Known as the father of modern drama, Henrik Ibsen is considered one of the world’s greatest playwrights. His ability to turn revolutionary philosophical ideas into brilliant social dramas inspired the likes of George Bernard Shaw, while his drive to manifest the truths of the human heart is mirrored in the plays of Anton Chekhov. Ibsen’s genius lies in his startling ability to define his characters and their struggles, which epitomise the inner conflicts that beset all human beings. A chilling play of manipulation and obsession, “Hedda Gabler” features one of the stage’s most unforgettable modern heroines.
I’ve read A Doll’s House and seen it performed a couple of times, but until now I hadn’t even really thought about Hedda Gabler. I’ve owned a bind up of three of his plays for quite a while, as they came out in the Penguin Orange Classics edition a few years ago, but I just never really feel like reading plays.
I then got my university reading list, which includes this book in the first few weeks of classes, so in a panic that I will not get the damn books finished in time, I thought I’d read this. This is totally contradictory to my usual, laid back approach to reading lists, I’ve actually got a fair chunk of my work done these holidays… less stress in the next few months for me, for once in my life!
Hedda Gabler has been critically acclaimed as a somewhat proto-feminist play, which is deeply rooted in realism. I can’t say that I think it’s as good as A Doll’s House, but that is probably influenced by the fact that I haven’t seen it actually performed. Reading a play is wildly different to watching it performed, and though I can read plays and visualise them quite well, I’d much, much rather see it actually being played out as it is intended.
I think the reason I failed to connect to Hedda Gabler as much as I do to A Doll’s House is because Hedda is far less easy to like, and for me, understand than Nora. She’s perpetually bored, stubborn, rude and a bit vindictive. I also relate more to Nora’s situation, as I’ve also been at the point where I’ve had to leave a partner because I wasn’t okay with being treated like I wasn’t capable of being more than they perceived my worth to be. I cannot agree with Hedda’s actions, because I really don’t relate to the mindset that brought them on.
I will say that I wasn’t expecting the ending at all. For once, I’d kept myself in the dark about the plot line, so the ending totally took me by surprise. I can definitely see why it shocked the hell out of 19th Century audiences! It shocked me!
I think that comparing the two plays isn’t an awful idea- they both run on similar themes, enslavement, entrapment, women as property only dancing to the tune of the men around them. Neither woman can bear to remain dancing any longer. They both choose to take their fate in their own hands, albeit in different ways, but arguably equally shocking. Considering the period in which they were made, both plays are amazingly modern and still remain relevant.
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