Hedda and the Performing Self
This chapter reads Hedda Gabler as self-conscious actor and director of her own drama. It builds on the groundbreaking work of Gay Gibson Cima on Elizabeth Robins’s depiction of Hedda in 1891. Cima traced Robins’s development of an “autistic gesture” in acting the role of Hedda, whereby she would pause and gaze directly out at the audience. This created a tension between private mental state and public action, which in turn was part of a wider movement by actresses like Eleonora Duse and Janet Achurch to carve out a specific interior female space on stage through their gestures, expressions, and readings of roles. At the same time as Ibsen’s plays were premiering, suffrage theatre was beginning to highlight the related theme of how women were always performing a role and following a script someone else had written. Hedda is perhaps Ibsen’s strongest representation of women’s self-suppression and adoption of another’s identity.
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