: Ashland Play: Hedda Gabbler
Author: Henrick Ibsen
An amazing play about a bizarre, incomprehensible woman. Hedda is a newlywed who returns home with her husband, George, a boring academic who spent their seven-month honeymoon doing research. They’ve purchased a large house beyond their means, apparently because Hedda expressed a fondness for the mansion, but in truth she doesn’t like it, but now that her husband bought it for her, she must lie in the bed she made (there’s a significant pun in there). Bored, Hedda begins to manipulate the people around her. There’s a girl from her childhood who’s flightly and weak, who has left her husband to pursue a lover. That lover turns out to be Hedda’s former lover, and a man who’s competition to George: he’s in the same field and is working on a new book. George reads part of the book and thinks it’s brilliant, one of the best book’s ever written, but when the drunken author accidentally drops it, George recovers it. It’s the only copy. But before he can return it, the guy goes nuts, thinking someone stole it, and his violence ends him up arrested. When he’s released he goes to see Hedda, who encourages his sucidical thoughts — even giving him one of her pistols! She doesn’t tell him she has the manuscript and when he leaves, she burns it. Why? Good questions. She tells her husband it’s because of her great love for him and he believes her, though he’s horrified at the loss of such a great work. News comes that the author is dead, though not exactly the way Hedda expected. In the end she’s blackmailed and caught with the prospects of a husband she doesn’t love and forced romance with a blackmailer, she shoots herself. The end.
This is a play about questions, not anwers. The questions are many and fascinating. Why does Hedda marry George? Why is she so bored? Would anything satisfy her? Why does she waffle, changing her mind so frequently? Does she even know what she’s doing herself? Why is the play’s title her maiden name instead of her married name? Why does she keep seeing visions of her father? Why is she so jealous (if that’s what it is) of the other girl? (Hedda is beautiful and shouldn’t be jealous.) Why does she kill herself in the end? Was life so unbearable to her? Or was it guilt? The answers to these questions are not impossible, but they are subjective: everyone who watches the play will have to form their own conclusions, and every production interprets the play in their own way, making for a fascinating experience. Granted, Hedda’s incomprehensive behavior does make her difficult to like or relate to, but she’s fascinating. Most of the other characters are also severely flawed: the husband’s a simpleton, the author tempermental, the girl an idiot, the judge a corrupt blackmailer. The only innocent in the bunch is old Aunt Julia, virtual mother to George, but she’s not a main character. That lack of compassionate characters does make the play more difficult to connect with, but I still liked it. It’s a fascinating intellectual exercise. I’d actually like to see if again a few times: there’s enough depth here to study for a long time.