Pretty Little Liars Extra Credit: Hedda Gabler

One of our favorite parts of writing Rosewood Confidential was diving into the literary & film references on PLL. First up was It Happened One Night, and now it’s time for Hedda Gabler …

In “Blood Is the New Black,” Ella’s English class is studying Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler. First published way back in 1890 in Norway, on the surface it seems like it may have little to do with present-day Rosewood, Pennsylvania. But that’s the trick with this play: while things appear to be rosy on the surface, just beneath there’s a world of tension, battles for control, and adept manipulation stemming from the woman at the center of the story, Hedda.

The play begins with Hedda and her new husband, Jorgen Tesman, returning from their lengthly (and boring, if you ask Hedda) honeymoon. Rich, beautiful, and headstrong Hedda has married ‘below’ her class by choosing Tesman over her other suitors, and she is not happy about her decision. She’s distant with her husband, she deftly lashes out at Tesman’s sweet old aunt — making her feel poor and ashamed with just one small comment in a way that would make Alison DiLaurentis proud — and yet Hedda isn’t totally unsympathetic. You can feel how trapped she is, how out of her own control her life has become as she moved from her father’s house into her husband’s.

The plot thickens when Mrs. Elvsted shows up, upset that Lovborg (former drunk and current literary sensation) is missing — alone in a city full of temptations. Hedda, a former love of Lovborg, is jealous of Mrs. Elvsted’s relationship with him, and sees Lovborg’s success as a threat to her husband’s potential. Without spoiling the dramatic climax of the play — which is shocking, even when you know what’s coming — Hedda uses her powers of manipulation to trap them all, herself included.

So how does this 122-year-old play relate to Pretty Little Liars? Just like our four heroines, Hedda’s main objective is gaining some kind of control over her life again, and just when she seems to have it in her grasp, a more powerful force foils her plans. Though with less honorable intentions, Hedda uses the same strategies as the PLL girls when they’re on the hunt for clues: she lies, she manipulates, she alters the truth just enough to get to what she needs to know. There’s also a lot of Hedda’s character in both Melissa Hastings and Alison — beautiful, smart, and powerful young women, trapped in a smaller life than they’d imagined for themselves, and all capable of great cruelty.

The secrets Hedda unearths and what she chooses to do with that information is ultimately destructive — to those around her, those she once loved, and to herself. Will the girls’ quest for some kind of agency in their own lives lead them to the same fate?

Want us to do a little PLL homework? Make a request in the comments!

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