Hedda Gabler


Henrik Ibsen

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Themes and Colors
Power and Influence Theme Icon
Provincialism and Patriarchy Theme Icon
Modern Society v. the Individual Theme Icon
Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hedda Gabler, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Theme Icon

Modern life, at least to Hedda’s sensitive mind, is full of routine ugliness. Because nothing is sacred, people become sentimental about personal trifles, as Tesman is about the slippers his Aunt Rina embroidered for him and which his Aunt Julle brings for him as a gift. “Oh, you can’t imagine how many memories they have for me,” Tesman exclaims. “But not for me, particularly,” Hedda responds. Then there is the ugliness of being married “everlastingly,” as Hedda is, to a solid man who nonetheless lacks the charisma necessary for the glories of politics. There is also the associated ugliness of being in the company of men like Judge Brack, who vulgarly sexualizes and tries to intellectually battle with Hedda. There is, moreover, the ugliness of debt, which threatens the Tesmans from the beginning of the play. It is no wonder, then, that Hedda defiantly longs for beauty, and not the trivial beauty of a new hat and parasol, but for tragic beauty—what she herself calls “an act of spontaneous courage… of unconditional beauty.”

But where is such beauty to be found? Hedda would respond that one does not find beauty—rather, one creates it. So it is that she sets about like a theater director to produce a tragic spectacle, full of pity and terror. She opportunistically casts Ejlert Lövborg at first as a vine-crowned god on the rise and then, failing that, as a tragic hero, the flawed man who is nonetheless superior in degree to other men. Then, with a ruthless commitment she has never had the courage to make before, Hedda inserts her will into his destiny (and it is here that Hedda’s accumulation of power at last finds a worthy purpose): she pressures him to drink because of his vulnerability to alcohol, she destroys the manuscript he loses that night, and then, in her crowning moment, Hedda gives Lövborg one of her father’s pistols so that he can kill himself, asking Lövborg to “let it happen…beautifully.” This suggests that Hedda consciously thinks of Lövborg’s death as a work of art. As further evidence of this, Hedda imagines Lövborg throughout the play as having vine leaves in his hair: an allusion to the Greek god Dionysus, who presides over intoxication and tragic insight. In the end, Hedda praises Lövborg’s “performance” of suicide, declaring, “I say that there is beauty in this deed.”

Judge Brack, however, feels “compelled to disabuse [Hedda] of a beautiful illusion”: Lövborg did not shoot himself intentionally, and, it would seem, he did not have the intention of committing suicide after leaving the Tesmans’ house for the last time. To Hedda, then this means that Lövborg’s death is not tragic at all, but rather farcical—that is, ludicrously futile and hollow—a mockery of her noble purpose. It is this disillusionment, and also the recognition that Judge Brack has control over her at last (through his knowledge that Hedda gave Lövborg the pistol he shot himself with), that compel Hedda to kill herself—dying what she perhaps thinks of as a beautiful death. We ourselves are left wondering, when the curtain falls, whether we have just witnessed a beautiful tragedy—the fall of the great Hedda Gabler—or instead something more farcical, hollow, and ironic.

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Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce appears in each act of Hedda Gabler. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce Quotes in Hedda Gabler

Below you will find the important quotes in Hedda Gabler related to the theme of Beauty, Tragedy, and Farce.
Act 1 Quotes

Tesman: What are you looking at, Hedda?

Hedda: I’m just looking at the leaves on the trees. They’re so yellowed. And so withered.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Jörgen Tesman (speaker)
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2 Quotes

When I think back to that time, wasn’t there something beautiful, something attractive…something courageous too, it seems to me…about this…this secret intimacy, this companionship that no one even dreamed of.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker)
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3 Quotes

I don’t want to look at sickness and death. I must be free of everything that’s ugly.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker)
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

I want you to know, Lövborg, what you’ve done to the book…. For the rest of my life it’ll be for me as though you killed a little child.

Related Characters: Mrs. Thea Elvsted (speaker)
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

Hedda: And what are you going to do, then?

Lövborg: Nothing. Just put an end to it all. The sooner the better.

Hedda: Ejlert Lövborg…listen to me…. Couldn’t you let it happen… beautifully?

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg (speaker)
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

Now I’m burning your child, Thea! With your curly hair! Your child and Ejlert Lövborg’s. I’m burning…burning your child.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg, Mrs. Thea Elvsted
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4 Quotes

Hedda: Oh, it’ll kill me…it’ll kill me, all this!

Tesman: All what, Hedda? Eh?

Hedda: All this…this farce…Jörgen.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Jörgen Tesman (speaker)
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

Hedda: He was shot in the breast?

Brack: Yes…as I said.

Hedda: Not in the temple?

Brack: In the breast, Mrs. Tesman.

Hedda: Well…the breast is good, too.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

It’s a liberation to know that an act of spontaneous courage is yet possible in this world. An act that has something of unconditional beauty.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Ejlert Lövborg
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

Everything I touch seems destined to turn into something mean and farcical.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker)
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

Hedda: And so I am in your power, Mr. Brack. From now on I am at your mercy.

Brack: Dearest Hedda…believe me…I shall not abuse the position.

Hedda: In your power, all the same. Subject to your will and your demands. No longer free! No! That’s a thought that I’ll never endure! Never.

Related Characters: Hedda Gabler (speaker), Judge Brack (speaker)
Related Symbols: General Gabler’s Pistols
Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis: