Theatre / Hedda Gabler
The original cover of the 1890 version.

Hedda Gabler is an 1890 play by Henrik Ibsen. Full of hidden meaning, double entendres, hints, and angst, it is often considered Ibsen's finest work. Critics hated it when it first appeared saying that the character of Hedda Gabler was immoral, and even suggesting that such a woman could not exist in real life. The play challenged the Victorian view of women as frail, feminine and obedient.

Hedda, a spoiled, beautiful aristocrat, has married Jørgen Tesman. Tesman is a silly but well meaning man who utterly adores her. She, however, used to higher society and a luxurious life, is hopelessly bored and stifled. She resorts to playing cruel mind games with Aunt Julle, Tesman's aunt and former guardian, and Thea Elvsted, a beautiful, innocent woman who has fled from her home. Also involved is Ejlert Løvborg, Hedda's former lover, although Ibsen is unclear on that point. There is also Judge Brack, who lends Tesman money but actually lusts after Hedda. Spoilers ahead!

It's well worth noting that Ibsen is considered the father of Modern drama.

This play contains examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Tesman. He's said to be very bright in his field.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Oh boy, where to start. Tesman loves Hedda who does not love him. Ejlert loves Hedda who does not love him. The Judge lusts after Hedda who denies feeling the same way. Can you see a pattern here?
  • Alpha Bitch: Hedda was one at school, and she used to pick on Thea because of her hair. When Thea shows up, she continues the old behaviour.
  • Anti-Villain: Hedda. She's like Iago seen through a sympathetic point of view.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Brack in the first act.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted with Hedda. Subverted a lot. Played straight with Thea though.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: for Hedda and Brack; there is tons.
  • Beta Couple: Subverted with Ejlert and Thea; they have feelings for each other, but Eljert was, and is, madly in love with Hedda, or at least his idea of Hedda.
  • Bi the Way: Hedda vs. Thea.
  • Brutal Honesty: Hedda does not care if she insults people around her, when she utters her feelings and opinions.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally, guns; the pistols that Hedda's father gave to her become the most important objects in the play.
  • Completely Missing the Point: Tesman. He's not stupid exactly, just sweet, naive and innocent to the point of being really, really silly; Aunt Julle points out that Hedda has 'filled out' a lot, and tells him she's expecting a special surprise, but he still doesn't realise what she's getting at. He also misinterprets pretty much all of what Hedda says; he isn't aware of Hedda's distaste for him and thinks he's happily married, and is utterly shocked at the end when she commits suicide by shooting herself in the head.
  • Daddy's Girl: Hedda was very close to her father. In fact, the play is called "Hedda Gabler" instead of "Hedda Tesman" because it's more about Hedda as her father's daughter than as the wife of her husband.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Hedda is pregnant.
    • Or, possibly faking it to hide her lesbianism (even more grave in a society like hers).
  • Double Entendre: Brack likes to take "the backroads". And then Hedda comments that he also prefers a gun with sharp shots. At the same time...
  • Downer Ending: For Hedda. After she encourages Ejlert to commit suicide, telling him to 'do it beautifully,' Ejlert goes to a brothel and is accidentally killed by a shot to the stomach ("Lower," according to Brack). She is unaware of this until Judge Brack informs her that he knows she caused his suicide, and furthermore, he also knows she burnt the manuscript. He implies he'll force her into a sexual affair, and she, who cannot stand the thought of anyone controlling her, shoots herself in the head.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Ejlert is probably the most sympathetic person in the play, yet he still can't catch a break.
  • Driven to Suicide: Hedda drives Ejlert to suicide, and then Judge Brack drives Hedda to suicide.
  • Fiery Redhead: Heavily implied with Hedda. In a throwaway line, it is stated that she is one.
  • First Girl Wins: Sort of. Hedda had some kind of a relationship with Ejlert first, and isn't bothered by his relationship with Thea Elvsted because she thinks she can manipulate him into doing whatever she wants. She's kind of right: Ejlert tries to do whatever Hedda wants him to, but he usually fails.
  • Fish out of Water: Hedda. It has been commented that she is a daughter of a General, and raised in a society that no longer exists. The play is written after the rise of parliamentarism in Norway, and the old ruling class (where officers were a prominent part) had lost much of their influence to the new democratic standards. No wonder Hedda feels powerless.
  • Foil: Løvborg is Tesman`s Foil - and Thea is Hedda´s. While Tesman writes obsessively on the past, Løvborg is set on the future of humankind. Thea is a kind and well-meaning woman while Hedda is manipulative and callous.
  • Foreshadowing: At the end of the first act, Hedda claims that she at least has her father's pistols to keep her occupied. And we already know where this is leading.
  • For the Evulz: Hedda seduces Lovborg and drives him to suicide because she hated Thea and burns his manuscript because it amused her.
  • Give Geeks a Chance: One of the reasons that Hedda married Tesman was because she felt sorry for him; the irony of course is that one of her few kind acts leads to her boredom, misery and eventual suicide.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Subverted once again. Hedda might be pregnant, but she and Judge Brack both insinuate that she's not very satisfied.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Løvborg had the hots for Hedda from early on.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Hedda implies Tesman was like this before she married him out of pity.
  • Hufflepuff House: The two Tesman sisters Juliana and Rina. Rina is never on stage, and Juliana/Julle, is the only person in the play without the faintest idea of what´s going on.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Played partially straight with Thea, though there are hints that she, um,knows Ejlert in a way that Hedda doesn't.
  • Kick the Dog: Hedda does this all the time, most often to Thea Elvsted and Tesman. When Tesman is kicked, it's a sad moment, but when Thea is kicked, it's truly cringeworthy.
  • Life's Work Ruined: The loss of the manuscript for Ejlert and Thea. Subverted when it turns out Thea and Tesman together might be able to reconstruct it.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Tesman loves and is married to Hedda who has feelings for Ejlert who loves Hedda but is also in love with Thea Elvsted who loves Ejlert but used to date Tesman. Tesman is Brack's best friend but Brack also has feelings for Hedda. Whew.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Tesman to Hedda, Thea to Ejlert. Ejlert to Hedda. If you're in love with someone in this play, odds are they don't feel the same way.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Or rather, in Brack's case, lust makes you morally questionable. When Tesman finds out Hedda has burned the manuscript, she claims it was out of love. Snort.
  • Love Triangle: Sort of, with Hedda, who feels a vague affection towards Ejlert, the best she can do; Thea who both loves and hero worships Ejlert, and Ejlert, who loves Thea but is obsessed with Hedda. Considering the Les Yay implications on Hedda and Thea, the confusion is complete.
  • Maiden Aunt: Aunt Julia and Aunt Rina.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Everyone is a bit shocked that a woman as beautiful, cultured and intelligent as Hedda chose to marry Jørgen Tesman; in the first act, Aunt Julle is tells her maid, Berte, that she never thought the two would end up together. Hedda of course is horrified once she realises how simple and common Tesman is.
  • Rich Bitch: Hedda is the trope. She is clearly not satisfied because she married under her position, and reacts badly when she realizes that her more upper class habits (servants and a horse) are put on hold. It easy to pity Tesman for this.
  • Rich Boredom: Hedda plays this very straight. She sets up people for the fun of it because she is bored out of her skull. And she lampshades it!
  • The Rival: Lovborg and Tesman.
  • Sexual Extortion: Judge Brack attempts to blackmail Hedda into becoming his lover by revealing that he knows that she supplied the pistol Eilert used to commit suicide.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Jorgen or George? Ejlert or Eilert? Lovborg or Løborg?
  • Stepford Smiler: Hedda when she tries to play nice.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Hedda and Thea.
  • Trouble Entendre: Brack`s attitude towards Hedda at the end of the play gets more and more disturbing, not least when she discovers he has gained some power over her.
  • Tying Up Romantic Loose Ends: It's implied that Tesman and Thea will get together as they piece back Lovborg's manuscript because of how similar they are in personality (especially as it's established early in the play that they were a couple before they met their respective spouses).
  • The Unfettered: What Hedda wanted to become.
  • Villainous B.S.O.D.: Brack at the end, depending on how it's played. Some versions have his final line come across as unintentionally hilarious.
  • Villain Protagonist: Guess who.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Hedda's eyes are grey.