In Hedda Gabler, why is Hedda considered a female Hamlet?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The differences in character between Hedda Gabler and Hamlet, the Danish prince, are numerous and clearly evident to readers, but Ibsen's tragic heroine shares some interesting similarities with Shakespeare's tragic hero.

Like Hamlet, Hedda Gabler is trapped in circumstances not of her making. She was born into a society which imposes strict mores upon her because she is a woman. Her life and her choices are tremendously limited. She must marry so that a man will support her; she is expected to have children, although she abhors the idea. She must behave in a respectable manner, observing the many restrictions placed upon a woman's personal conduct. In order to endure this kind of life, Hedda resorts to lies and deception; she uses other people to achieve her desires and satisfy her needs. Hedda is a complex, tortured individual, focused solely upon her own anger and despair, as is Hamlet.

Hamlet's misery results from the circumstances forced upon him by his father's sudden death. When he suspects his father had been murdered, Hamlet becomes responsible for avenging his death. His society expects it of him. He is then trapped, torn between his duty as his father's son and his own religious principles. Like Hedda, he lies, deceives, and employs others in achieving his ends. Like Hedda, Hamlet becomes obsessed with the miserable conditions of his own life and struggles to find a way out of his crushing circumstances. His anger and despair are quite evident when he contemplates suicide.

Hamlet rejects the relief of ending his own life; instead he takes action to kill his father's murderer. Hedda does not reject suicide; she shoots herself to escape a life she can no longer endure. However, both characters finally do act decisively to end their torment.