To what extent does Ibsens Hedda Gabler update the conventions of Greek tragedy that can be found in Euripides Medea?
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To what extent does Ibsen's 'Hedda Gabler' update the conventions of Greek tragedy that can be found in Euripides' 'Medea'? 'But now comes the funny part, Hedda. Or should I really say the tragic part!'1 From the outset, Henrik Ibsen's realist play 'Hedda Gabler' perverts and mutates the conventions of Greek tragedy which can be found in Euripides' drama, 'Medea'. But to what extent does it do this? It can be seen, at least from the surface, 'Hedda Gabler' is re imagining Greek tragedy to the greatest of extents, insofar as, in the quotation above, the characters themselves are unsure as to what genre this play, which presents so many Aristotelian conventions, such as the idea of a clear exposition and temporal intensity, found throughout Medea, is representing. In this essay, I will show how Ibsen has subtly and successfully manipulated Euripides' classic to his own ends, and how, in my opinion, he updates the conventions found therein to a great extent in order to further his own desires of dramatic impact, increase the importance of the character of Eilert Loevborg, and to make the bathetic death of Hedda Gabler allow the audience to truly question the nature of the play. When answering this question it is vital to consider the elements of farce that make the genre of this text questionable.
The climatic and cathartic death of Hedda Gabler herself is a crucial point in the play to examine in order to fully answer the question. It holds many links to the Greek tragedy that it echoes, as, much like any action during a Greek tragedy, it occurs off-stage. However, there is much more connecting her death with the traditions and conformations of Aristotelian theatre than simply the location; it is necessary to examine the cause, and the farcical final line of the play. Once again the theme of farce is very much present, we see how Brack exclaims, rather than focusing on the horror of the event, is instead shocked at the lack of decorum, 'But, good God! People don't do such things!'7Brack considers her death a social lapse, inconsiderate even, rather than a horrific and tragic revelation about the grip of patriarchy. Ibsen has chosen to comment on the rule of patriarchy in this fashion by perverting the original purpose of the off-stage action, which was either for practical purposes, or because, to the Greek audience, the consequences of such actions were far more important than the depictions of the acts themselves. Medea herself can be heard from off-stage before her appearance, 'Oh misery!
To conclude, throughout this essay I have attempted to show and explain how Ibsen, in his play Hedda Gabler, has updated and twisted the conventions of Greek tragedy that can be found within Euripides' classic tragedy Medea. I have examined how the death of Hedda, in particular the location and reaction to it, utilises and manipulates convention to create drama and enable the audience to draw their own conclusion from the action. The nature of the Thespian Loevborg, and how Hedda lives through him, shows how Medea's character has been twisted and changed, that Hedda is no longer seeking revenge and equality, in the perhaps two dimensional Euripidean world that Medea inhabits, but also control and success. I believe that there are many ways in which Ibsen has updated the conventions of Greek tragedy, and that it is the use of farce throughout that presents this text as a truly modernised Greek tragedy. 1 Ibsen, Henrick, Hedda Gabler, Methuen Drama Student Editions, 2002 Methuen Publishing Ltd. P. 76. 2 Hedda Gabler, p. 99 3 Euripides, Medea, Cambridge University Press 1999, l.840 4 Hedda Gabler, p. 45 5 Medea l.298 6 Hedda Gabler, p. 37 7 Hedda Gabler, p. 104 8 Medea, l. 88 9 Hedda Gabler, p. 64 10 Medea, l. 398 11 Hedda Gabler p. 95 12 Hedda Gabler p. 99 C. Wild
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