skip to main content

National Theatre Blog

Some thoughts on Hedda Gabler

by Ivo van Hove

Ivo van Hove

It took me some time before I started to understand that hidden inside this demonic Hedda burnt an enormous need to live, a real urge. Her problem is that she doesn’t undertake anything to reach this goal. She locks herself up in her homely prison, hoping that a lot of people will visit the house and talk about the fascinating life outside.

The bourgeois heroes of Ibsen always have a dream of freedom, of total independence, but their dreams turn out to be pipedreams. There’s always a reason not to make the final choice: there is always family, marriage or society – the fear of public scandal. A human being is only a human being. That’s what Ibsen wants to show us. In his notebook Ibsen wrote about Hedda, ‘In this play I didn’t want to treat a problem. My intention was to depict human beings, their moods and their fate in a specific society under specific conditions.’ We shouldn’t forget Hedda Gabler was written ten years after A Doll’s House. Where Ibsen had an intense need to be a partisan to Nora [from A Doll’s House] and to make her decide to leave the man that treated her as a doll, making her dance the tarantella, Hedda Gabler is not a play in favour of women’s rights. The world of Hedda Gabler is a provincial, middle-class world where everybody has to live according to rules, because this way you have the best life there is. But this way life also becomes monotonous. It’s hard to deal with this. And if one can’t accept the rules one can only die.

Ibsen is not interested in writing suspenseful stories, he writes about crises of the soul. About people – in this case a woman – who want to escape smothering monotony. I think it is important to recognise that in order to get to the core of it, we have to understand that Hedda Gabler is a play, not a piece of realism.

Austrian author Hofmannsthal wrote about Ibsen: ‘A real piece of human art always has to be the expression of a cry…’ In Hedda we witness this cry. We see how she chooses the negative way, the destructive way to deal with this. In Hedda Gabler we witness the clock ticking, we know the inevitable will happen.

Hedda Gabler is not a drama about a middle-class society in the 19th century, nor a drama about the conflicts between man and woman, but an existentialist play; a search for the meaning of life, unsympathetic, seeking the truth.



Hedda Gabler begins previews on 5 December, with best availability from late December. Click here to visit the Hedda page.