Hedda Tesman (neé Gabler), has returned home from her honeymoon with her kind-hearted but bumbling husband, George. After having to deal with a visit from her interfering mother-in-law--who suggests that she has grown plumper and that perhaps the house can expect the patter of tiny feet soon--Hedda talks to a friend of the family, Judge Brack, about how much she dislikes the life that awaits her as the wife of an academic.
Judge Brack tells her about the controversy in town surrounding a wayward intellectual, Lovborg, who has returned. Lovborg soon drops in on the Tesmans himself. Lovborg has written a new book, which is revolutionary as well as morally shocking. He also tells Hedda--with whom he has had a love affair in the past--that he is now seeing a woman who Hedda sees as her inferior, and has become completely teetotal after his wayward youth. Then he, Tesman, and Brack go off for an evening of carousing.
The next morning, Tesman returns and says that Lovborg became very drunk and did a number of immoral things the night before, which suggests they may have visited a brothel. Lovborg was so drunk that he dropped his manuscript, which Tesman picked up. Leaving the book with Hedda, Tesman goes out to find Lovborg. Hedda is overcome by her jealousy and she puts the book into the fire.
"Do it Beautifully": Hedda Gabler
Hedda Gabler appears to be a domestic tragedy along the lines of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. But Ibsen's Hedda Gabler is a reaction against the mores and morals of bourgeois life. Hedda is a woman who loves the beauty of life. Before sending Lovborg off to commit suicide, she tells him to "do it beautifully." The real tragedy is that Hedda is unable to live in the real world--a world that is necessarily ordinary and ugly.
Hedda is a character that is too big for the stage. Ibsen bemoans the death of a world that can cope with true tragedy. Hedda's death can only be seen as petty, because her desires and hopes do not mesh with the everyday of the modern world.
With Hedda Gabler, Ibsen creates a brilliant character, who has a deep desire for beauty in life. But, Hedda cannot fit into the bourgeois world in which she has been born. Unlike Nora in A Doll's House, Hedda cannot leave the oppressive world in which she lives into a new, hopeful modernity. Ibsen's message is more pessimistic. Hedda kills herself, because she is unable to find beauty in the world as it is. The final words are left to Brack, who speaks for a world unable to understand a creature greater than itself. He says: "people don't do such things." Even in death, she doesn't fit in.
A powerful, brilliant and enthralling piece of drama, Hedda Gabler breaks out of the straight-jacked of the modern world. This play is a tragedy--written in a time when truly great tragedy is impossible. Hedda Gabler shows us the strictures and limits of modern life.