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Hedda Gabler - Plot Synopsis of "Hedda Gabler"

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The Play: Hedda Gabler - first published in 1890.

Sneak Peak from the Script:

Hedda: I often think there is only one thing in the world I have any turn for.

Judge Brack: And what is that may I ask?

Hedda: Boring myself to death.

Playwright:
Henrik Ibsen -- one of Europe's most esteem dramatists, author of A Doll's House and The Master Builder.

Setting:
Oslo, Norway during the late 1800s. The action takes place in the home of scholar Jorgen Tesman and his new wife, Hedda.

Plot Overview:

Hedda Tesman, formerly Hedda Gabler (daughter of a wealthy general), returns from her honeymoon with her gentle-hearted husband in tow. She is discontent the moment she arrives. She is unhappy with the maid and outwardly annoyed with Jorgen’s aunt. Although Jorgen makes a comfortable living as a scholar, Hedda’s life is no longer as luxurious as it was in her younger days. Hedda is bored. Only her late father’s pistols provide amusement.

Judge Brack visits the couple. He playfully suggests to Hedda that if she is bored she could amuse herself by having a third person around. (This can be interpreted as friendliness or as a lewd attempt at seduction).

Hedda has no romantic interest in the judge. Instead, she occupies her time by prying into the personal life of Mrs. Thea Elvsted. In their childhood days, Hedda was openly cruel to Thea. She once threatened to rip out the girl’s hair. As an adult, Hedda’s ire is barely concealed. She tries to be cordial in order to learn Mrs. Elvsted’s secret.

Thea Elvsted’s marriage to an older man has grown cold. Her children have been tutored by a literary genius and recovering alcoholic, Ejlert Lövoborg. She has fallen in love with the brilliant tutor. Moreover, Mrs. Elvsted has inspired him to return to writing. Thanks in part to Thea’s influence, Lövoborg has written an impressive history book and a yet-to-be published manifesto on the future of society. It is perhaps his greatest work yet.

Hedda is disgruntled by the news of Mrs. Elvsted’s relationship with Lövoborg. Before her marriage to Jorgen, Hedda had a turbulent affair with Lövoborg. It ended with Hedda threatening to shoot him. Yet now, Hedda is jealous of Thea and disappointed with her husband’s lack of literary brilliance and social status.

When Ejlert Lövoborg stops by for a visit, he receives praise from his colleague Tesman. As soon as Lövoborg is alone with Hedda he reveals his unending fascination for her. However, she is not willing to openly reciprocate the attraction, mainly due to her fear of public scandal. Hedda’s icy words prompt Lövoborg to start drinking again. He attends a stag party with the Judge and Tesman, whereupon he reads some of his magnificent new book. However, he becomes so drunk that he loses the only copy of the manuscript before passing out.

Tesman recovers the manuscript and gives it to Hedda for safe keeping. Partially sober, Lövoborg returns to say farewell. He is devastated by the loss of his manuscript – and Hedda does not reveal that she has it, safe and sound. Instead, she watches as Lövoborg breaks ties with Mrs. Elvsted. She leaves, emotionally crushed. Lövoborg plans to commit suicide. Hedda encourages him to do so, and asks that he make it a “beautiful death.” To help with this grim endeavor, she gives him one of her father’s pistols. After he leaves, Hedda’s jealousy prevails and she tosses the Lövoborg’s book into the fire.

Later, Hedda confesses to her husband that she destroyed the book, claiming that it was for the good of his career. (It should also be noted that she considered the book the love child of Lövoborg and Mrs. Elvsted – perhaps her main reason for incinerating the manuscript). The Tesmans soon discover that Lövoborg has shot himself.

At first, Judge Brack describes the suicide as something Hedda finds poetic. According to rumor, Lövoborg shot himself in the heart. Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted decide to memorialize their friend by editing and organizing Lövoborg’s notes – hoping to reconstruct the lost book.

The judge asks whether Lövoborg meant something special to Hedda. She replies:

I only know that Eilert Lovborg has had the courage to live his life after his own fashion. And then-- the last great act, with its beauty! Ah! that he should have the will and the strength to turn away from the banquet of life--so early.

But Judge Brack has disturbing news. In reality, Lövoborg shot himself by accident. And he did not shoot himself in the breast but straight through his bowels. Hedda is disgusted by the random ugliness of Lövoborg’s death. And as if that wasn't bad enough, he died in a brothel! Then, the judge drops the second batch of bad news: he knows that Lövoborg died by Hedda’s pistol. If she wants to save herself from public scanbdal, she will have to acquiesce to Judge Brack’s sexual advances.

So, while her husband and Mrs.Elvsted devote themselves to Lövoborg’s book and while Judge Brack sits on the couch, satisfied with his lascivious game of blackmail, Hedda Gabler promptly shoots herself in the temple.

The last lines are of the play are of shock and astonishment:

Judge Brack: Good God!--people don't do such things!

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