three must be together if you
are to attain the true frame of mind for self-sacrifice and forgiveness.”
replies, “Never, never! . . . I have no child.”
At the kitchen door, Hedvig
says, “What is that you’re saying? Father, Father!” She goes to him, but
he tells her he “cannot bear to see her.” She screams. Gina shouts, “Look
at the child!” He pulls away from Hedvig and leaves. Gina tries to comfort
her by saying that Hjalmar will return, but Hedvig says he will never return.
Gina then goes out to bring Hjalmar back.
I’m not really Father’s child,” Hedvig tells Gregers. “Mother might have
she also says that Hjalmar might love her more than he would if she were
his own. After all, she says, she received the wild duck as a present,
and she loves it dearly. Gregers then makes a startling proposal: that
Hedvig kill the duck for the sake of her father “as a free-will offering
. . . of the dearest treasure you have in the world.” Hedvig says she will
have her grandfather shoot it in the morning, and Gregers cautions her
not to tell her mother of the plan.
returns with news that Hjalmar went out with Relling and Molvik. She assures
Hedvig that he definitely will come home.
next morning brings a snowstorm. While Old Ekdal is in the garret and Gregers
is visiting Gina, Relling comes in to tell her that Hjalmar is in his place
sleeping on a sofa. Relieved, Gina and Hedvig go to the sitting room to
begin chores. Gregers ask Relling for his assessment of Hjalmar’s “spiritual
tumult,” but Relling says he has noticed no such problem with Hjalmar.
When Gregers asserts that a man of Hjalmar’s “individuality” must be going
through a crisis, Relling says that if Hjalmar ever had any individuality
his “two high-flown hysterical aunts” uprooted it when they were rearing
him. Gregers disputes this observation, saying, “Look at the depth of his
have never discovered it,” Relling says.
father thought he had such depth, Relling notes, “but the old lieutenant
has been an ass all his days.”
his good looks and “his talent for declaiming other people’s verses,” Hjalmar
fooled his classmates too, Relling says. The doctor then criticizes Gregers,
saying he has “integrity-fever” and that “you must always have something
to adore, outside yourself.” When Gregers asks Relling why he bothers with
Hjalmar, Relling says that as a doctor he has an obligation to help “poor
sick folk.” However, he says, Old Ekdal needs no help because he has come
up with his own remedy for his problems.
think of the old bear-hunter shutting himself up in that dark garret to
shoot rabbits! . . . The four or five withered Christmas-trees he has saved
up are the same to him as the whole great fresh Hoidal forest. . . .”
enters from the sitting room, and Relling goes down to his place to check
on Hjalmar. Hedvig tells Gregers she has decided not to kill the duck.
He says he disagrees with her decision, then leaves. Old Ekdal comes out
of the garret, saying he was not having much fun in there alone. Hedvig
asks him how one would go about shooting a wild duck.
don’t mean my wild duck,” she says.
says to kill a duck properly one must shoot it in the breast against the
flow of the feathers. After he goes into his room, Hedvig takes down the
pistol. When Gina comes in, she quickly puts it down. Her mother tells
her to check on the coffee in the kitchen. Gina plans to take a breakfast
tray down to Hjalmar. However, Hjalmar enters just then to pick up his
Hedvig comes in, Hjalmar shouts, “Keep her away from me, I say!”
sends Hedvig into the sitting room, then gets the technical magazines from
the bookcase and puts them on the table. When she asks him what is to become
of Old Ekdal, Hjalmar says he will take him with him but first must arrange
for a place to stay. Hjalmar looks through drawers for his diary and certain
documents while Gina fetches him a tray with hot coffee and breakfast.
When he enters the sitting room to search further, Gina follows her husband.
takes up the pistol and enters the garret while Hjalmar moans about what
a job it is to move. He takes off his coat. When Gina asks what is to be
done with the rabbits, Hjalmar says he is not taking them; his father will
have to get along without them. Then he asks for his pistol. Gina tries
to convince him to stay with Relling and Molvik, but he is bent on going
out in the snowstorm to look for another place. He begins eating bread
and butter, and Gina pours him more coffee. He sits on the sofa awhile,
then asks whether he may stay in the sitting room for a day or two while
he gathers his father’s things. He also says he noticed that “that paper”
(the letter from Werle) is still “lying about.”
comes in and asks why Hjalmar is sitting on the sofa having breakfast.
Hjalmar says he is just getting up his strength while he gathers his things,
which takes time. Gina then asks whether she should get the sitting room
ready or pack his belongings.
get the room ready,” he says.
When Gregers asks him what
will become of his invention, Hjalmar says he does not care about it anymore.
was that blackguard Relling that urged me to it,” he notes.
talk about Hedvig, and Hjalmar says he thinks the girl was only pretending
to love him.
would you say if she gave you a proof of her love?” Gregers asks.
hear the duck quacking within the garret. Moments later, they hear a pistol
shot. Gregers says Old Ekdal just killed the duck on behalf of Hedvig.
wanted to sacrifice to you her most cherished possession; for then she
thought you would surely come to love her again.”
Ekdal opens the door of his room and says, “So you go shooting alone, do
Gregers, and Gina then go immediately to the garret. There, they find Hedvig
on the floor. Gina runs out to fetch Doctor Relling. Hjalmar and Gregers
carry Hedvig to the sofa. When the doctor comes in with Molvik, he examines
her and pronounces her dead.
bullet has gone through her heart. Internal hemorrhage. Death must have
deeply remorseful, sobs while shouting cries of regret for his behavior.
hush, you mustn’t go on that awful way,” Gina says. “We had no right to
keep her, I suppose.” She and Hjalmar carry the body to the girl’s room.
Relling tells Gregers that powder burns on her body reveal that she shot
herself. Gregers think the death “has set free what is noble” in Hjalmar,
but Relling says the nobility will not last.
a year is over, little Hedvig will be nothing to him but a pretty theme
the doctor is right, Gregers says, then life is not worth living. The doctor
says it is worth living as long as people stop foisting their idealism
on others. In that case, Gregers says, he is happy that his destiny is
what it is—“to be the thirteenth at the table.”
climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel,
can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to
resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. The climax of The Wild Duck occurs
in Act IV, according to the first definition, when Gina admits that she
had a sexual encounter with Håkon Werle before her marriage
to Hjalmar and that she does not know whether Hjalmar or Werle is the father
of Hedvig. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Hedvig
Håkon Werle is the
main source of conflict in the play. Consider that, preceding the action
of the play, he
Fathered Gregers Werle, who
dedicates himself as a young adult to revealing ugly truths that cause
Had an antagonistic relationship
with his wife, which helped motivate Gregers to turn against his father.
Took part in a business deal
that disgraced and sent to jail Hjalmar Ekdal's father.
Had an affair with a housekeeper,
Gina Hansen, then arranged her marriage to Hjalmar Ekdal. During her first
year of marriage, Gina Hansen Ekdal bore a child, Hedvig. Whether Håkon
Werle or Gina's husband, Hjalmar, fathered it is unknown. When Hjalmar
learns of his wife's past and his daughter's dubious parentage, he rejects
Gina and Hedvig.
Provided money for Hjalmar Ekdal's
photography training and began employing Hjalmar's father after his release
from prison, gestures that Gregers Werle believes were intended to buy
the silence of the Ekdals regarding Håkon Werle's past behavior.
Shot and wounded the wild duck
that his servant gave to the Ekdals. Hedvig and Old Ekdal nurse the duck
back to health and prize it as a pet. Hjalmar curses the animal after he
learns about his wife's past. Gregers attempts to persuade Hedvig to shoot
the duck as a way to win back the affection of her father.
Ibsen wanted to make his plays uncompromisingly realistic, he wrote the
dialogue in simple, everyday, middle-class language rather than elegant,
lofty, or trope-laden language characteristic of romantic plays. But in
mimicking vernacular speech, he chose and arranged his words carefully;
every word and every sentence counted. Thus, the dialogue in A Wild
Duck is spartan but powerful; little by little, it bares the human
Werle sees himself as a man of character, noble and incorruptible, whose
mission is to right wrongs and champion the cause of truth. Hjalmar Ekdal
sees himself as a good husband, father, and son, as well as a brilliant
inventor. In short, these two men are heroes to themselves. But neither
recognizes his own shortcomings; neither sees himself as he truly is. Both
men's visions of reality are no less faulty than demented Lieutenant Ekdal’s,
who goes on hunting expeditions amid old Christmas trees in the garret.
Rather than face the reality of his business scandal, he escapes it entirely
to live in an illusory world. And then there is Molvik. He repeatedly deludes
himself into believing that alcohol will cure his ills, whatever they are.
Concealing vs Revealing
his extreme idealism, Gregers Werle believes in revealing the truth whatever
the cost. In his extreme pragmatism, Doctor Relling believes in hiding
the the truth whenever it has the potential to cause harm. Ironically,
while laying bare the truth about his father and the Ekdal family, Gregers
fails to recognize the truth about himself—that he is a meddlesome, vengeful
snot. And, just as ironically, in recommending the concealment of truth,
Relling presents the truth to Werle—round, unvarnished, and naked.
taints the actions of Gregers Werle. Although he declares that his conscience
and his idealism drive his mission to expose the truth about his father,
clearly his overriding goal is to punish his father. Gregers' animosity
is a legacy of his childhood days, when he and his mother sided against
Mr. Werle in a bitter rivalry. As the elder Werle tells Gregers in Act
I, "You and she—you always held together. It was she who turned you against
me, from the first."
Werle fancies himself a crusader for truth. But in his zeal to reveal the
truth, he is willing to ruin lives, even little Hedvig's. In his commendable
effort to help people, Doctor Relling goes wrong when he recommends that
Old Ekdal, Hjalmar, and Molvik must not be deterred from chasing the illusions
that sustain them against the harshness of reality. Gregers Werle and Doctor
Relling are antipodes. The one person in the play who seems able to follow
the advice of the ancient Greeks—all things in moderation, nothing in excess—is
Gina. She sees both sides of every argument and realizes that the best
way to cope is to walk a middle course between extremes.
motivates Hjalmar Werle on several occasions. In Act I, for example, he
avoids acknowledging the presence of his disgraced father when the old
man passes through Håkon Werle's study
while Hjalmar is there after
the dinner. On the same occasion, when he speaks with Gregers Werle for
the first time in at least sixteen years, he depicts his wife as "by no
means without culture," inasmuch as she has learned from him as well as
from the "remarkable men" the Ekdals know. The fact is that Gina is common
and unsophisticated and frequently mispronounces even simple words. When
Hjalmar returns home from the dinner, he is ashamed to admit to his family
that a dinner guest embarrassed him in front of others by exposing Hjalmar's
lack of knowledge of wines. Instead, Hjalmar pretends that he enlightened
the guests about wine vintages.
events in the play foreshadow what follows them. For example, the mess
Gregers makes of his room while building a stove fire foreshadows the mess
he makes of the Ekdals' life. Perhaps the most obvious foreshadowing in
the play occurs when Hjalmar emerges from the garret with a doubled-barreled
pistol and warns Hedvig not to touch it because it still has a bullet in
one of its its barrels.
Gregers Werle's Smoky
Room: After renting a room from Hjalmar Ekdal, Werle builds a fire
in the stove and smokes up the room. Then he throws water on the fire,
leaving a puddle on the floor. The mess he has made of the room appears
to symbolize and foreshadow the mess he will make of the Ekdal family's
The Wild Duck: While
hunting, Håkon Werle shoots a wild duck but only wounds it. Werle's
servant, Pettersen, later gives the duck to Old Ekdal, who takes it home
and, with the help of his son and granddaughter, Hedvig, cares for it in
the garret. Hedvig is especially fond of it. The duck symbolizes Hedvig,
an innocent victim of the strife in her home, as well as others in the
play who—like the duck—have been wounded by the circumstances of their
lives. Håkon Werle alludes to the duck when he tells his son, Gregers,
"There are people in the world who dive to the bottom the moment they get
a couple of slugs in their body, and never come to the surface again" (Act
I). An observation of Hedvig in Act III indicates that the duck also symbolizes
Hedvig's parentage—that is, whether she is the daughter of Håkon
Werle or Hjalmar. Hedvig tells Gregers Werle: "[T]here is so much that
is strange about the wild duck. Nobody knows her, and nobody knows where
she came from either."
When he attends Håkon Werle's dinner party, Hjalmar Ekdal wears a
fashionable overcoat he borrowed from Molvik. The coat appears to symbolize
Hjalmar's use of others to advance his goals or enhance his image. For
example, in his photography business, he uses Håkon Werle's money
and the talents of his wife to make his modest living. When he was in college,
Doctor Relling notes, he had a "talent for declaiming other people's verses
and other people's thoughts" (Act V).
Garret: In this dark
room behind sliding doors, Old Ekdal spends time hunting in a "forest"
made of old Christmas trees. He and his son have stocked the room with
rabbits to serve as bears that Old Ekdal shoots on his hunting expeditions.
Hjalmar helps his father maintain the patch of "wilderness," which also
contains pigeons, hens, and the wild duck. The garret symbolizes Old Ekdal's
illusion of himself as a great hunter.
The Invention: Hjalmar's
unfinished invention symbolizes his illusion of himself as a great man.
Working on it enables him to entertain his heroic vision of himself; finishing
it would force him to expose to the world the mediocre quality of his ideas.
Darkness and Light
uses darkness and light to underscore themes and motifs. Darkness or dimness
generally occurs in scenes in which at least one character is attempting
to escape reality or preserve an illusion. The garret of the Ekdal apartment,
where Old Ekdal and Hjalmar spend a good deal of time in an imaginary forest,
is always dim and shadowy. The sloping panes of glass in the photo studio—where
the Ekdals, eat, entertain guests, and work—are half-covered with blue
curtains. These images suggest that the Ekdals are leading an illusory
fire, or brightness generally occurs in scenes in which at least one character
is revealing, or planning to reveal, the harshness of reality to another
character; is probing for the shocking truth about a character; or is exposing
a character's ignorance of a fact. In Act I, for example, a conversation
near a fireplace with a "glowing coal fire" reveals Hjalmar's ignorance
of the qualities of Tokay and other wines. Before the same fireplace, Gregers
questions Hjalmar as part of the former's campaign to get at the truth
about Håkon Werle and his relationship with the Ekdals. In the same
place, Gregers then talks with his father, raking over ugly truths about
his father's past. In Act II, the smoky fire that Gregers builds in the
stove of his rented apartment, then dowses with water that covers the floor,
foreshadows the light of truth that he casts on the Ekdals, thereby making
a mess of the their life—just as he made a mess of his room.
portraying Gregers Werle as an extreme idealist and Hjalmar Ekdal as a
melodramatic fool, Henrik Ibsen was satirizing literary works of his time
that romanticized its characters and their actions. Gregers and Hjalmar
both see themselves as men with special missions in life. Gregers' mission
is to pursue and reveal the truth; Hjalmar's is to invent a revolutionary
photography device. One may compare them with knights on quests. But they
are bungling Don Quixotes, not Lancelots. Gregers cannot even build a proper
stove fire. And Hjalmar gets his wife and daughter to do his photography
work for him while he sallies forth with his father in a forest of old
Christmas trees. Gregers ends his quest by attempting to get a little girl
to shoot a duck. Hjalmar ends his by walking out on his wife, then coming
back and having breakfast.
Questions and Essay Topics
character in the play is the most admirable? Which character is the least
an essay that compares and contrasts Gina Ekdal and Gregers Werle.
did Gregers Werle continue to work for his father all those years?
Hjalmar Ekdal truly love Gina and Hedvig?
Hedvig were your daughter, would you inform her of the physician's finding
that she is going blind?
a psychological profile of Gregers Werle or Hjalmar Ekdal. Document your
findings with passages from the play, quotations from scholarly essays,
textbooks, and other reliable sources.
an essay explaining how the past haunts the present in The Wild Duck.