The party reappears. Werle notes that Hialmar is studying an album of photographs. The other guests begin to banter, and Gregers urges his writhing friend to join in. Werle invites his son to a toast. When Gregers does not move, he invites Hialmar instead.
Suddenly Graberg, the Bookkeeper, appears at the baize door. He has been locked in and needs to cross the study to exit; he also has someone with him Werle gives them permission to cross. When Old Ekgal appears, he gasps in disgust. The party immediately turns silent and Hialmar pretends to ignore his father.
The first scenes of The Wild Duck largely concern themselves with the structure of social space both in terms of class and family line. The play begins from an eccentric space. Two servants appear outside a dinner party of privileged guests in the next room. The study serves as an intermediary space, or threshold, for the encounters across class (i.e. between the servants and the chamberlains) as well as between clans (i.e. the Werles and the Ekdals).
The action of the party involves a number of transgressions of social boundaries. Certainly the principle interloper at this party is Hialmar, the "thirteenth guest" who comes from outside the father's circle. Hialmar's awkwardness among the bantering chamberlains makes the fact that he is out-of- place clear. Notably, Hialmar has been invited to the banquet by another interloper of sorts—Gregers, the guest of honor, who will cross over to the Ekdals' household in the following act.
If Hialmar appears the social inferior among the chamberlains, his father and Werle's former partner, Old Ekdal, are taboo, objects barred from Werle's threshold. The accidental intrusion of this abject figure brings the party to an abrupt halt and elicits an exclamation of disgust from his old party; even Hialmar must deny his presence.
Ekdal's tabooed quality lies in the enigmatic origin of the play's action: the scandal of the woods that brought Werle to near-ruin and, upon Werle's apparent betrayal, led to Ekdal's arrest and disgrace. He forces the public return of a suppressed past. As we will see, the events that follow will come to figure as the legacy of this unspoken crime shared by the play's two patriarchs, as elaborations of an enigmatic past that demands resolution. Within the play's much-vaulted "realist" frame, the founding enigma assumes almost mythic proportions. As Ekdal will later observe, the resolution this past demands is vengeance, what he mysterious dubs the revenge of the woods. This vengeance will ultimately claim the life of a child who as easily belongs to either clan.