Typical of his work, Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Hedda Gabler’ challenges social convention through deeply flawed and simultaneously, progressive characters. Eilert Loevborg is one of the more unconventional characters in the play, and as a man who has solely managed to capture the imagination of the eccentric Hedda Gabler herself it is important that he is played so that the audience too can feel mystified by, and drawn to, him. Although nineteenth century Norway was a patriarchal society, Loevborg was by no means safe from social expectations and judgement, and Loevborg should thus be presented as flawed but likeable. The same could not be said for the character of Hedda, but given Ibsen’s aims to challenge the audience’s views, it is necessary to still create a likable eccentric so as to make the audience question that which is ‘normal’ and acceptable.
Prospects were bleak for Loevborg, who had become somewhat washed up as a result of alcoholism and his general nonconformity, and yet there is still a small glimmer of hope in his words and actions. Following his entry, which in itself is similar to Hedda’s due to the length of discussion and the creation of mystery leading up to his arrival, Loevborg clearly acts as a foil to the men around him who are far more conventional. While the interaction between him, Tesman, and Brack is important because it will allow the audience to see him as the atypical man he is, his section with Hedda is what really reveals his true character as the removal of the men would prevent him from even contemplating acting in accordance to that which was normal and expected of a male of the time. Arguably, Loevborg is just as calculating but not as cold as Hedda, and thus can be presented as a softly spoken, thoughtful man. It is vital that Loevborg is seen as pleasant, as the audience, regardless of era, should look past what they would typically expect of a man and open their eyes to the possibility that men do not need to put on a front of dominance and suffocating masculinity to be likable.
To further prove this point, an actor playing Loevborg could move with a certain litheness reflecting the movement of Hedda herself, thus creating a sense of equality and connection. While the audience could take on a more Hedda-like view and see this gentleness as evidence that Loevborg is weak – or indeed, Hedda is strong – the movement will ultimately be reflective of Loevborg’s progressive mindset and hopeful attitude. The line “You didn’t love me, then. You just wanted knowledge.” is reflective once more of both Hedda and Loevborg; the lines are now blurred between Hedda’s undying need to understand and manipulate the world around her, and the intensely emotional nature (or now, the lack thereof) of her relationship with Loevborg. Said with great consideration and tentativeness, this line should leave the audience to interpret the extent to which Loevborg truly loves Hedda, or if he is merely interested in a detached way. Loevborg is a man of great duality, conforming neither to the intellectual field (his radical work is never accepted) or the traditionally masculine one, epitomized by Hedda’s father; the actor should thus perform with great subtlety, displaying hints of emotion but ultimately highlighting that they are forever masked by the expectations of masculinity. This level of duality will further open up debate, in terms of both Loevborg’s relationship with Hedda and also, his generally poor relationships with other men.
A huge contrast to this moment is seen in act three, where we really begin to see the darker side of both Hedda and Loevborg. While Loevborg had previously been cool and collected, he is now consumed by his emotion and thus, further confusing the audience’s opinions and expectations of him. Once more, the audience will see the ever-complex Loevborg in a different light, this time through the eyes of the society who shunned him and drove him to this point of desperation in the first place. Given their previous liking of Loevborg, created by his gentle and pleasant demeanor, the audience will be forced to battle their own morality and views,ultimately coming to the conclusion that no man or woman is so simple that they can be pinned down to just one defining characteristic. While Loevborg had previously talked of Hedda killing him with fondness and almost serenity as a result of his perceived connection to and warmth towards her, he will now say the line “You should have used it then” with the cold power and yet, detachment, of a man who has finally given up but still can’t quite let go of his deepest, darkest feelings of passion.
Loevborg is a deeply conflicted man, and even beyond the realm of literature and theatre is a universal symbol of the semi-ethereal presentation of people who do not conform to society. While he, a clearly intelligent man with a sharp mind, could have had it all in the patriarchy of the nineteenth century, it was ultimately the depth of his passion that betrayed and destroyed him, just as it did Hedda Gabler herself. Perhaps ultimately, brokenness does not discriminate and even those with the potential to do great things cannot escape from being swept away by society’s suffocating expectations and prying eyes.