Act 3 begins in the same drawing room. Mrs. Elvsted is bundled up on a chair by the dying fire, while Hedda lies wrapped up on a couch. Berte enters, startling Mrs. Elvsted, who hasn't been able to sleep. Berte is bearing a letter, but it is for Tesman* Mrs. Elvsted is very anxious. Berte's exit wakes Hedda. Hedda tells Mrs. Elvsted that the men are no doubt staying the night at the Judge's house and that Ejlert is no doubt reading to Tesman, with vine leaves in his hair. Mrs. Elvsted goes to Hedda's room to try to sleep. Hedda fixes up the fire as Berte goes to answer the door. Tesman enters.
He asks Hedda whether she was worried, and she replies that it would never occur to her to be anxious about him. He tells her that he had fun at the beginning of the night, when Ejlert read to him from his fabulous new book. Tesman is ashamed to admit that for a moment he was jealous. However, there was what Tesman calls an "orgy"; Ejlert got quite drunk, made a speech in honor of the unnamed woman who had inspired his work, and while being escorted home dropped his manuscript, which Tesman retrieved and has brought home with him. Tesman assumes that Ejlert will be embarrassed to have lost it and plans to return it to him as soon as possible. Hedda asks whether that is necessary and whether it is the only one of its kind. Tesman assures her that it is irreplaceable, and at that moment she shows him the letter that came for him earlier that morning. It is from Aunt Julle, saying that Aunt Rina is dying and that Tesman must come as quickly as he can.
At the beginning of Act 3, it is clear that something has gone wrong. The women have been up all night. Berte offers to fix the fire, but the selfless Mrs. Elvsted urges her to let it die down and save firewood. However, when Hedda awakes she demands that the fire be brought back to life. This refers to the themes of the play's beginning, specifically to Berte's anxiety to please Hedda. Yet at the same time, much has happened since the beginning of the play. At the beginning of Act 3, one wonders if the climax of the play has been reached, offstage, at Brack's stag party.
The matter of Ejlert's manuscript is a curious one. Although Tesman is quite anxious to return it, his reasons for picking it up seem feeble: his admission of fleeting jealousy confirms the rivalry that was already apparent. This scene also evinces Tesman's bookishness, as he characterizes as the highlight of the party the moments when he was being read to by Ejlert and nervously refers to the rest of the evening as an "orgy."