This is the situation when the play begins. There is inherent conflict in Hedda’s dissatisfaction, cold demeanor, and callous cruelty towards Aunt Julie, but these are merely appetizers for what is to come in the next stage. Just wait.
This is a messy situation we’ve got here. What’s great is that all these conflicts are wrapped around Eilert – this makes for some tension-filled scenes, since the stakes are high for everything he says and does.
The lost manuscript really raises the stakes on everything, from Eilert’s relationship with Thea to his professional rivalry with George to his lingering feelings (maybe?) for Hedda. The drunken debauchery on the night of the stag party reminds us of Hedda’s deadly fear of scandal, a threat always waiting in the wings.
Until now, Hedda’s discontent and inner rage have been bubbling threateningly beneath the surface of that cool, pale exterior. Now it comes raging forward, in a nearly demonic moment (tell us that scene didn’t give you the creeps). If you check out our discussion of fire in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," you’ll see that we’ve actually been building towards a fire-related climax from the get-go. And Ibsen doesn’t disappoint.
When George returns to his house and demands the manuscript back from Hedda, he’s worried that Eilert might do something to himself in distress. And, quite frankly, so are we.
You guys know the drill – the denouement is the stage where stuff gets explained. In this case, it gets explained twice. We THINK we’re getting the dish when the Judge tells Hedda, George, and Thea what happened, but we don’t hear the real deal until Brack gets Hedda alone in the corner.
There are a lot of interpretations you can apply to the ending of Hedda Gabler, and we discuss a fair number of them in "What’s Up With the Ending?"