Explain the relationship triangle that appears in the beginning of act 2 of Hedda Gabler.
The relationship triangle that appears in the beginning of act 2 of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is among Hedda, Tesman, and Judge Brack. Hedda and Tesman form one leg of the triangle as husband and wife. Tesman and Brack compose the second leg of the triangle as friends, but with an interesting power dynamic, as Brack has helped Tesman financially and logistically. Brack and Hedda form the third leg of the relationship triangle as flirtatious “friends” outside of marriage.
At the beginning of Hedda Gabler’s second act, Judge Brack arrives to see George Tesman, only to discover that Tesman is not home, but his bored wife Hedda is. Through a revealing and flirtatious conversation, playwright Ibsen develops a “triangular friendship” among Brack, Hedda, and Tesman.
Judge Brack is an imposing man of influence and action. In act 1, Ibsen establishes that Brack has already done a lot for Tesman’s family: he assisted Tesman’s Aunt Julie secure “favorable terms” on a mortgage, helped Tesman with finances involved in purchasing a fine home, and delivers news to Tesman and Hedda about Tesman’s impending professorial post.
One leg of the triangular relationship is between Brack and Tesman. Although friends, Brack is more powerful and socially astute than the bookish Tesman. After Tesman first introduces Brack to Hedda, their interaction is flirtatious with a cover of gentility. Brack bows to her, delighted. Hedda giggles back and says, "It's nice to have a look at you by daylight, Judge!"
BRACK: So you find me—altered?
HEDDA: A little younger, I think.
BRACK: Thank you so much.
TESMAN: But what do you think of Hedda—eh? Doesn't she look flourishing? She has actually—
HEDDA: Oh, do leave me alone. You haven't thanked Judge Brack for all the trouble he has taken—
BRACK: Oh, nonsense—it was a pleasure to me—
HEDDA: Yes, you are a friend indeed.
Later, this term “friend” becomes much more loaded with meaning.
After Hedda leaves the room, Brack gauges Tesman’s relationship with (and awareness of) her by asking, "Well,—is your wife tolerably satisfied—"
TESMAN: Yes, we can't thank you sufficiently. Of course she talks of a little re-arrangement here and there; and one or two things are still wanting.
Tesman reveals his obliviousness to Hedda’s true feelings and Brack spots a crack in their relationship. When Brack reveals that Tesman’s appointment to the professor position might be delayed, Tesman laments
I'm a married man! We have married on the strength of these prospects, Hedda and I; and run deep into debt; and borrowed money from Aunt Julia too. Good heavens, they had as good as promised me the appointment. Eh?
The second leg of the triangular relationship is between Tesman and Hedda. He needed a wife and Hedda married Tesman not out of love, but out of the security and social expectations. When Tesman tells her that he learned from Brack that his appointment may be delayed, he admits to Hedda
there is no denying—it was adventurous to go and marry and set up house upon mere expectations.
HEDDA: Perhaps you are right there.
TESMAN: Well—at all events, we have our delightful home, Hedda! Fancy, the home we both dreamed of—the home we were in love with, I may almost say. Eh?
HEDDA: [Rising slowly and wearily.] It was part of our compact that we were to go into society—to keep open house.
Hedda trapped herself in a traditional marriage with all its trappings of appearance. She later admits this to Brack.
The third leg of the triangular relationship is between Hedda and Brack. At the beginning of act 2, Brack arrives to visit Tesman only to discover Tesman is not home...but Hedda is, alone. Hedda tells Brack that Tesman "rushed off to his aunt's directly after lunch; he didn't expect you so early."
BRACK: H'm—how stupid of me not to have thought of that!
HEDDA: [Turning her head to look at him.] Why stupid?
BRACK: Because if I had thought of it I should have come a little—earlier.
HEDDA: [Crossing the room.] Then you would have found no one to receive you; for I have been in my room changing my dress ever since lunch.
BRACK: And is there no sort of little chink that we could hold a parley through?
HEDDA: You have forgotten to arrange one.
BRACK: That was another piece of stupidity.
HEDDA: Well, we must just settle down here—and wait. Tesman is not likely to be back for some time yet.
BRACK: Never mind; I shall not be impatient.
The “chink” could have been for a verbal conversation or “parley” or for Brack to have glimpsed Hedda undressing for him. She does not seem embarrassed by Brack’s forwardness but rises to his bait and invites him to sit as they wait “some time” for Tesman’s return. Brack will not be “impatient” but savor their time along, telling her to “Come, let us have a cosy little chat, Mrs. Hedda.” Hedda feels like it has been “a whole eternity” since they last spoke (“our last confidential talk? Our last tete-a-tete?” as described by Brack).
It is during this “chat” that Hedda confesses to her deep unhappiness in her marriage with Tesman. Despite Tesman’s glowing letters to Brack during their honeymoon, she was thoroughly bored by Tesman and his narrow interests. Telling her, “Not a day passed but I have wished that you were home again,” Brack spots an opportunity to connect with Hedda. He know that Hedda and Tesman are married—and respects marriage as an institution—but asks her for a
pleasant and intimate interior, where I can make myself useful in every way, and am free to come and go as—as a trusted friend—Frankly—of the mistress first of all; but of course of the master too, in the second place. Such a triangular friendship—if I may call it so—is really a great convenience for all the parties, let me tell you.
Presenting marriage through the metaphor of an unstoppable train, Hedda admits she is a passenger who will not “jump out” because of social appearance; then she considers and accepts Brack’s proposal to be a “third person...to jump in and join the couple.” Brack would be Hedda’s “trusted, sympathetic friend” and entertaining conversationalist, very unlike Tesman. Hedda and Brack agree to form this final leg of the triangular relationship.
Hedda: [With an audible sigh.] Yes, that would be a relief indeed.
BRACK: [Hears the front door open, and glances in that direction.] The triangle is completed.
HEDDA: [Half aloud.] And on goes the train.
After Tesman returns, Brack and Hedda share “a confidential smile.”
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