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Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler
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

Hedda Gabler (Norwegian pronunciation: ) is a play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It was published in 1890, and it premiered in 1891 in Germany to negative reviews, but has subsequently gained recognition as a classic of realism, nineteenth century theatre, and world drama.

The title character Hedda, is considered one of the great dramatic roles in theatre, and portrayals have been known to vary widely.[1]

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]


  • Characters 1
  • Plot 2
  • Critical interpretation 3
  • Productions 4
  • Mass media adaptations 5
  • Awards and nominations 6
  • Alternative productions, tribute and parody 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


  • Hedda Tesman née Gabler — The main character, newly married and bored with both her marriage and life, seeking to influence a human fate for the first time. She is the daughter of General Gabler.
  • George (Jørgen) Tesman — Hedda's husband, an academic who is as interested in research and travel as he is in his wife. Despite George's presumed rivalry with Eilert over Hedda, he remains a congenial and compassionate host, and even plans to return Eilert's manuscript after Eilert loses it in a drunken stupor.
  • Juliana (Juliane) Tesman — George's loving aunt who has raised him since early childhood. She is also called Aunt Julle in the play, and Aunt Ju-Ju by George.
  • Thea Elvsted — A younger schoolmate of Hedda and a former acquaintance of George. Nervous and shy, Thea is in an unhappy marriage.
  • Judge Brack — An unscrupulous family friend.
  • Eilert Lövborg (Ejlert Løvborg) — George's former colleague, who now competes with George to achieve publication and a teaching position. Eilert was once in love with Hedda.
  • Bertha (Berte) — A servant of the Tesmans.
  • Diana — Owner of a brothel where Eilert Lövborg dies.


Hedda, the daughter of an aristocratic and enigmatic general, has just returned to her villa in Kristiania (now Oslo) from her honeymoon. Her husband is George Tesman, a young, aspiring, and reliable (but not brilliant) academic who continued his research during their honeymoon. It becomes clear in the course of the play that she has never loved him but married him because she thinks her years of youthful abandon are over. It is also suggested that she may be pregnant.

The reappearance of George's academic rival, Eilert Lövborg, throws their lives into disarray. Eilert, 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), Eilert shows signs of rehabilitation and has just published a bestseller in the same field as George. When Hedda and Eilert talk privately together, it becomes apparent that they are former lovers.[3]

The critical success of his recently published work makes Eilert a threat to George, as Eilert is now a competitor for the university professorship George had been counting on. George and Hedda are financially overstretched, and George tells Hedda that he will not be able to finance the regular entertaining or luxurious housekeeping that she had been expecting. Upon meeting Eilert, however, the couple discover that he has no intention of competing for the professorship, but rather has spent the last few years labouring with Thea over what he considers to be his masterpiece, the "sequel" to his recently published work.

Apparently jealous of Thea's influence over Eilert, Hedda hopes to come between them. Despite his drinking problem, she encourages Eilert to accompany George and his associate, Judge Brack, to a party. George returns home from the party and reveals that he found the complete manuscript of Eilert's great work, which the latter lost while drunk. When Eilert next sees Hedda, 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 and tells George she has destroyed it to secure their future.

When the news comes that Eilert has indeed killed himself, George and Thea are determined to try to reconstruct his book from Eilert's notes, which Thea has kept. Hedda is shocked to discover from Judge Brack that Eilert's death, in a brothel, was messy and probably accidental; this "ridiculous and vile" death contrasts with the "beautiful and free" one that Hedda had imagined for him. Worse, Brack knows the origins of the pistol. He tells Hedda that if he reveals what he knows, a scandal will likely arise around her. Hedda realizes that this places Brack in a position of power over her. Leaving the others, she goes into her smaller room and shoots herself in the head. The others in the room assume that Hedda is simply firing shots, and they follow the sound to investigate. The play ends with George, Brack, and Thea discovering her body.

Critical interpretation

Joseph Wood Krutch makes a connection between Hedda Gabler and Freud, whose first work on psychoanalysis was published almost a decade later. In Krutch's analysis, Gabler is one of the first fully developed neurotic female protagonists of literature.[4] 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 normal people 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.

It is worth noting that Ibsen was interested in the then-embryonic science of mental illness and had a poor understanding by present standards. His Ghosts is another example of this. Examples of the troubled 19th century female might include oppressed, but normal, wilful characters; women reacting to abuse, sexual or otherwise (as Freud chose to deny); as well as those with organic brain disease. Ibsen innocently picks a range of examples and is prepared to mix them into one character. Bernard Paris interprets Gabler's actions as stemming from her "need for freedom [which is] as compensatory as her craving for power... her desire to shape a man's destiny."[5]


The play was written and first performed in Munich 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 City.[6] A 1902 production starring Minnie Maddern Fiske was a major sensation on Broadway, and following its initial limited run was revived with the same actress the next year.

Many prominent actresses have played the role of Hedda: Vera Komissarzhevskaya, Eleonora Duse, Alla Nazimova, Asta Nielsen, Johanne Louise Schmidt, Eva Le Gallienne, Anne Meacham, Ingrid Bergman, Jill Bennett, Janet Suzman, Diana Rigg, Isabelle Huppert, Claire Bloom, Kate Burton, Kate Mulgrew, Kelly McGillis, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening, Amanda Donohoe, Judy Davis, Erin Berger, Emmanuelle Seigner, Harriet Walter, Rosamund Pike and Cate Blanchett, who won the 2005 Helpmann Award (Australia) for Best Female Actor in a Play. In the early 1970s, 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." Glenda Jackson returned to the RSC to play Hedda Gabler. A later film version directed by Nunn was released as Hedda (1975) for which Jackson was nominated for an Oscar. In 2005, a production by Richard Eyre, starring Eve Best, at the Almeida Theatre in London was 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 Steppenwolf Theater starring actress Martha Plimpton.

British playwright John Osborne prepared an adaptation in 1972, and in 1991 the Canadian playwright Judith Thompson presented her version at the Shaw Festival. Thompson adapted the play a second time in 2005 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, 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 Jørgen Tesman, at the American Airlines Theatre, to mixed critical reviews.

Performance of a production of the play, as translated and directed by Vahid Rahbani, was stopped in Tehran, Iran in 2011.[7] Vahid Rahbani was summoned to court for inquiry after an Iranian news agency blasted the classic drama in a review and described it as "vulgar" and "hedonistic" with symbols of "sexual slavery cult."[8][9] A modernised New Zealand adaptation by The Wild Duck starring Clare Kerrison in the title role, and opening at BATS Theatre in Wellington in April, 2009, was referred to as "extraordinarily accessible without compromising Ibsen's genius at all."[10]

A Serbian production premiered in February, 2011, at the National Theatre in Belgrade.[11]

A 2012 Brian Friel adaptation of the play staged at London's The Old Vic theatre received mixed reviews, especially for Sheridan Smith in the lead role.[12][13][14]

The play was staged in 2015 at Madrid's María Guerrero. The production was an adaptation by the Spanish playwriter Yolanda Pallín starred by Cayetana Guillén Cuervo as Hedda.[15]

Mass media adaptations

The play has been adapted for the screen a number of times, from the silent film era onwards, in several languages.[16] The BBC screened a television production of the play in 1963, with Ingrid Bergman, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, and Trevor Howard, while the Corporation's Play of the Month in 1972 featured Janet Suzman and Ian McKellen in the two main leads. A version shown on Britain's commercial ITV network in 1980 featured Diana Rigg in the title role. Glenda Jackson was nominated for an Academy Award as leading actress for her role in the British film adaptation Hedda (1975) directed by Trevor Nunn. A version was produced for Australian television in 1961.[17]

An American film version released in 2004 relocated the story to a community of young academics in Washington state.

An adaptation (by Brian Friel) of the 2012 Old Vic production was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Radio 4 on 9 March 2013.

In 2014, Matthew John[18] also adapted Hedda Gabler starring Rita Ramnani, David R. Butler, and Samantha E. Hunt.

Awards and nominations

  • 2005 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Revival

Alternative productions, tribute and parody

An operatic adaptation of the play has been produced by Shanghai's Hangzhou XiaoBaiHua Yue Opera House.

An adaptation with a lesbian relationship was staged in Philadelphia in 2009 by Mauckingbird Theatre Company.[19]

A production at Princeton University's Lewis Center for the Arts featured a male actor, Sean Peter Drohan, in the title role.[20]

A prostitute in the feature film Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is named Hedda Gobbler.

The 2009 album Until the Earth Begins to Part by Scottish folk indie-rock band

John Cale, Welsh musician and founder of American rock band The Velvet Underground, recorded a song "Hedda Gabler" in 1976, included originally on the 1977 EP Animal Justice (now a bonus track on the CD of the album Sabotage). He performed the song live in 1998, with Siouxsie Sioux, and also in London (5 March 2010) with a band and a 19 piece orchestra in his Paris 1919 tour. The song was covered by the British neofolk band Sol Invictus for the 1995 compilation Im Blutfeuer (Cthulhu Records) and later included as a bonus track on the 2011 reissue of the Sol Invictus album In The Rain.

The Norwegian hard-rock band Black Debbath recorded the song "Motörhedda Gabler" on their Ibsen-inspired album Naar Vi Døde Rocker ("When We Dead Rock"). As the title suggests, the song is also influenced by British heavy metal band Motörhead. The original play Heddatron by Elizabeth Meriwether (b. 1981) melds Hedda Gabler with a modern family's search for love despite the invasion of technology into everyday life.

In the 2013 novel Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding, Bridget tries and fails to write a modernised version of Hedda Gabler, which she mistakenly calls "Hedda Gabbler" and believes to have been written by Anton Chekhov. Bridget intends to call her version "The Leaves In His Hair" and set it in Queen´s Park, London. Bridget claims to have studied the original play as an undergraduate at Bangor University.

In the 2013 musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, one of Monty's relatives, Lady Salome D'Ysquith Pumphrey, is performing the title role. Monty puts real bullets in her gun, causing her to kill herself.

See also


  1. ^ Billington, Michael (17 March 2005). "Hedda Gabler, Almeida, London". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  2. ^ Sanders, Tracy (2006). "Lecture Notes: Hedda Gabler — Fiend or Heroine". Australian Catholic University. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  3. ^ Gradesaver: Hedda Gabler Study Guide
  4. ^ Krutch, Joseph Wood (1953). Modernism in Modern Drama: A Definition and an Estimate. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 11.  
  5. ^ Paris, Bernard. Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature, New York University Press: New York City, 1997, p. 59.
  6. ^ "Hedda Gabler: Play, Drama". The Internet Broadway Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  7. ^ Article,
  8. ^ "Hedonistic Hedda Gabler Banned at Tehran Theatre", Yahoo News
  9. ^ Article,
  10. ^ reviewHedda GablerBATS Theatre ,
  11. ^ Serbian production
  12. ^ Spencer, Charles (13 September 2012). "Hedda Gabler, Old Vic, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Taylor, Paul (13 September 2012). "First Night: Hedda Gabler, Old Vic, London". The Independent. Retrieved 10 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Hitchings, Henry (13 September 2012). "Hedda Gabler, Old Vic". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 10 November 2012. 
  15. ^ "Noviembre Teatro - Hedda Gabler". 
  16. ^ "Title Search: Hedda Gabler". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Hedda Gabler". Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  19. ^ Zinman, Toby. "Hedda Gabler"A Lesbian Interpretation of , Philadelphia Inquirer
  20. ^ "Henrik Ibsen's HEDDA GABLER"

Further reading

External links

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