This analysis of Peer Gynt was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 34-6.
Hedda Gabler is one of the finest examples of dramatic technique in existence. As a study in construction it repays many readings and much careful application. The play deals with the character of a woman out of harmony with her surroundings. All the skill of the dramatist is brought to bear upon a complete revelation of her past life, her thoughts, and the resultant acts. Everything in the play contributes to the psychological portrait of Hedda Gabler.
The exposition is so deftly contrived that every word counts; in fact, the words "I don't believe they are stirring" arouse curiosity, give some past history, and afford some indication as to the character of the speaker. The first two pages are so full of meaning that the reader -- and certainly the auditor -- must pay the strictest attention, or else lose important information. Up to George's entrance, we learn enough about him so that no time need be lost learning his further characteristics from himself. The presence of George varies the scene a little, and by the time the audience has scene him, it is ready for more information. Judge Brack is mentioned, then a little further action is introduced; farther on there is more exposition -- telling us of the relations between Hedda and Miss Tesman. Little by little the details are piled up, until we know nearly all that is needful for a full comprehension of the remainder of the play. Then Hedda makes her appearance.
Trace the steps in the introduction, and notice how the past gradually rises up and takes shape as background; how the characters are introduced, how each important detail is insisted upon, preparatory to the action that is to take place. The "curtain" of the first act closes the exposition, and the development begins.
The second act starts and advances the plot up to the climax. The climax is that point at which the action of the play reaches its culmination, the last stage in its development, from which the action falls, or is unraveled. In Henry Arthur Jones's The Liars, Lady Jessica says to Falkner (Act III), "Tell my husband the truth," and Falkner does so. That is the climax of the play; up to that point, the fortunes of most of the people depended upon a network of lies, and when these are discovered and the truth learned, tension is released, and the only thing to wait for is the explanation. The rest of the play shows merely the result of the revelation. In Hedda Gabler, the climax is Hedda's burning of the "child," Lövborg's MS,; that deed is the culminating point of those events, or crisis, in her life with which Ibsen, either in the play or before it, is concerned. From that point onward, we see only effects; never again does the action rise to so high a pitch. Hedda's death, even, is only the logical outcome of what has gone before, and that was prepared for, foreshadowed, in the first and succeeding acts.
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