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Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler

by Henrik Ibsen

Hedda Gabler Act II Summary

  • Act II takes place in the same furnished room at the Tesmans’ house. The piano is gone and in its place is a small writing desk. Many of the flowers from Act I are gone. Hedda is alone, by the open glass door, loading a revolver.
  • She looks down from the balcony and calls hello to Judge Brack. Then she shoots her pistol down at him.
  • He calls her out of her mind, and she jokingly asks if she’s hit him.
  • Once he’s in the drawing room with Hedda, the Judge takes the pistol from her (good call) and tells her not to play with fire, essentially. "What in heaven’s name do you want me to do with myself?" she counters.
  • When Hedda explains that Tesman isn’t home, the Judge remarks that, had he known this, he would have come by sooner. (Audience: Oooooooh.)
  • Hedda replies that he would have been left to entertain himself, as she would have been in her bedroom getting dressed.
  • The Judge asks if there isn’t a crack in her bedroom door.
  • And the flirting banter continues, mostly on the part of the Judge, who clearly wants Hedda.
  • She talks a bit about her honeymoon with George and how boring it was with him doing research all the time. She hates being around the same person every day. (Which makes us wonder, what exactly did she think marriage was?) She also shudders when Brack uses the word "love."
  • So the Judge asks what we’re all wondering: why in God’s name did she marry George?
  • Quite simply, her time was up, she says. She had to get married, and George was an acceptable choice. (Does this sound a bit like buying a used car or what?)
  • The Judge gets her more of the story: she thought, like most did, that George was going to be famous someday.
  • Plus, she adds, he kept begging to take care of her and buy her everything she ever wanted. That’s sort of hard to say "no" to.
  • Now we move into some sketchy territory. The Judge talks about a "triangle" arrangement he would like to have with Hedda and George, where he can come and go as a "friend"…
  • Sure, says Hedda, she wouldn’t be against having a buddy to chat with. (She doesn’t explicitly acknowledge any sexual implications, but we all know they’re there.)
  • Before things can get too bawdy, George enters carrying a stack of books. Hedda and the Judge secretly mock him and give each other a knowing smile.
  • Tesman pulls Eilert’s new book out from the pile. He’s already skimmed it, he says, and it’s phenomenal, better than anything Eilert has ever written before.
  • On his way out, George remarks that Aunt Julie won’t be coming by this evening. Hedda remarks that it must be because of the hat incident, but George explains that Aunt Rina has taken a turn for the worse. (We also manage to get BABY HINT #5 in there somewhere.)
  • Tesman exits, leaving Hedda alone with the Judge, who wants to know what she meant about a "hat" incident.
  • Hedda explains – with a smirk – that she pretended Aunt Julie’s new hat belonged to the maid. She can’t help but do these things, she explains – the urges just come over her suddenly.
  • Brack explains that it’s because she isn’t happy. Why should she be, she asks? Because she has the home she’s always wanted, he answers.
  • Then Hedda tells the truth. Returning home from a date with George one evening, she couldn’t think of any topic of conversation (because he was sooo boring). So when they passed this house, she made an offhand comment about wanting to live there. She couldn’t care less about the house. She doesn’t even think it’s all that nice. And it smells like flowers, which she finds morbid.
  • Brack thinks she should find a hobby, pursue a goal that would entertain her. Hedda mentions getting Tesman to go into politics, but it’s obvious to both her and the Judge that he would never have the skills for such a profession.
  • The problem, continues the Judge, is that Hedda has never been seriously "stirred" by anything. But there may be a new, big responsibility coming to her soon… (BABY HINT # – oh we’re not even counting anymore).
  • Hedda doesn’t get it. At first. When she does, she makes it clear that she has no interest in being a mother. Then she pouts for a bit.
  • Tesman enters and they all sit around waiting for Eilert. Hedda says that if he doesn’t arrive soon then George and the Judge can go on to their party and she’ll stay and wait for Eilert.
  • Tesman reminds her that it isn’t exactly appropriate for a married woman and a single guy to sit alone in a house together un-chaperoned. But Hedda assures him that Mrs. Elvsted is coming over, so she won't be alone with the man.
  • And here comes Eilert. He’s "lean" and "gaunt," the same age as Tesman but appearing older and "run-down." He’s wearing a new black suit and holding a top hat.
  • Everyone says hello and conversation jumps to Eilert’s new book, which has been very successful.
  • Eilert says that he wrote it that way – to be successful commercially, to avoid controversy. It’s his NEXT book that’s really going to knock everyone’s socks off. Rather than a history of civilization, it makes predictions about the future.
  • He pulls out a manuscript, explains that he dictated it (which is why it isn’t his handwriting), and says that it is his only copy. (Uh-oh.)
  • Judge Brack tries to convince Eilert to come along to his men only party. Eilert hesitates, and Hedda jumps in with the suggestion that Eilert stay with her. She quickly adds that Mrs. Elvsted is coming over, too, which seals the deal.
  • Before Tesman and the Judge head out, they discuss the professorship in the fall. Eilert says that, while he is going to give a lecture series, he is NOT going to compete for the position Tesman wants. "I only want to win in the eyes of the world," he says.
  • Tesman tries to share his joy at this news with Hedda; she says to leave her out of it.
  • Hedda suggests that the men have a glass of "punch" before they go (we’re talking about alcohol here). Eilert refuses – by now we get the picture that he used to be an alcoholic and has since recovered. (That’s what everyone was talking about when referring to his "past sins.")
  • So Brack and George move to the inner room at the back of the stage to have their punch, and Hedda is left alone with Eilert. (Though the audience can still see George and Brack drinking in the back room, it’s clear that they are too far away to hear the whispered conversation now transpiring.)
  • As a screen for close conversation, Hedda begins showing Eilert an album of pictures from her honeymoon with George.
  • Eilert isn’t looking at the photos so much as staring at Hedda. He says softly that he can never get used to calling her "Hedda Tesman" instead of "Hedda Gabler" like he used to (implying when they were dating/hanging out in a non-official capacity).
  • Then he asks her how a woman like her could possibly throw herself away by marrying a guy like George Tesman. (Well, there goes tact out the window.)
  • Before Hedda can answer, Tesman comes back out to the front room; she goes back to loudly narrating the photo album. George asks if his wife wants a glass of punch; she does, and he retreats to the inner room again to get it.
  • Eilert continues to call Hedda by her first name, which she claims offends her. (It’s improper; he should call her "Mrs. Tesman" by social standards.) He makes an offhand comment about her love for George, at which point she admits that she doesn’t love her husband. Still, she’s not planning on cheating on him, either.
  • Tesman comes back with Hedda’s drink and a second one, for Mrs. Elvsted when she arrives. He leaves again for the back room, after talking about how much fun it is to wait on his wife.
  • Alone with Hedda again, Eilert wants to know if she ever loved him (Eilert, that is).
  • Hedda responds without directly answering – she thought of them as "companions." (Did you notice that this is the same word she used to describe Mrs. Elvsted’s relationship with Eilert?) After all, she says, he used to be so open with her.
  • Eilert reminisces with her: he used to sit with her across the room from her father and pretend to read a newspaper when really he was conversing secretly with Hedda (much as they are doing right now with the photo album). Or rather, he was engaging in heavy personal disclosure while she was milking him for information.
  • He wonders what it is about Hedda that gives her such power over him, that makes him confess his innermost thoughts. Wasn’t it love that made her so interested?
  • No, she says. What interested her was the glimpse into a world she was "forbidden to know anything about."
  • It turns out that Hedda broke off the relationship when Eilert starting getting too serious on her. (This may be more sexual subtext; again, see Shmoop’s discussion of "Sex" in Hedda Gabler.) Eilert, clenching his fists in rage, asks why she didn’t shoot him as she had promised.
  • Because she’s a coward, says Hedda. She asks if Eilert has told Mrs. Elvsted; no, he says, because she’s "too stupid to understand anything of that sort."
  • Hedda leans in to "confess" something: not shooting Eilert wasn’t the only cowardly thing she did that night…
  • Eilert gets it, or thinks he does. He excitedly declares that Hedda and he share a "hunger for life," but she pulls back and tells him to be quiet.
  • (An explanatory note, because this is confusing: When Hedda says "that night," she’s talking about the evening she broke it off with Eilert and then threatened to shoot him. Because she comes from high society, Hedda has a constant fear of scandal. Eilert, who we know used to be an alcoholic, was a dangerous person to associate with. As they spent more and more time together, Hedda was afraid that they were getting too close and tried to nip the problem in the bud. Her cowardice comes through in two actions: not shooting Eilert, and breaking up with Eilert in the first place. Or refusing to have sex with him, if you choose to read it that way. Eilert suddenly understands what scared Hedda so much before – the fact that they are both free spirits. Because "free spirit" doesn’t go with "refined society," she got scared.)
  • Then Mrs. Elvsted arrives. Hedda explains that the men are going to a drinking party, and Mrs. Elvsted immediately (and nervously) asks if Eilert is going too. He’s not, says Hedda.
  • Eilert begins speaking to Hedda about he and Mrs. Elvsted’s "companionship." "We trust each other completely," he says; he’s basically rubbing this in Hedda’s face.
  • Mrs. Elvsted contributes her own two cents– she is Eilert’s muse, she says. Eilert adds that Thea is a very courageous woman. (Ouch.)
  • Then Hedda offers them both a drink. When Eilert refuses (for like, the eighth time this evening), she begins taunting him. She wants to know if she has enough power over him to make him drink. Also, he’s a wuss for not drinking, she says. A REAL man, like the Judge, would be all about the liquor.
  • When Eilert again refuses a drink, Hedda turns to Mrs. Elvsted and tells her she was all worked up this morning for no reason.
  • That makes Eilert rather upset; he accuses Mrs. Elvsted of not trusting him. Then he downs the two glasses of punch on the table and asks Thea pointedly if her husband sent her to spy on him and fetch him back.
  • As Tesman and George come back over, Eilert declares that he will join them at the party after all. They arrange for him to come back at 10 p.m., in order to escort Mrs. Elvsted back home.
  • Mrs. Elvsted is clearly worried about her recovering alcoholic pseudo-boyfriend going off to a drinking party. She tries (poorly) to hide her feelings.
  • Hedda wishes she could go to the party with them. Too bad she’s a woman and it’s the 1890s.
  • After the men are gone, Hedda turns to Mrs. Elvsted. She anticipates Eilert coming back "a free man," all "fiery" with "vine leaves in his hair."
  • Mrs. Elvsted suspects Hedda’s got something planned.
  • Yes, Hedda admits. She wants to have control over a human being, because she never has before.
  • Then she threatens to burn off all Mrs. Elvsted’s hair, and they both go in to supper.

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