Mrs. Elvsted is loathe to talk but Hedda insists, invoking their school-girl "friendship." Mrs. Elvsted reminds her that Hedda often pulled her hair at school. Hedda is not discouraged and eventually gets Mrs. Elvsted to admit that she has an unhappy relationship with her husband, the District Magistrate. Mrs. Elvsted had originally come to the household to be his governess but soon became his wife. The couple has now been married for five years, although he neglects her and is much older than she. Ejlert Lövborg has been coming to tutor the children for two or three years, and during this time she and Lövborg have become quite close. She claims to have reclaimed him from alcoholism, and she talks with animation about how she first began to aid him in his research. Yet Mrs. Elvsted feels very unsure of Ejlert and fears he will begin drinking again. Also, she says she fears he has another woman in his life, a woman he has spoken of only once. Apparently, he used to be involved with a woman who, when they parted, wanted to shoot him with pistols.
Mrs. Elvsted leaves and Judge Brack arrives. Hedda sees Mrs. Elvsted out while Brack and Tesman* converse alone. They discuss the new house, and Brack, who is helping finance the couple, says he wishes they could be more economical. Tesman emphasizes that the expensive new house is vital to Hedda's happiness. Brack also talks of the enormously positive reception Lövborg's new book is having. Hedda joins them. Tesman expresses concern over how Lövborg will make a living, while Hedda finds it amusing that Tesman is always thinking of how various people make their livings. Brack says that Ejlert has very good prospects and that Tesman may have to compete with him for his professorship. Tesman is seriously alarmed; Brack assures him that he should get the position anyway, but Hedda offers little sympathy. Brack leaves. Tesman tells Hedda that they will have to cut back their spending. Hedda says that at least she still has one thing to amuse her: her pistols. Tesman is mildly shocked and runs after her, begging her to leave the pistols alone.
It is clear that Hedda is smarter than Mrs. Elvsted and can easily manipulate her. She tricks her into divulging her secrets. Plainly, Hedda suspects Mrs. Elvsted of having an affair with Lövborg, but it is unclear why Hedda is so interested in him. She may have her own romantic aspirations, or she may be thinking of Tesman's career, though she later expresses little interest with Tesman's interest in "earning a living."
Mrs. Elvsted, meanwhile, is apparently a woman who goes from one man to the next, according to her need. She becomes one man's governess, then later becomes his wife. Now it seems that, suffering under her present husband's neglect, she has become attached to the tutor whom her first husband hired. Yet because we know that Ejlert has published a scholarly book and we see from her interactions with Hedda that Mrs. Elvsted is easily manipulated, we wonder if Ejlert, much smarter than Mrs. Elvsted, is leading her on.
When Tesman learns that he may not receive the position at the university, we gain insight into his personal weakness. At the very beginning of the play, Tesman comes off as a lovesick but otherwise dignified man; here we begin to see him as a coward. Ibsen is carefully revealing the flaws of all of his characters; by the end of the play, we will not be rooting for a protagonist so much as regretting a general tragedy.