Engrossing, comic, and tightly constructed, the play is an exploration of willful ignorance, career anxiety, and the manipulations of the soul. Hedda and her new husband, the recently graduated PhD student, Jorgen Tesmen, have just returned home after a luxuriating five-month honeymoon abroad. They move in to what Tesmen assumes is his bride’s dream house, and prepare themselves for Tesmen’s interview at a local university where he is all but presumed to land a position that has just opened up. But we soon learn that there is more to their marriage than first meets the eye: Hedda is deeply unsatisfied with life and looks for ways to shake herself free of her melancholic, housewife boredom.
The situation takes a turn when the couple finds out that a rival of Tesmen’s, a ne’er do well named Ejlert Lovborg, has returned to town and has just published a well-received book in the same area of scholarship as Tesmen’s. Now there is competition for the role at the university, and Hedda, driven by an unconscionable desire to cause harm to those around her - and her own complicated past with this rival - sets in motion a plan to stop Lovborg. Her wayward accomplice is a local judge named Brack, who is manipulating the situation from behind the scenes. Ultimately, the plan that Hedda launches backfires against her and she must now face the life that cannot be hers. With a nod to that famous Chekhovian maxim, she makes her ultimate decision.
Reading The Pillars of the Community and The Wild Duck alongside Hedda Gabler reinforced what are obviously a number of Ibsen’s key themes. Pillars looks at the length a man in power will go to maintain his status in and influence over society. Reading this play, about an industrialist who manipulates those around him to gain access to a treasured piece of land, reminds us that there is a thin line between exploiting opportunities and exploiting people. The Wild Duck, in turn, conjures more Chekhovian references, with a death scene at the end that echoes the same, powerful conclusion to Hedda Gabler. All three plays reveal a writer obsessed with the derangement that comes when intense desires we don’t even understand feel just beyond our reach.