Hedda Gabler  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Hedda Gabler is both a play and a fictional character created by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. First published in 1890 and premiered the following year in Germany to negative reviews, the play Hedda Gabler has subsequently gained recognition as a classic of realism, nineteenth century theater, 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."


The action takes place in a villa in Kristiania (now Oslo). Hedda Gabler, daughter of an impoverished 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, that she married him for economic security, and it is suggested she may be pregnant. The reappearance of George Tesman's academic rival, Eilert Løvborg, throws their lives into disarray. Løvborg, 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 what he considers to be his masterpiece. The critical success of his recently published works transforms Lovborg into a threat to Tesman, as Lovborg 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.

Hedda, apparently jealous of Mrs. Elvsted's influence over Eilert, hopes to come between them. Tesman, returning home from a party, finds the manuscript of Eilert Løvborg's great work, which the latter has lost while drunk. When Hedda next sees Løvborg, 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, so that he, not Løvborg, will become a professor.

When the news comes that Løvborg 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 Eilert'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.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hedda Gabler" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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