Hedda Gabler is both a play and a fictional character created by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. First published in 1890 and premiered the following year in Germany to negative reviews, the play Hedda Gabler has subsequently gained recognition as a classic of realism, nineteenth century theater, and world drama. A 1902 production was a major sensation on Broadway starring Minnie Maddern Fiske and following its initial limited run was revived with the actress the following year.
The character of Hedda is one of the great dramatic roles in theater, the "female Hamlet," and some portrayals have been very controversial. Depending on the interpretation, Hedda may be portrayed as an idealistic heroine fighting society, a victim of circumstance, a prototypical feminist, or a manipulative villain.
Hedda's actual name in the play is Hedda Tesman; Gabler is her maiden name. About the title, Ibsen wrote: "My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda as a personality is to be regarded rather as her father's daughter than her husband's wife." 
The action takes place in a villa in Kristiania (now Oslo). Hedda Gabler, daughter of an impoverished General, has just returned from her honeymoon with Jørgen Tesman, an aspiring young academic — reliable but uninteresting. It becomes clear in the course of the play that she has never loved him, that she married him for economic security, and she fears she may be pregnant. The reappearance of her former lover, Ejlert Løvborg, throws their lives into disarray. Løvborg, a writer, is also an alcoholic who has wasted his talent until now. Thanks to a relationship with Hedda's old schoolmate, Thea Elvsted (who has left her husband for him), he shows signs of rehabilitation, and has just completed what he considers to be his masterpiece. This means he now poses a threat to Tesman, as a competitor for the university professorship which Tesman had believed would be his. It became clear earlier that the couple are financially overstretched and Tesman now tells Hedda that he will not be able to afford to have her do a great deal of entertaining or to support her in a lavish lifestyle.
Hedda, apparently jealous of Mrs. Elvsted's influence over Ejlert, hopes to come between them. Tesman, returning home from a party, finds the manuscript of Ejlert Løvborg's great work, which the latter has lost while drunk. When Hedda next sees Løvborg, he confesses to her, despairingly, that he has lost the manuscript. Instead of telling him that the manuscript has been found, Hedda encourages him to commit suicide, giving him a pistol. She then burns the manuscript. She tells her husband she has destroyed it to secure their future, so that he, not Løvborg, will become a professor.
When the news comes that Løvborg has indeed killed himself, Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted are determined to try to reconstruct his book from what they already know. Hedda is shocked to discover, from the sinister Judge Brack, that Ejlert's death, in a brothel, was messy and probably accidental. Worse, Brack knows where the pistol came from. This means that he has power over her, which he will use to insinuate himself into the household (there is a strong implication that he will try to seduce Hedda). Leaving the others, she goes into another room and shoots herself.
The play was first performed in Munich, Germany, at the Königliches Residenz-Theater on 31 January 1891, with Clara Heese as Hedda. The first British performance was at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, on April 20 the same year, starring Elizabeth Robins, who directed it with Marion Lea, who played Thea. Robins also played Hedda in the first US production, which opened on March 30, 1898 at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York.
Many popular actresses have played the role of Hedda: they include Eleanora Duse, Alla Nazimova, Asta Nielsen, Eva Le Gallienne, Anne Meacham, Ingrid Bergman, Jill Bennett, Janet Suzman, Diana Rigg, Isabelle Huppert, Kate Burton, Kelly McGillis, Fiona Shaw, Annette Bening, Judy Davis, and Cate Blanchett for which she won the 2005 Helpmann Award (Australia) for Best Female Actor in a Play. In 2005, a production by Richard Eyre, starring Eve Best, at the Almeida Theatre in London has been well-received, and later transferred for an 11½ week run in the West End. The play was staged at Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theater starring actress Martha Plimpton, who is credited with bringing renewed modern interest to the play. British playwright John Osborne wrote an adaptation in 1972, and in 1991 famed playwright Judith Thompson presented an inspired adaptation of the play at the Shaw Festival. Thompson adapted the play a second time in 2005 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, Canada, setting the first half of the play in the nineteenth century, and the second half during the present day. Early in 2006, the play gained critical success at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and at the Liverpool Playhouse, directed by Matthew Lloyd with Gillian Kearney in the lead role.
The play has been filmed a number of times, from silent movies onwards, and in many languages. In 1975, Glenda Jackson was nominated for an Academy Award as leading actress for her role in a British film adaptation, simply titled Hedda. A more recent American film version (2004) relocated the story to a community of young academics in Washington State.
Tony-award winning playwright Jeff Whitty wrote a play titled The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, which was commissioned by South Coast Repertory. The play is populated by fictional characters including Medea and follows Hedda's adventures after the end of her play.