Hedda Gabler, daughter of an aristocratic general, has just returned to her villa in Kristiania (now Oslo) from her honeymoon. Her husband is Jørgen Tesman, an aspiring, young, reliable (but not brilliant) academic who has combined research with their honeymoon. It becomes clear in the course of the play that she has never loved him but has married him for reasons pertaining to the boring nature of her life. It is also suggested that she may be pregnant.
The reappearance of Tesman's academic rival, Ejlert Løvborg, throws their lives into disarray. Løvborg, a writer, is also a recovered 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), Løvborg shows signs of rehabilitation and has just completed a bestseller in the same field as Tesman.