Study Guide

Hedda Gabler Act III

By Henrik Ibsen

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  • Act III opens in the same room at the Tesmans’ house. (Ibsen must have been on a set budget. Either that, or this is social commentary. See "Setting" and find out.) The doorway to the inner room at the back of the stage is covered by curtains. The light is low, as the curtains are also drawn over the glass doors on the left of the stage. The fire is nearly burnt out. Hedda, still dressed, is passed out on the sofa sleeping, and Mrs. Elvsted is sitting awake, still waiting for Eilert to come back and escort her home.
  • Berta enters with a letter for George left by Aunt Julie’s maid.
  • Berta not-so-comfortingly tells Mrs. Elvsted that it’s daybreak, no men have come back, and one could hardly have expected anything less from a drunkard like Eilert.
  • Hedda wakes up, having slept "quite well." She doesn’t seem concerned at all. She guesses that the men got drunk and stayed over at Brack’s place, and tells Thea to go lie down in the bedroom, promising to wake her if anyone arrives.
  • Mrs. Elvsted exits. Hedda goes to the glass door leading to the patio and opens the curtains, allowing the light in. Then she tells Berta to build up the fire, but takes over the job herself when the doorbell rings.
  • George enters. He asks if Hedda was worried about him.
  • She was not.
  • Tesman explains that Eilert read some of his new manuscript aloud at the party, and it was absolutely amazing. George admits to being a bit jealous of his colleague.
  • He explains that, despite what every one has said, Eilert isn’t able to be reformed. Hedda thinks this means Eilert has more courage, but Tesman interprets it as Eilert being a drunk. (Less poetical; more realistic.) He adds that the night ended in a sort of orgy.
  • Hedda, apparently unperturbed by the orgy comment, asks her husband if there were vine leaves in Eilert’s hair. No, says George, but he did give a long speech about the woman who inspired his work (that would be Mrs. Elvsted, though Eilert never explicitly named his muse).
  • Then George takes something out of his pocket – Eilert’s manuscript. It seems that Eilert dropped it in the street in the midst of all his drunken debauchery. George hasn’t told anyone about finding it, not even Eilert, as he figures his friend would be embarrassed about his carelessness.
  • Hedda pointedly asks if the work could ever be re-written, and at hearing "probably not" insists that George give it to her – you know, so she can harmlessly look it over for a bit. He (wisely) hesitates.
  • George then opens the letter from Aunt Julie; he is alarmed to discover that Aunt Rina is dying. While he readies himself to rush over, Hedda takes advantage of the situation to procure the manuscript.
  • Meanwhile Brack has arrived; George rushes out and Hedda is left to entertain the Judge.
  • Hedda gets right to pumping the Judge for information about last night’s activities. He divulges everything: Eilert got drunk and ended up at Mademoiselle Diana’s "parlors." This Diana lady is a red-headed "singer" – sound familiar?
  • The Judge continues his narrative. When they first arrived, Diana welcomed Eilert back with open arms. But there was a row at the end of the night, when he accused her friends of having stolen something from him.
  • It got so bad that the police showed up, and a very drunk and irate Eilert hit one of the officers and was arrested.
  • Brack has heard this all second hand, from the police – he wasn’t there himself.
  • Hedda is again disappointed to hear that Eilert had no vine leaves in his hair.
  • Then Brack gets a bit crafty. Eilert is part of a scandal now, and no "decent" families will allow him in their houses anymore. He advises that Hedda and George do the same thing.
  • Hedda cuts right through the b.s. – Brack doesn’t want any competition for the third leg of the triangle he’s so keen on forming with Hedda and her husband. The Judge admits that this is true.
  • Hedda declares that, when he’s in a tight corner, the Judge is a dangerous man. She’s glad he doesn’t have any kind of hold over her… (uh-oh.)
  • They make with the witty banter for a few more lines and the Judge exits. Now alone, Hedda pulls out Eilert’s manuscript and begins flipping through it. When she hears voices approaching, she locks it in her writing desk.
  • Eilert busts into the room, apologizing for his lateness and wondering what Hedda has heard about last night. She admits to hearing about his inappropriate escapades.
  • Mrs. Elvsted hears Eilert and comes bursting out of the bedroom. She doesn’t want to hear anything about last night – she’s just happy he’s back now – but Eilert insists on talking to her: they need to separate from each other, he says to Thea, because he has "no more use" for her.
  • Mrs. Elvsted, not exactly the pillar of feminist pride, pleads with him not to leave her and insists she be with him when the new book is published. Eilert agrees that it is "their" book, together, and then confesses: he tore the manuscript into a thousand pieces.
  • Sure, why not, Eilert continues – he tore his life up now that he’s gone back to drinking, so why not destroy his life’s work as well?
  • Mrs. Elvsted is horrified – it seems to her as though he has killed their child. She leaves.
  • Eilert turns to Hedda and tries to explain his feelings. He knows that last night won’t mark the end of his debauchery, but he’s also not that into the wild life anymore. Mrs. Elvsted broke that in him, he says.
  • Hedda is in awe that a woman like Thea could have such power over a man like Eilert. Then she calls him heartless for having treated Mrs. Elvsted that way.
  • This prompts Eilert to confess – he didn’t actually destroy the manuscript. He lost it, which he thinks is worse than tearing it up. He makes Hedda promise not to tell Thea.
  • Anyway, that’s why he’s ending things with Thea. He’s lost their "child" – her "pure soul" – and he can’t expect a future with her now. Now he just wants to "put an end to it all."
  • Hedda gets that he’s talking about suicide and jumps at the opportunity to entertain herself. She provides Eilert with one of her pistols (which she keeps stored in the drawer of her writing desk) and tells him to do it "beautifully," even though she "doesn’t believe in vine leaves anymore."
  • (Shmoopers – if you’re confused here, check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for a discussion of this vine leaves business.)
  • Eilert takes the pistol and leaves, with a final "Good-bye, Hedda Gabler" marking his exit.
  • After he leaves, Hedda takes out the hidden manuscript and promptly burns it in the fireplace, while maniacally ranting: "Now I’m burning your child, Thea!" over and over.

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