By the time she returns from her honeymoon, Hedda Tesman (maiden name Gabler) is already weary of her marriage to George Tesman. She dreads the thought of the boring, bourgeois life awaiting her at home in Norway. When she receives word that Eilert Lövborg has come to town, her manipulative tendencies kick into high gear: Eilert is both an old flame and George's main professional rival. In her subsequent dealings with Eilert, Mrs. Elvsted, and the rest, Hedda attempts to assert control over others while aggressively defending her own independence.
George Tesman is a young bookish man who has recently received his doctorate and is hoping for a job as a professor. Good-natured but somewhat absentminded, he is enthusiastic to a fault when it comes to medieval history. He views Eilert Lövborg as a rival but, unlike his wife Hedda Gabler, is unwilling to treat him as an enemy. George's preoccupation with his research colors all his relationships within the play. His one-track mindedness is amusing to Miss Juliana Tesman and deeply unattractive to Hedda, but his zeal for collecting and arranging things is an inspiration to Mrs. Elvsted.
Mrs. Thea Elvsted is a sweet-natured and somewhat naïve woman in her early twenties. Formerly a schoolmate of Hedda Gabler's, she flees to Christiania when she can no longer endure her dull and loveless marriage to Sheriff Elvsted. It's clear from the start that Hedda is made of sterner stuff than Mrs. Elvsted, whom she proceeds to mold and manipulate from Act 1 onward. For her part, Mrs. Elvsted seems to be completely oblivious to Hedda's schemes, viewing her as a genuine friend. This naïveté is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows Mrs. Elvsted to remain something of an idealist despite the cynical company she keeps.
Apart from Hedda Gabler herself, Judge Brack is perhaps the most worldly and cynical of the play's characters. He is a suave middle-aged man whose mere presence serves to remind Hedda of the good old days, when money was plentiful and suitors flocked to see her. Judge Brack's connection to the local courts makes him well-informed but also dangerous. After Eilert Lövborg's death, he attempts to blackmail Hedda but is thwarted by the same willfulness he initially finds so attractive in her.
Eilert Lövborg is a brilliant scholar whose alcoholism has, up until recently, threatened to ruin his career and thwart his love life. He gets sober with Mrs. Elvsted's help but is tempted into a relapse by Hedda Gabler. Eilert's pride and joy is his recently finished book manuscript, which he views as his finest work to date. He misplaces the manuscript during a night of drunken carousing, and its loss—combined with his relapse—drives him to a state of suicidal despair.
Miss Juliana Tesman
Miss Juliana Tesman is George Tesman's elderly aunt and adoptive parent; she is also the primary caregiver for her chronically ill sister Rina, who is never seen onstage. To the compassionate "Aunt Julia," family is evidently of paramount importance. Hedda Gabler treats Miss Tesman with high-handed contempt, but she either ignores this behavior or fails to notice it altogether. In fact, despite Hedda's unwelcoming attitude, Miss Tesman seems perfectly at ease in her nephew's home—so much so that she promises to visit the young couple every day.