Aristocratic Hedda Gabler returns from her honeymoon with her new husband, the pedantic scholar George Tesman, already bored and discontented. She finds his devotion to his aunts and his plodding ways unbearably bourgeois.
Envious of an old classmate, Thea Elvsted, who has repudiated society’s conventions by leaving her husband, Hedda remains locked in the grand house Tesman has purchased for her but cannot afford. Thea has reformed and aided another scholar, Eilert Lovborg, influencing him to stop drinking and begin writing again. In their youth, Lovborg and Hedda had been intimate friends; now, jealous of Thea’s influence over another, Hedda lures Lovborg back to liquor and sends him out to a party where he loses the only copy of his new manuscript. Tesman recovers it and delivers it to Hedda for safekeeping but she burns the masterpiece. When Lovborg returns, despairing the loss of his greatest work, Hedda lends him one of her pistols, entreating him to ‘…do it beautifully.’
It is not long before word of Lovborg’s death reaches the Tesman household, the events of which seem precisely as Hedda wished. The merciless Judge Brack, aware of Hedda’s involvement in Lovborg’s death, attempts to blackmail her, revealing ugly truths that she is unable to face. Unwilling to endure Brack’s control or public scandal, Hedda makes the ultimate choice.