“Often, members of the audience will identify or sympathise with one character in a play over others. By what means have playwrights in your study managed to draw or undermine such responses to characters from the audience.” Henrik Ibsen’s 1890 play ‘Hedda Gabler’ is a tragic tale of a young woman’s struggle in finding her place in life. Hedda Gabler (Hedda Tesman) is trapped in a life with a loveless marriage, absolute boredom and a complete lack of friends.
For this we sympathise with her for she has no real hope in life or anything to aspire to in the entire world. Ibsen includes crucial moments in the play where the audience realises Hedda’s extremely unfortunate life and therefore sympathises with her. He does this by the means of using direct speech, stage directions and detailed setting. All of which display entrapment for Hedda. Through these various means, Ibsen displays the entrapment that Hedda finds herself in, which, in turn draws a sympathetic response from the audience.Order now
The audience’s first impression of Hedda’s life with Tesman is a poor one, summoning sympathetic feelings towards Hedda. Not long after Hedda appears in the play, Tesman receives his old slippers in a package from Aunt Julle. He is overjoyed with the sight of them and excitedly shows them to Hedda to which she replies ‘Oh yes. I remember, you often spoke of them while we were away.’ If Tesman speaks of old slippers on his honeymoon often enough for even Hedda to remember shows the audience what an absolute bore Tesman is. Traditionally, honeymoons are meant to be full of love and romance.
Hedda and Jorgen’s honeymoon however included searching through library and apparent constant mentions of an old pair of slippers. Even in this early stage of the play, the audience already feels sorry for Hedda as she is now trapped in a clearly loveless and incredibly uninspiring marriage. Ibsen uses direct speech to display the utter boredom and entrapment caused by Hedda’s marriage, invoking a sympathetic reaction from the audience
Ibsen displays Hedda’s entrapment by the use of direct speech, showing the audience that even a character can realise the hopelessness of their situation, invoking an empathetic feeling toward Hedda. We can see Hedda’s true desperation for power and control of her own life so she can reflect power on others when she says ‘I want, for once in my life, to have power over a human being’s fate’. Hedda’s clear anxiety of not being able to make a difference to someone as well herself is shown here. She worries that she has no purpose in life, that she won’t be able to change someone’s fate or ever be able to control her own. Hedda’s direct speech raises a concern from the audience for her as we understand her emotional pain. She is obviously desperate and just wants to belong somewhere where she can make a difference to someone.
The use of direct speech allows the audience to see what the character is really thinking and get a deeper insight of their emotions, intentions and personality. Here, we can identify her situation of entrapment in her life, making it easy for the audience to be sympathetic towards her. When Hedda is sitting with Lovborg and Mrs. Elvsted, she wants Lovborg to have a glass of punch, which he blatantly refuses. She replies with ‘so I, poor thing, have no power over you at all?’
This direct speech is possibly ridiculing her ability to empower someone as she can not even persuade a man to drink a glass of punch. Her situation is ridiculous. No matter what in the world she does, she has no influence on anyone whatsoever. For this, the audience feels sorry for her as her desperation to have an influence on someone continues to be depleted to the extent where she cannot even get someone to have a drink. Clearly, direct speech is an effective way to reach the hearts of an audience.
The setting used by Ibsen largely contributes to the audiences understanding of Hedda’s unquestionable hopelessness and entrapment. In the beginning of Act 3, before any dialogue, a description of a rather sinister setting is given. The ‘curtains across the middle doorway are closed’ as are the curtains in front of the glass door. We can see here that she is almost literally being cut off from the outside world. Through glass, come light, warmth and nourishment. Here, the curtains are shut, blocking these things out from reaching Hedda. This clearly displays the entrapment of Hedda as she is seemingly oblivious of the outside world and all the good that comes from it.
She is stuck in her dark house, with little hope of over finding the light, warmth and nourishment she needs. For this, we feel very sorry for her. In the fireplace there is a measly fire ‘which is now nearly out’. Fire, in this sense is representing hope for Hedda. But seeing as the fire is nearly out shows that Hedda’s bad luck won’t turn into good any time soon. The audience hypothesises that there will be much more drama to come.
The audience is compelled to feel sorry for Hedda as her troubles are obviously not over. Being idealistic, the audience wants her to get a lucky break and to overcome all her troubles, but the quickly disappearing fire shatters any hope of that. For her quickly disappearing hope and her evident entrapment invokes a very sympathetic feeling from the audience towards Hedda. Ibsen’s setting for the start of Act 3 achieves a magnitude of compassion and sympathy towards Hedda as the audience realises her unfortunate situation in life is clearly going to get worse.
Ibsen’s stage directions play a very important part in the play, especially for the events in the final act that confirm our sympathies toward Hedda. In the final and tense moments of the play, Hedda, while in another room to everyone else, shoots herself in the temple, killing her instantly. This is given by the stage direction ‘A shot is heard within.’ It could be said that this was Hedda’s final act of desperation to achieve a ‘free and fearless action’ and to escape her inevitable fate of entrapment in her seemingly pointless life. All she ever wanted was to be free which meant that she ‘could even live at last. It is sad and incredibly ironic to the audience to think that committing suicide is the only way to achieve this. This short, simple yet important stage direction reveals Hedda’s utter desperation for freedom and how she is willing to do anything to achieve it, compelling the audience to sympathise with her
It can be seen that Ibsen uses direct speech, detailed settings and stage directions in such a way that it compels the audience to sympathise with Hedda. Direct speech shows primarily the entrapment she so obviously feels and it unmistakably illustrates her complete lack of power, which she despises. It also shows the complete boredom she feels when around Tesman, who pays no attention to what she really wants. The setting description displays her entrapment using symbols of fading hope. The stage direction ultimately shows her sheer desperation to escape this deadly entrapment and how she will do anything to become free. Henrik Ibsen has used all of these elements to successfully draw out a sympathetic response from the audience towards Hedda Gabler.