Act III opens with the room completely enclosed; the curtains
both over the door to the middle room and over the glass door leading
outside. The contrast between Hedda and Thea continues: Hedda sleeps
peacefully, Thea has been awake all night and is upset; Thea refuses
maid's offer of a fire, Hedda calls the servant to light a fire.
Because Berta identifies with the Tesman's interests, she is
to Lovborg, whom she knows as Tesman's former rival. She
calls him "a certain person" and continues "we've heard enough about
gentleman before now" (p. 47).
Hedda awakens energized and happy and throws open the windows
in the broad sunlight. Contrast her
behavior in Act I: she claimed she had slept badly, and she wanted the
curtain drawn so that the broad sunlight would not stream into the
she feels a sense of power and aliveness because she inspired Lovborg
return to his dissipated life, which she has idealized into a
free life. She expects him to return crowned with vine-leaves,
symbolizing his victory over society's restraints and an assertion of
heroism lacking in her society and in herself. Furthermore, she has
defeated Thea in
the struggle to influence Lovborg. With total self-confidence, she
brushes aside Thea's anxieties and expresses contempt for her, "You
really are a little blockhead, Thea" (p. 48).
Hedda sends Thea to her bedroom to rest. Her action is natural
has not slept; it is also dramatically necessary. Thea cannot be
to know that Tesman and Hedda have Lovborg's manuscript, yet she must
nearby when Lovborg returns. And Hedda must be present when he rejects
Thea, a scene which makes the full significance of the manuscript in
relationship clear to her. Having Hedda, Thea, and Lovborg close
to move the action quickly and to build tension steadily; the
action rivets the audience's attention. A skillful dramatist, Ibsen
naturally motivates Thea's absence, her presence, and Hedda's presence
on the stage at critical moments.
Another skillful piece of stagecraft: Aunt Julia and Lovborg
on stage at the same time. Why? Are they and/or the values they
Tesman admits that he had "a horrid feeling" while listening to Eilert
read his book, that he "felt jealous" of Eilert's genius (p. 49).
Immediately he exclaims, "how pitiful to think that he--with all his
gifts--should be irreclaimable, after all" (p. 49). Tesman's
about the manuscript are important in evaluating Tesman. Do we take his
statements and action at face value, or do they reveal a darker, less
admirable side to Tesman? Herman J. Weigand believes, "...the
insincerity lurking under his naive and comical guise eludes all but
keenest scrutiny." Weigand goes on to say, however, that "Tesman is
every bit as
honorable as the average run of commonplace people." Is Tesman an
honorable man? a dishonorable man? merely an ordinary man? You might
want to consider these questions in assessing Tesman:
Underneath his decent, ordinary exterior, are there darker feelings and
motives operating? Is there a
discrepancy between Tesman's social self and his essential self? If so,
is that discrepancy "commonplace," i.e., is that the way most of us
Is suppressing darker motives and impulses (often called the shadow)
characteristic of most of us?
- He tells Hedda, about having the manuscript, "I am almost
ashamed--on Eilert's account--to tell you." Is he really ashamed of his
own "horrid" feelings and/or unacknowledged
- Does Tesman find satisfaction in Lovborg's being
because Lovborg cannot control himself? Tesman, of course, has no wild
impulses or uncontrollable urges and can feel superior morally to
- Does he subconsciously want to harm Lovborg? to destroy the
manuscript? When he finds the manuscript, why doesn't he immediately
return the manuscript to
Lovborg? Even Hedda asks him this. Why does he tell no one he has the
Why doesn't he leave a note about the manuscript at Lovborg's
Is it significant that he doesn't tell a distraught Thea about the
manuscript when he encounters her in the street (Act IV)?
- Why does he leave the manuscript with Hedda rather than
off on his way to see his Aunt Rina?
- Do his words and action prepare for his later complicity in
Hedda's burning the manuscript?
The exchange between Tesman and Hedda raises another question.
Hedda thinking about the possibility of destroying the manuscript? She
asks whether Lovborg could rewrite it. Tesman's reply about Thea's
inspiration would be particularly offensive to Hedda. It is Hedda, not
Tesman, who thinks of and hides the manuscript when Brack appears.
Hedda's vision of Lovborg's dissipation as heroic and
noble prompts her reference to vine-leaves and her question, "I suppose
mean that he has more courage than the rest?" (p. 49). Hedda idealizes
Lovborg's weaknesses but is unmoved by his genius. Hedda never reads
of Lovborg's book; when Tesman praises its brilliance, she curtly
replies, "Yes, yes; I don't care about that--" (p. 49). What do these
facts reveal about Hedda morally, spiritually, or intellectually? Ibsen
often used the individual to make revelations about society; do Hedda's
behavior and values reveal anything about her class or her society?
Brack visits at the earliest acceptable time; aware of the
Lovborg poses to his triangle, he is eager to disparage Lovborg to
Hedda. He presents the concrete reality, the sordidness of
Lovborg's behavior. Why does his portrayal of reality affect Hedda so
profoundly? Why does it cause her to lose faith in her idealization of
Lovborg's wild lifestyle? What fear does his description of Lovborg's
scandalous behavior stir in
Hedda also becomes aware that Brack, with his desire for
be dangerous, "I am
exceedingly glad to think--that you have no sort of hold over me" (p.
55). Does her statement prepare for the ending?
Hedda, who is quick at picking up sexual implications and
fears scandal, makes Lovborg aware ("suddenly understanding," p.
that he is ruining Thea's reputation.
When Lovborg announces he and Thea must part, why does Hedda
involuntarily say, "I knew it!" (p. 56)? Is she feeling triumphant?
Does she see herself as controlling or having power over Lovborg's
What does this scene reveal about Thea and her relationship to
Lovborg? Why does she cry, despairingly, "Then what am I to do with my
life?" (p. 56). She leaves saying, "I see nothing but darkness before
me" (p. 58). Is Thea concerned with Lovborg, the book, herself, or some
combination of them? Think about her statements after you finish the
they relate to the ending?
Creativity/sterility/destructiveness is a major theme. Hedda
pregnant or physically creative, and Thea is physically barren.
Ibsen implies visually that Thea is a creative force with her abundant
hair and that Hedda is not with her skimpy hair. In what way(s) is Thea
creative? In what way(s) is Hedda not creative?
The manuscript is symbolically the child that Thea and Lovborg
created. What is Thea's contribution to the book, which is the product
Lovborg's genius? With Lovborg, the theme of creativity is extended to
include the artist or writer. Lovborg, the artist, needs Thea to
create. Why? Why doesn't he rewrite the book without her
or go on to write other books? Does he need the order and discipline
provides to use his genius productively? On his own, he wastes his life
in riotous living. Lovborg is a typical Ibsen artist--a man who has
unlimited energy and genius but lacks self-control; he needs a woman
and control. However, in civilizing the artist, she ultimately inhibits
his lust for life and so his ability to create. This is what we would
a catch-22 situation.
The theme of creativity extends to Lovborg and Tesman.
kinds of topics which they write about and the fact that Lovborg
books and Tesman collects notes which he has yet to arrange. There is
minor parallel between them; Tesman has a suitcase full of notes from
honeymoon, and Thea has the notes Lovborg used in writing the lost
In Act II, Hedda realizes she will not be able to live out her
ambitions through George; Brack squelches the possibility of a
career, and she has no interest in academic matters. So she turns her
energies to Lovborg. In trying to control Lovborg, Hedda wants to give
meaning and beauty
to life; she wants to rise above the narrow conventionality of her own
class and the smothering domesticity of the Tesmans and to experience
freedom-- vicariously. A coward herself, she wants to experience
Lovborg. Lovborg too associates wild
living with courage when he considers returning to
his Dionysian lifestyle, "And the thing is that now I have no taste for
that sort of life either. I won't begin it anew. She has broken my
courage and my power of braving life out" (p. 58).
Hedda wants to have the kind of power over Lovborg that Thea
that pretty little fool has had her fingers in a man's destiny" (p.
58). Hedda looks for power and freedom through another, rather than in
herself. But can the individual achieve a sense of power or freedom in
this way? James W. McFarlane calls her efforts "interference in other
people's lives"; ironically, such interference poses a threat to the
essential self by making the individual dependent on others and places
the individual in an "essentially humiliating reliance" on others to
provide what the essential self should supply but can't. Does his
analysis apply to Hedda? Why is she unable to achieve power? Why is she
unable to actualize
her ideal? These two questions may be easier to answer after you have
read Act IV.
Though Hedda no longer believes in vine-leaves, she still
the possibility of beauty, heroism, and freedom. What irony is there in
her giving Lovborg a gun to commit suicide "beautifully" (p. 59)? How
"beautiful" is a shot through the temple in reality? Is Hedda
in Lovborg as a person, or is she merely using him?
The guns are symbolically complex and can be interpreted in a
- They are her defense.
- They represent freedom and release.
- They are cold and hard outside, violent and deadly in
- They are modern and contrast with the classical symbol of
vine-leaves. One is a symbol of war and aggression, the other of peace
- They suggest the fulility and purposelessness of her life.
Guns have a deadly function, and presumably a general would be able to
use them effectively. But for Hedda the guns are a toy, a diversion in
- General Gabler's guns represent a military and an
tradition. How much relevance does military tradition have for
women in general or for Hedda in particular? What does her inheriting
this gun and this tradition suggest about the values of her class?
Raised by her father, the general, what values might she have learned
from him? Might any of them be inappropriate for a woman of her class
time? If so, what would be the effect on her? The nineteenth century
Danish critic George Brandes suggests that General Gabler's guns are
claims "that a Norwegian general is a cavalry officer, who as a rule,
never smelt powder,and whose pistols are innocent of bloodshed." If he
is correct, the aristocratic class represented by the general appears
futile and useless.
Is Hedda a woman who lacks purpose in life? Is she distorted
demands of a society that offers limited roles to women? All the other
in the play either serve others (Thea, Miss Tesman, Diana, and Berta)
are taken care of (the invalid Aunt Rina). And even the incapacitated
Rina embroiders slippers and willingly risks her income for George.
Except for Diana and Hedda, the women are self-sacrificing. Hedda, who
wants to live her life for herself, refuses the conventional woman's
of service and/or sacrifice.
What opportunities are there for a woman with larger
Hedda? Ibsen noted of Hedda: "Hedda's
desperation is a conviction that life must offer so many possibilities
of happiness, but that she can't catch sight of them. It is the want of
a goal in life that torments her." Do you think this is true of Hedda?
As a woman, is Hedda denied the identity and purpose the men have in
their professions? They express themselves through their work and
receive recognition through their professions. Brack is referred to and
addressed as "judge." Lovborg has achieved acclaim and success with his
book, and Tesman is waiting for the reward of a professorship. In
contrast, Thea loses her sense of purpose and identity when she
Lovborg destroyed their book. Aunt Julia has purpose and identity as
long as she has someone to care for.
Despite her refusal to accept a traditional role assigned
does accept society's values of proper and improper behavior. Propriety
(rigid rules of what is proper) is a potent force in her life; it is
a destructive force, as John Northam explains:
The propriety cuts her off, but it breeds the
depraved interest. Hedda
is not a woman disinterested in life; her interest in life is vivid but
depraved by the constraints that forbade her to engage directly in it.
Depraved is not too strong a word for Hedda's behaviour; it is
not merely by reference to her love of the unsavoury, but even more by
the strangely vicarious way in which she has chosen to indulge it. She
has used Lovborg to do her living for her while she sheltered behind a
curtain, peered at the world outside.
Hedda is fully aware of how much the manuscript means to Lovborg and
Thea, that it is brilliant, and that it is irreplaceable. Then why does
Hedda burn the manuscript? Why does she call it their child
while she does this? Why does she call Thea "curly-locks" at this time
(p. 50)? Is it only their child that she wants to destroy? Does
Hedda experience triumph and a sense of power as she burns the
For the first time in this play, Hedda takes direct action;
she burns the manuscript and gives
Lovborg a gun to commit suicide beautifully.
Hitherto she has been an observer, has acted indirectly through
manipulation and innuendo, or has lived vicariously through the lives
others. What kind of action does she finally take--e.g.,
positive, negative, mixed, creative, heroic, destructive,
self-centered, self-sacrificing, violent?
|F, March 30, Online class
|Ibsen, Online overview
Hedda Gabler, Act I
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The Problem Play
The New Woman
Hedda Gabler as
|M, April 2
||Hedda Gabler, Act II
|W, April 4
||Hedda Gabler, Act III
|F, April 6 Online class
|Hedda Gabler, Act IV
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Core Studies 6 Page || Melani Home Page