Saturday, February 23, 2013

On "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen ****

What a strange play this one is. As with Ibsen's trilogy centering around social issues, this one also deals, to some extent, with societal propriety and morals. But it's not so didactic as those others, and while the main character, Hedda, wants so badly not to conform to societal expectations, her desires hardly fall in a moral line. For her, freedom is everything--and everything she feels she can't get. She longs for an ideal world, in fact pushes others toward it (to their own peril), which she fears doing anything that would shock others.

As the play opens, Hedda has just gotten married to a scholar whom she finds a bore and with whom she's just gone on an extensive six-month honeymoon (made up in part by her husband's continuing research). She is consumed with taste and money, and as such, she has gotten her husband to purchase a house way beyond his means (and this, mostly just for a joke to her). Men, by turn, are consumed by her, dropping by to be the third wheel, wanting her to commit unbecoming acts with them and shocked that she would marry whom she has.

One of these is another scholar who has lived the life of a libertine and has repented and now has written a couple of fantastic books. He also once dated Hedda, before he got on the straight and narrow. As such, she has been disappointed by him, and she aims to get him back into the ideal world of total freedom, where societal opinions matter not at all. In the end, she manages to corrupt him again, but perhaps not in the manner that she had hoped, and the last act of "courage" becomes her own.

The introduction noted that Hedda is a character without a play, struggling to find the role in which she is to act. It seems a good observation, for indeed, like many of Ibsen's women, she is a showy figure meant to amuse but lacking substantial place in a male-dominated world, and the results are not pleasant. You can read the play here.

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