Hedda Gabler

by Henrik Ibsen translated by Richard Eyre

Hedda Gabler is by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The world premiere was on 31 January 1891 in Munich. The play has been regularly described as a masterpiece of world drama and dramatizes the experiences of the title character, Hedda, the daughter of a general, who is trapped in a marriage and a house that she does not want. The title character of Hedda Gabler is considered one of the greatest dramatic roles and has been described as a ‘female Hamlet’.

Hedda Tesman (née Gabler) arrives home from an extended honeymoon and struggles with an existence that is, for her, devoid of excitement and enchantment. Filled with a passion for life that cannot be confined by her marriage or ‘perfect home’, Hedda strives to fulfil her desires by manipulating those around her. The play looks at the position of women in the late Victorian era – Hedda is a victim of her gender and social conditions and even her own self-destructiveness – but is so much more than that. Hedda is feisty, droll, intelligent yet fatally ignorant of the world and herself. She’s snobbish, mean-spirited, small-minded, conservative, cold, bored, vicious, sexually eager but terrified of sex, ambitious to be bohemian but frightened of scandal, and a desperate romantic fantasist unable to form a relationship with anyone including herself. Her contrary personality mesmerises us and compels our pity.

This may make it seem the play is all about Hedda – and in many ways it is – but a cast of critically important characters surround her. Her new, timid, academic husband George Tesman, his motherly Aunt Juliana, the housemaid, Berthe, the lecherous and worldly-wise Judge Brack, an old schoolfriend – the mousy Thea Elvsted – and above all her ex (and George’s academic rival) Eilert Lovborg who has suddenly returned, having apparently redeemed his hedonistic ways and written a ‘world-changing’ book that becomes central to the plot.

I won’t recount that plot in detail here (look it up online or come to the readthrough!) but it’s important to say it does have one! So many wonderful plays considered classics show us the ‘mystery of things’ by relying on characters, emotion and dialogue to make their mark. That is all true here, but the play also has a proper story, almost a mystery, with a beginning, a middle and a proper end….

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Director - Mark Humble