Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler

[hed-uh gab-ler]

Hedda Gabler is a play first published in 1890 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The play premiered in 1891 in Germany to negative reviews, the play Hedda Gabler has subsequently gained recognition as a classic of realism, nineteenth century theatre, and world drama. A 1902 production was a major sensation on Broadway starring Minnie Maddern Fiske and following its initial limited run was revived with the actress the following year.

The character of Hedda is one of the great dramatic roles in theatre, the "female Hamlet," and some portrayals have been very controversial. Depending on the interpretation, Hedda may be portrayed as an idealistic heroine fighting society, a victim of circumstance, a prototypical feminist, or a manipulative villain.

Hedda's actual name in the play is Hedda Tesman; Gabler is her maiden name. About the title, Ibsen wrote:"My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda as a personality is to be regarded rather as her father's daughter than her husband's wife.


  • Jörgen Tesman - The husband of Hedda, an academic
  • Hedda Gabler - The eponymous heroine, a 'kept woman'
  • Miss Juliana Tesman (Aunt Ju Ju) - Aunt of George
  • Mrs. Thea Elvsted - Friend of Hedda and George, confidant of Eilert and divorcé
  • Judge Brack - Friends of the Tesman's and womanizer
  • Eilert Löevborg - George's academic rival and Hedda's true love
  • Berta - Servant to the Tesman's and to George as a child


The action takes place in a villa in Kristiania (now Oslo). Hedda Gabler, daughter of an aristocratic General, has just returned from her honeymoon with Tesman, an aspiring young academic — reliable, but not brilliant, who has combined research with their honeymoon. It becomes clear in the course of the play that she has never loved him, but has married him for reasons pertaining to the boring nature of her life, and it is suggested, but repudiated that she may be pregnant. The reappearance of George Tesman's academic rival, Ejlert Lövborg, throws their lives into disarray. Lövborg, a writer, is also an alcoholic who has wasted his talent until now. Thanks to a relationship with Hedda's old schoolmate, Thea Elvsted (who has left her husband for him), he shows signs of rehabilitation, and has just completed a bestseller in the same field as Tesman. The critical success of his recently published work transforms Lövborg into a threat to Tesman, as Lövborg becomes a competitor for the university professorship which Tesman had been counting on. The couple are financially overstretched and Tesman now tells Hedda that he will not be able to finance the regular entertaining or luxurious housekeeping that Hedda had been looking forward to. Upon meeting Lövborg however, the couple discover that he has no intention of competing for professorship, but rather has spent the last few years labouring with Mrs. Elvsted over what he considers to be his masterpiece, the 'sequel' of his recently published work

Hedda, apparently jealous of Mrs. Elvsted's influence over Ejlert , hopes to come between them. Tesman, returns home from a party and reveals that he found the manuscript of Ejlert Lövborg's great work, which the latter has lost while drunk. When Hedda next sees Lövborg, he confesses to her, despairingly, that he has lost the manuscript. Instead of telling him that the manuscript has been found, Hedda encourages him to commit suicide, giving him a pistol. She then burns the manuscript. She tells her husband she has destroyed it to secure their future.

When the news comes that Lövborg has indeed killed himself, Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted are determined to try to reconstruct his book from what they already know. Hedda is shocked to discover, from the sinister Judge Brack, that Ejlert's death, in a brothel, was messy and probably accidental (this "ridiculous and vile" death contrasts the "beautiful and free" one that Hedda had imagined for him). Worse, Brack knows where the pistol came from. This means that he has power over her, which he will use to insinuate himself into the household (there is a strong implication that he will try to seduce Hedda). Leaving the others, she goes into her smaller room and ends the play by shooting herself in the temple.

Critical interpretation

Joseph Wood Krutch makes a connection between Hedda Gabler and Freud whose first work on psychoanalysis was published almost a decade later. Hedda is one of the first fully developed neurotic heroines of literature. By that Krutch means that Hedda is neither logical nor insane in the old sense of being random and unaccountable. Her aims and her motives have a secret personal logic of their own. She gets what she wants, but what she wants is not anything that the normal usually admit, publicly at least, to be desirable. One of the significant things that such a character implies is the premise that there is a secret, sometimes unconscious, world of aims and methods — one might almost say a secret system of values — that is often much more important than the rational one.

Joan Templeton makes a connection] between Hedda Gabler and Hjördis from The Vikings at Helgeland, since the arms-bearing, horse-riding Hedda, married to a passive man she despises, indeed resembles the "eagle in a cage" that Hjördis terms herself.


The text Hedda Gabler by Ibsen, who intended his work to be read as much as performed, was shunned in its time over the character Hedda Gabler, as she did not fit into the basic ideological places of society and was denounced by many critics as a demon in a human form or inhuman, as no one could ever approve of a woman in a relationship without love or one involved in love triangle, which would be betraying her husband.

The gun in the text is symbolic in that Hedda Gabler does not fit into the class as she plays with toys that are highly unacceptable in society. It also plays a role in showing the binary opposition status between herself and Tesman as she is displayed with traits of masculinity as Tesman serves her drinks.


The play was first performed in Munich, Germany, at the Königliches Residenz-Theater on 31 January 1891, with Clara Heese as Hedda. The first British performance was at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, on 20 April the same year, starring Elizabeth Robins, who directed it with Marion Lea, who played Thea. Robins also played Hedda in the first US production, which opened on March 30 1898 at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York.

Many popular actresses have played the role of Hedda: they include Eleanora Duse, Alla Nazimova, Asta Nielsen, Eva Le Gallienne, Anne Meacham, Ingrid Bergman, Jill Bennett, Janet Suzman, Diana Rigg, Isabelle Huppert, Kate Burton, Kelly McGillis, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening, Judy Davis, and Cate Blanchett for which she won the 2005 Helpmann Award (Australia) for Best Female Actor in a Play. In 2005, a production by Richard Eyre, starring Eve Best, at the Almeida Theatre in London has been well-received, and later transferred for an 11½ week run at the Duke of York's on St Martin's Lane. The play was staged at Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theater starring actress Martha Plimpton, who is credited with bringing renewed modern interest to the play. British playwright John Osborne wrote an adaptation in 1972, and in 1991 famed playwright Judith Thompson presented an inspired adaptation of the play at the Shaw Festival. Thompson adapted the play a second time in 2005 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, Canada, setting the first half of the play in the nineteenth century, and the second half during the present day. Early in 2006, the play gained critical success at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and at the Liverpool Playhouse, directed by Matthew Lloyd with Gillian Kearney in the lead role.

Film adaptations

The play has been adapted for screen a number of times, from the silent film era of the early 1910s to the present day in several languages. In 1975, Glenda Jackson was nominated for an Academy Award as leading actress for her role in a British film adaptation, titled Hedda. A more recent American film version (2004) relocated the story to a community of young academics in Washington State.

Awards and nominations


  • 1992 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Revival
  • 2006 Laurence Olivier Award for Best RevivalNominations
  • 2005 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Revival

See also


Further reading

External links

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