One century after Henrik Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler, the play still remains to provoke deeply repressed emotions we, as human beings, tend to disregard; emotions of fantasy, terror and distress. Hedda Gabler, a very disturbed woman, remains a very perplexing, mysterious character. As the director, I will explore several ideals in terms of how the character of Hedda should be seen, how she should be taken on, embodied and brought to life. For instance, is Hedda an ardent protagonist battling social boundaries? Or is she the child-like, sixteen year old, mean girl? Could she be considered a rogue anti-hero, or is she a hero to feminism by breaking free? The mysteries of this play, while ardent, are captivating, mind-boggling and simply beautiful. Hedda Gabler is dark, with themes that are timeless, yet fascinating.
For this, we shall explore the theme of social boundaries. Hedda, trapped in a very boring marriage, has to find a way out. Of course, in true Hedda-style it must be of grandeur. Hedda is more like that of the characters and themes in the film American Beauty. While Hedda Gabler has very dark thoughts, everyone around her is consistently concerned with ‘keeping up appearances’ and being ‘normal’. Her freedom from the social boundaries that bind her in her everyday life, romanticizes this darkness about her. In the simple act of shooting herself, she claims ‘she does do, what people do not do’; therefore, she ultimately breaks free from the binding ties of her social boundaries.
In Act IV, Hedda’s social boundaries are extremely evident. She is someone fascinated with life and death. She also romanticizes suicide. Something ‘normal’ people find repulsive and insane. Hedda’s main goal throughout the entire play is to show she still has her own free will through mystery, pranks that are only funny to her, and a darkness that can be considered in a sense black comedy—yet, the ‘normal’ do not find it funny. Hedda is manipulative to the point that, during Act IV, she has a moment of clarity, and begins to see that the reason she is captive is due to her very own actions. She put herself in a loveless marriage, and she caused all of the mayhem ensuing around her. Hedda can even be to blame for casting herself into a situation surrounded with annoying people that she cannot technically be ‘rude’ to their faces, since they are ‘family’. Hedda, although dark and twisted, still holds a sense of nobility and respect on the exterior; this is most evident in Act IV. Here, she is talking with a sense of desperation about how romantic killing one’s self is and everyone around her is shocked. For instance, in the following lines:
- Tesman: Good heavens, Hedda! What are you saying?
- Judge Brack: Good God!--people don't do such things!
These are the moments in which the dramatic action leads to the possibility that Hedda may take her own life. Bound by the thoughts that Lovborg’s death was not romantic, that he did not use his own free will to die, that his death was miserable and pathetic in a way, Hedda finds that this is all her doing. Her resolve is in the realization that she has trapped herself. Lovborg did not die of his own free will, which may cause Hedda to lose her free will. There is a moment where Brack tells Hedda she must conceal Lovborg’s true death or dishonor may come to her. Here child-like mind plays a factor here—so proud of her father and his guns, she could not bear to see him disgraced. Here, Hedda is faced with losing her free will and surrendering to her social boundaries, losing her nobility, and the manipulative games she so dearly loves. Trapped in a corner, Hedda chooses the only way she knows to keep her grace and her free will, in the most romantic of exits.
Hedda should not be seen as the "Female Hamlet". While she is strong, her convictions cannot be that of a man, or that of Hamlet. Hedda is manipulative and confident. She is deeply rooted in herself, and quite possibly this is to avoid any social interaction with her husband. Hedda is absolutely nauseous at the thought of ‘being in love’ with George. In my mind, I have always thought of Hedda as a deeply twisted individual.
The actor must acknowledge that Hedda Gabbler is repressed. She is not emotionally unhappy or depressed. This is what she likes to inflict on others out of her boredom; being a truly cruel person amuses her. Yet, is she a character that is not as complex as some make her out to be? Honestly, she may just kill herself out of sheer boredom. For instance, in the very end, when Brack insists: "But good God! People don’t do such things!" Well, Hedda didshe ‘got the last laugh’. She exits with what she would consider grandeur.
However, she is very complex. She must embody several archetypes at once. Therefore, while exploring this grand side, you must also look at her child-like side. Here is a married woman, bored of her marriage and her husband as if they were mere toys. As a keepsake she holds her father’s guns very dear, and plays with them as if they were dolls in a doll house. She is very immature in the way that she plays with people’s emotions, as well. While some see this as clever, it’s not really. Hedda’s upper hand is with wit, not necessarily academic in nature. She also has a romantic nature, yet one that is very dark. She is cold and heartless, but cannot be so vindictive that she loses her sexuality. She must also hold vulnerability within her wicked ways. This is extremely important to remember as an actor. Hedda cannot lose her vulnerability. As an actor, you must be able to find a balance in Hedda. She holds the stature of a sixteen year old brat, in a beautiful woman’s body. Think Nancy from the television series Weeds. The character of Hedda should be realized as a real person with neurotic and deep-seeded emotional problems that result in her decision to end her life. The role of Hedda however, should not become modernized. She should remain classic, refined and grand.
Every movement Hedda makes should have meaning. She should only move when the scene drives her to; therefore, her movement is not hurried or rushed. Her movement is poignant and strategic, as if she were constantly playing a game of chess. She must not be too vulnerable or youthful in movement, and yet, not too mature. Hedda holds herself upright; imagine a string attached to your head going to the ceiling—as if being held by a puppet master. She stands tall. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable for her to stand, grounded at points in time, and not move at all.
Although, she is grand, there must also be slight moments of immaturity laced in her stature. Almost as if the puppet master has dropped her string for a brief moment. For instance, she could throw herself onto a chaise lounge out of boredom, then move slightly with excitement when Brack speaks of suicide in Act IV:
Was it in the breast?
Yes--as I told you.
Not in the temple?
In this scene Hedda is almost like a kid in a candy store in a few places. At first, in Act IV, she is very complex. She goes on an emotional rollercoaster of sorts. As she goes from being bored with conversation, to excitement when she hears of suicide, she then falls almost lovesick like a teenager in her romanticizing of suicide:
(In a clear voice)
At last a deed worth doing!
Good heavens, Hedda! What are you saying?
I say there is beauty in this.
When Hedda says, “At last a deed worth doing!” The direction is clear. She must say this so terribly clear that it genuinely terrifies Tessman. She must be completely rooted in her belief that suicide is actually beautiful.
Her dark romanticism shines in this next line. Hedda regains her maturity toward the end of the scene. She begins to evolve back to her malicious, cold nature, pulling her stature back to life, as if the string to her head has been pulled back up, by the puppet master, toward the ceiling. She must say this line without conviction, still and grounded.
Eilert Lovborg has himself made up his account with life. He has had the courage to do--the one right thing.
Remember, every movement Hedda makes should have meaning and she should be very complex. She should embody the daddy’s girl, the star-crossed lover, the mean girl at school, the joker, and the poet—dark and romantic.