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Hedda Gabler
Hedda Gabler.jpg
title page of the 1890 text
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Date premiered 1891
Place premiered Königliches Residenz-Theater
Munich, Germany
Original language Norwegian
Subject a newlywed struggles with an existence she finds devoid of excitement and enchantment
Genre Drama
Setting Jørgen Tesman's villa, Kristiania, Norway; 1890s
IBDB profile

Hedda Gabler is a play first published in 1890 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The play premiered in 1891 in Germany to negative reviews, but 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 considered by some critics as one of the great dramatic roles in theatre, the "female Hamlet," and some portrayals have been very controversial.[1] 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 married name is Hedda Tesman; Gabler is her maiden name. On the subject of 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."[2]



  • George Tesman - The husband of Hedda, an academic
  • Hedda Gabler - The heroine
  • Miss Juliane Tesman (Aunty Juju) - Aunt of George
  • Mrs. Thea Elvsted - Friend of Hedda and George, confidant of Ejlert
  • Judge Brack - Friend of the Tesmans
  • Ejlert Løvborg - George's academic rival whom Hedda previously loved
  • Bertha - Servant to the Tesmans 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 Jørgen 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 that she may be pregnant. The reappearance of Tesman's academic rival, Ejlert Løvborg, throws their lives into disarray. Løvborg, a writer, is also a recovered 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 Løvborg into a threat to Tesman, as Løvborg becomes a competitor for the university professorship 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 Løvborg however, the couple discover that he has no intention of competing for the professorship, but rather has spent the last few years labouring with Mrs. Elvsted over what he considers to be his masterpiece, the "sequel" to his recently published work. Hedda, apparently jealous of Mrs. Elvsted's influence over Løvborg, hopes to come between them, and provokes Løvborg to get drunk and go to a party. Tesman returns home from the party and reveals that he found the manuscript of 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.

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 Løvborg'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 force Hedda into a sexual affair). 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.[3] 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 Hjørdis 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 Hjørdis terms herself.[4]


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.[5]

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, Kate Mulgrew, Kelly McGillis, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening, Amanda Donohoe, Judy Davis, Erin Berger, Emmanuelle Seigner, Harriet Walter and Cate Blanchett, who won the 2005 Helpmann Award (Australia) for Best Female Actor in a Play. In the early 70's, Irene Worth played Hedda at Stratford, Ontario, prompting New York Times critic Walter Kerr to write, "Miss Worth is just possibly the best actress in the world." 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. A revival opened in January 2009 on Broadway, starring Mary-Louise Parker as the title character and Michael Cerveris as Jorgen Tesman, at the American Airlines Theatre to mixed critical reviews. A modernised New Zealand adaptation by The Wild Duck starring Clare Kerrison in the title role, and opening at BATS Theatre[1] in Wellington 15 April 2009, was hailed as '[extraordinarily accessible without compromising Ibsen's genius at all.' [2]

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.[6] 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.

Deborah Warner's version, with Fiona Shaw as Hedda Gabler and Stephen Rea as Eilert Løvborg, was televised in 1993, and in it, Shaw finds the hypersensitivity behind those cruelties of Hedda's which are often played without conscience. Shaw plays the requisite arrogance with which Hedda wounds those around her, but the immediate recriminations which she visits upon herself are even more harrowing.

Awards and nominations

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

Alternate Productions, Tribute and Parody

An operatic adaptation of the play has been producd by Shanghai's Hangzhou XiaoBaiHua Yue Opera House. A turkey living in Morningside Park, New York City, was named, "Hedda Gobbler."

The Scottish folk indie-rock band Broken Records have recorded a track, due to appear on their debut album later in 2009, entitled "If Eilert Løvborg Wrote A Song, It Would Sound Like This".

Welsh musician John Cale recorded a song entitled "Hedda Gabler," which he recently performed live in London (5 March 2010) with a band and a 19 piece orchestra in his Paris 1919 tour, attended by such celebrities as Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall, Samson and Delilah's Peter Hennessy, Irish Actor Cillian Murphy and award-winning viola player Jessica Lavery.

See also


  1. ^ Billington, Michael (17 March 2005). "Hedda Gabler, Almeida, London". The Guardian.,1169,1439784,00.html. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  2. ^ Tracy Sanders (2006). "Lecture Notes: Hedda Gabler - Fiend or Heroine". Australian Catholic University. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  3. ^ Krutch, Joseph Wood (1953). Modernism in Modern Drama: A Definition and an Estimate. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 11. OCLC 255757831. 
  4. ^ Templeton, Joan (2000). Ibsen's Women. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 229. ISBN 0521590396. 
  5. ^ "Hedda Gabler: Play, Drama". The Internet Broadway Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  6. ^ "Title Search: Hedda Gabler". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 

Further reading

External links



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