Tesman* enters, dressed for the party. Hedda suggests that if, upon his arrival, Lövborg decides not to join the men for the party, he can dine with her. Tesman thinks this would be improper, since Aunt Julle will not be there. Ejlert Lövborg arrives and discusses his new book. He says that it's not very good because he was just trying to please everyone with a general history of the past, but that another book, the manuscript of which he has with him, will certainly be worth reading. The new book contains a prediction for the future. Ejlert also states that he won't compete with Tesman for a position at the university, as he only wants public acknowledgement of his reform and success. Tesman is relieved and exclaims to Hedda that nothing now stands in their way, but Hedda resents her inclusion in his excitement.
At this point, Hedda suggests that the men have some punch before leaving, but Ejlert refuses, not wanting to drink alcohol. Thus, Brack and Tesman go to an adjoining room to enjoy their punch, while Hedda entertains Ejlert. He immediately expresses dismay at having to refer to Hedda as "Hedda Tesman" rather than "Hedda Gabler." They begin a discussion about their past, and when Tesman reenters from the other room, they pretend to be talking about pictures of the mountains that Tesman gathered on their honeymoon. Ejlert correctly guesses that Hedda does not love Tesman and asks whether she ever loved Ejlert. She admits that it was thrilling to share a special intimacy with him unknown to anyone else. They reminisce about how Ejlert would confess his drinking problems to Hedda. When their relationship as "comrades" became too serious, Hedda broke off their relationship, even threatening to shoot Ejlert with her father's pistols. Yet she was too afraid of scandal, and it was at this point that Ejlert went to the Elvsteds'. Ejlert says he has confessed nothing to Mrs. Elvsted because she is too stupid to understand. Hedda then says she has something to confess to Ejlert. Ejlert guesses that it might be that they share a passion for life, but Hedda warns him not to get carried away.
At that moment, Mrs. Elvsted enters. She greets the men in the other room. Hedda makes her sit beside her, so Hedda is in the middle. Ejlert asks Hedda to admire Mrs. Elvsted, and he states that she inspires him to keep his life on the right track. Hedda, however, insinuates that some might think that he felt insecure and did not have enough confidence in himself. Mrs. Elvsted is alarmed when Hedda mentions Brack's amusement at Ejlert's hesitance to drink the punch, but Ejlert seems resolved and declares he doesn't care what anyone thinks. Hedda tells Mrs. Elvsted that she apparently had no reason to be so anxious when she visited that morning. Ejlert is surprised and asks what Mrs. Elvsted could have been worried about. Ejlert is angered by Mrs. Elvsted's presumption that he might go on a drinking binge now that he is in town; in defiance, he quickly downs a drink and pours himself another. Mrs. Elvsted is horrified, and Ejlert asks whether it was a conspiracy between her and her husband that Mrs. Elvsted come to town to spy on him. He decides to go to the party with Judge Brack and Tesman, and he takes the manuscript of his upcoming book with him, to show parts of it to Tesman at the party. He promises to return later to escort Mrs. Elvsted home. The three men leave. Mrs. Elvsted is very worried, but Hedda insists that she stay and wait for Ejlert's return. She promises that he will return with wine leaves in his hair.
We learn that the woman who Mrs. Elvsted was worried about, the woman from Ejlert's past who threatened him with pistols, was Hedda. This was suggested at the end of Act 1, when Hedda goes to play with her pistols. Ibsen often hints at the true nature of a relationship before making it clear.
Hedda clearly keeps Ejlert in a fairly high regard, yet she does not refrain from manipulating him, causing him to drink after years of abstinence. She seems to enjoy semi-adulterous relationships with men not because she admires the men but because she wants to control them. A key method in controlling Brack and Ejlert, apparently, is to make them think that she wants to keep them in her confidence without letting Tesman know: when Tesman nears the couch where she and Ejlert are talking, she quickly changes the subject.
At the same time, one often wonders at Hedda's sanity. Because this is a play, not a novel, we gain no access to the characters' thoughts. Ibsen does not even include soliloquies or asides, during which the audience might hear a character's inner reflections. When Hedda pretends to fire at Brack, it could be merely the playfulness of a capricious girl or it could indicate incipient insanity.