It is evening in the same room at the Tesmans. The room is dark, the curtains on the patio door are drawn, and Hedda is pacing around wearing black. She moves to the inner room, out of sight on the left side, and we hear a few piano chords. (We’re meant to understand that Hedda’s piano hasn’t disappeared; it’s just been moved to the back corner of the inner room where we can’t see it.) Hedda returns to the front room and Berta passes through briefly, also wearing black, teary-eyed.
Enter Miss Tesman, wearing….black. She converses with Hedda: Miss Rina has passed away. (That explains all the black.) George, who was at his aunts’ house to see Rina before her death, hasn’t come home yet.
Hedda offers to help with funeral arrangements; Miss Tesman refuses on the grounds that Hedda is too good for such things, and then hints again at the baby thing.
George enters, distraught over his aunt’s recent death.
Miss Tesman comforts him with baby hints. Besides, she says, her main concern is getting some other invalid to come live in Rina’s room. She’s only happy when there’s someone to take care of, she says. Then she leaves.
George fills in Hedda on Eilert: he hasn’t been able to find him yet, but he’s heard that Eilert claimed to have torn his manuscript up.
Hedda says that yes, this is the case, and that no, she didn’t tell Eilert that she had it in her possession.
George is worried that Eilert might do something in desperation. He demands that Hedda immediately hand over the manuscript so he can return it at once.
Hedda confesses that she burned it up. George, far from feeling outraged, is beside himself with joy in the mistaken belief that Hedda loves him enough to want to hurt his rival.
Hedda starts clenching her fists, clearly suppressing some major rage. She mutters that she’ll "die from all this" (and we can be sure she’s talking about more than just the manuscript. That’s our own little baby hint for you…).
Then she hints to George that she’s pregnant.
George is ecstatic and completely oblivious to the fact that his wife is miserable over this. He can’t wait to tell Aunt Julie the news, and hopes that Hedda might even start calling him by his first name at some point soon.
Mrs. Elvsted enters; she’s heard bad news about Eilert, something about the hospital, but she’s not sure what.
Brack enters, for the purpose of clarification. He reveals that Eilert is dying and on the way to the hospital.
Hedda "guesses" that he killed himself and then "guesses" that it was with a pistol. (Clairvoyant, this one.) She is confused to find that he shot himself in the chest, NOT in the temple, but mutters to herself that "the chest is just as good."
When the others ask Hedda what the devil she’s talking about, she declares that "there is beauty" in Eilert’s death. No one buys this interpretation, understandably. She insists that it reflects courage on Eilert’s part, but Mrs. Elvsted argues that he must have been in a fit of delirium.
Thea is sure that he was upset at having destroyed his manuscript; Brack is notably surprised to hear that Eilert tore up his great work, and Tesman, knowing the truth, mutters uncomfortably.
Then Mrs. Elvsted declares that she has all the precursory notes which she and Eilert used while writing the book. George, guilty as all hell, declares that he will devote his life to re-writing Eilert’s book, along with Thea’s help. The duo retreats to the back room to begin work immediately.
This leaves Hedda alone with the Judge. She sits by the stove and explains what she meant earlier about there being beauty in Eilert’s suicide. "It’s liberating to know that there can actually still be a free and courageous action in this world," she says.
The Judge hints that Hedda had feelings for Eilert, but she neither confirms nor denies.
Then Brack smashes her beautiful illusion. Eilert didn’t shoot himself in the chest, he says. Also, he’s not dying; he’s already dead.
Apparently it went down like this: Eilert went back to Mademoiselle Diana’s, ranting about a lost child and demanding to have it back. Then the pistol he has in his breast pocket accidentally fired, shooting him in the gut and ending his life.
Hedda (essentially): "Are you joking!???"
No, in actuality she asks if everything she touches turns "ridiculous and vile." She can’t believe that Eilert has died in such a ludicrous and ignoble way.
Brack is just moving on to the subject of the pistol with which Eilert was killed when Thea and George come back in from the other room. They want to use Hedda’s writing desk to do their work.
Hedda lets them do so, but first removes a package concealed by sheet music. (Three guesses what this item is…)
While Thea and Tesman get back to work, Hedda whispers with Brack in the corner. She asks what he was getting at with the pistol business.
It must have been stolen, says Brack – from Hedda. But no one will know that it belongs to her if he keeps quiet.
Hedda is horrified at the prospect of her involvement in Eilert’s death becoming public knowledge. Brack knows she’s afraid of scandal, and he knows that if they were to trace the pistol to her, she would have to go to court and answer questions.
Hedda admits that the Judge now holds power over her. He responds that he will not abuse his privilege (but we’re thinking he says that in a Sexy Voice, which is not so reassuring from Mr. "I want to have a triangle with you and your husband").
Hedda declares that she could never bear to be in his power; Brack jokes that she will get used to it.
Then Hedda goes back to George and Thea, talking with her husband about the manuscript while running her hand through Mrs. Elvsted’s hair. She makes the connection – Mrs. Elvsted is sitting here helping her husband write the same way she used to with Eilert.
George tells Hedda (in a friendly if condescending way) that she is no help to him and Mrs. Elvsted, so she should just go hang out with Brack instead.
Hedda says she’s tired and retreats to the inner room, closing the curtains over the doorway behind her. She sits at her old piano, out of view, and plays a wildly upbeat dance melody. Since two people have just died, the rest of the party finds this inappropriate.
Hedda pokes her head out from between the curtains and says, "From now on I’ll be quiet."
Still at the writing desk in the front room, Tesman proposes that Mrs. Elvsted move in with Aunt Julie. That way he can go visit in the evenings and they can work on the manuscript there.
Hedda calls out from the inner room that she can hear them talking. She asks what she’s supposed to do to entertain herself in the evenings when George is off writing with Thea.
George suggests that Brack keep her company.
The Judge is all EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING!, to which Hedda yells out that he wants to be the only cock of the walk and shoots herself in the head with a pistol.
Tesman, hearing the shot, thinks his wife is just fooling around. He throws back the curtains and, shocked, announces that she’s put a bullet through her temple.
Brack, still sitting in his armchair, calls out, "People don’t do such things!"