Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler as a Naturalistic Social Drama

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Written in 1890, Hedda Gabler is a naturalistic social drama written by Henrik Ibsen. The play is recognised as a classic of realism nineteenth century theatre and a world drama since its first production in January 1891. Hedda Gabler follows main female protagonist Hedda Tesman (once Gabler), a manipulative housewife with destructive relationships with her husband Jörgen, old lover Ejlert Lövborg, Aunt in Law and many others. However the audience doesn’t see her manipulation until Lövborg become a threat to her financially due to his success; after this she persuades him to commit suicide in order to assist Jörgen’s work success. Judge, Mr Brack, reveals his knowledge of Lövborg’s death and informs her of his knowledge of the ownership of the pistol used and the consequences if she is caught. Due to her loss in power, Hedda shoots herself, however until her husband discovers her body it is thought that she uses the gun for leisure.

The first production of Hedda Gabler was 31st January 1891 at the Kongliches Residenztheater in Munich. Ibsen was displeased with Clara Heese’s interpretation of the role Hedda as he found it to be declamatory. However, despite this, following the production Ibsen gained an international following of the play. This consisted of various translations and productions in other countries soon after to the present day. Hedda Gabler has become a popular production, winning two Laurence Olivier Awards: in 1992 and Matthew Lloyd’s production played throughout Liverpool and Leeds in 2006.

In Joseph Wood Krutch’s Article ‘Modernism in Modern Drana: A Definition and an Estimate’ he makes a connection between Hedda Gabler and Freud. According to Krutch’s analysis Gabler is neither logical nor insane: “her aims and motives have a secret personal logic of their own”. Therefore Krutch concludes that Hedda is one of the first neurotic female characters in literature. (Joseph Wood Krutch, 1953)

Gender is a major theme that runs throughout Ibsen’s plays; including A Dolls House and Hedda Gabler. In Ibsen’s resolution of Lady from the Sea audiences notice that the whether female characters in the play are classed as humanity has been forgotten. “Critics that read the play “supernaturally” are similar to how men treat women in these type of plays; they are invisible” (Elinor Fuchs). Hedda Gabler originally takes place in Norway late 1800s where women were restricted t ownership of their lives. Therefore in my adaptation at The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool I will modernise the play to the 1950s. I decided this time period as women’s roles within society changed after soldiers came back from World War II. Most women became wives and mothers as men returned and took over the jobs, apart from women who remained teachers and nurses. Females who desired a higher education were encouraged to take specific course in order to prepare them for home life such as interior decoration and family finance (Nina Stoneham, 2008).

The theme of manipulation also occurs throughout the play; Hedda is known as a manipulative woman. Machinations become a game to Hedda as a way of escaping her boredom; since she can’t seek power within society she seeks it through controlling others (Patricia Meyer Spacks, 1962). This will be evident during the scene between Lövborg and Mrs Elvsted in Act Two. Once Mrs Elvsted enters Hedda will immediately walk towards her whilst the audience hear her breathe rapidly; similar to a prey fearing its predator. Hedda will them take Mrs Elvsted under her arm and crush her, tightening her grip if she tries to escape her embrace. Mrs Elvsted claims she is frightened of Hedda. One way Hedda will use this to manipulate her is the tone of voice she uses to address her; she will speak as though Mrs Elvsted is a child: “you come over here like a good girl”. All three characters will sit on a small sofa together for Mrs Elvsted to be uncomfortable; there is no escape. Hedda will remain monotonous and not break eye contact with the audience; as if she is disengaged. At the end of Act Two where Mrs Elvsted fears Hedda a dark spotlight will light up the characters where the audience can see nothing but red and black. I decided this to symbolise danger for Mrs Elvsted and fear of the unknown; Hedda will hold her with great force and explain how she would like to burn off her hair.

The character of Hedda is an attractive yet manipulative female, a “femme fatale”: “She is radiant, violent – borderline psychotic” (Kate Kellaway, 2010). Her costume will consist of a black silk nightdress with a silk red robe in order to enhance her beauty, which Tesman comments on frequently during the play. A characteristic of a femme fatale is using her phenomenal physique as a form of persuasion. Therefore when Hedda finds out that Tesman is in possession of Lövborg’s manuscript, in Act Three, she will slowly approach him untying her robe and revealing her body in order to persuade him to drop the manuscript onto the table. When this happens she will immediately snatch it and hold it close to her chest.

A pistol will also be visible inside Hedda’s robe pocket to illustrate her destructive persona she inflicts upon Lövborg and herself, a characteristic of a femme fatale type character. For example when she pulls out the gun and gives it to Lövborg with the line “Well……you use it now.” Hedda will also use her robe open in order to use her body as a form of persuasion. This will also remind Lövborg of what he is missing; their previous relationship, and a long pause will be used in order for Lövborg to consider his actions. Lövborg will also step forward and then suddenly back as if he was going to hold her like he desires to. A small yet noticeable tint of red lighting will also be used which the audience will need to interpret the meaning themselves; whether it is to symbolize the lust Hedda is communicating or the danger Lövborg is now in due to the pistol in his possession. In order to stereotypically communicate a rebel like character, Hedda will always be seen smoking a cigarette. However this will also be a statement against ownership; due to society women were unable to gain ownership of their lives yet Hedda will obtain ownership over her habit of smoking.

The play will be staged in a 1950s styled house consisting of a kitchen and a living room. Within this set there will be significant decoration to illustrate character’s emotion and relationships. For example: there will be several vases of dead flowers in order to communicate Hedda’s dead relationship with Tesman; she married unhappily. There will also be a record player along with 1950s styled furniture in order to represent the different time period the play will be set in. The furniture will be extravagant to communicate the couple’s wealth. However in order to represent the marriage between Hedda and Tesman the decoration will be dully coloured; illustrating the mundane marriage Hedda is trapped in.

During the opening scene the audience will be introduced to Hedda’s lifestyle and her cold relationships, particularly her husband and his family. Firstly a dull light will be used to light up the stage, giving an insight to Hedda’s thoughts; miserable in a marriage she finds mundane. Proxemics and the tone of Hedda’s voice will be used to subtly inform the audience of the relationships between characters; Miss Tesman and Jörgen will maintain a close proxemics with each other whilst Hedda will keep a great distance (Tim O’Sullivan, John Harltey, Danny Saunders, Martin Montgomery and John Fiske, 1994). However Hedda will decrease the distance between her and Jörgen when she asks him to draw the curtains. She will pull him into her embrace and force him to look at her physique as an attempt of persuasion, communicating her femme fatale style character, which will immediately stop once the job is completed. Hedda will maintain a stern and abrupt voice during the scene. This will be evident when Miss Tesman offers to help which will illustrate her desire for control over others. Hedda’s attitude when this isn’t successful will be shown when Miss Tesman refuses to take a seat. This will be shown will a long and cold stare from Hedda until she expresses her problem with the maid, as an attempt to assert her authority.

I desire that this will have an impact on the audience and cause the audience to feel sympathy for Hedda, especially when Tesman regards to her as “filled out”. This particular line is a hint to the audience that Hedda could be pregnant. From the representation of the marriage from the mis-en-scene and Hedda’s performance I intend to influence the audience into feeling sympathy for the character and not just view her as a manipulative character; she is even more trapped into the marriage due to this.

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