The play was written and first performed in Munich at the Königliches Residenz-Theater on 31 January 1891, with Clara Heese as Hedda. The first British performance was at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, on 20 April the same year, starring Elizabeth Robins, who directed it with Marion Lea, who played Thea. Robins also played Hedda in the first US production, which opened on March 30, 1898, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York City. A 1902 production starring Minnie Maddern Fiske was a major sensation on Broadway, and following its initial limited run was revived with the same actress the next year.
Many prominent actresses have played the role of Hedda: Vera Komissarzhevskaya, Eleonora Duse, Alla Nazimova, Asta Nielsen, Johanne Louise Schmidt, Eva Le Gallienne, Anne Meacham, Ingrid Bergman, Jill Bennett, Janet Suzman, Diana Rigg, Isabelle Huppert, Claire Bloom, Kate Burton, Kate Mulgrew, Kelly McGillis, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening, Amanda Donohoe, Judy Davis, Erin Berger, Emmanuelle Seigner, Harriet Walter, Rosamund Pike and Cate Blanchett, who won the 2005 Helpmann Award (Australia) for Best Female Actor in a Play. In the early 1970s, Irene Worth played Hedda at Stratford, Ontario, prompting New York Times critic Walter Kerr to write, "Miss Worth is just possibly the best actress in the world." Glenda Jackson returned to the RSC to play Hedda Gabler. A later film version directed by Nunn was released as Hedda (1975) for which Jackson was nominated for an Oscar. In 2005, a production by Richard Eyre, starring Eve Best, at the Almeida Theatre in London was well-received, and later transferred for an 11½ week run at the Duke of York's on St Martin's Lane. The play was staged at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater starring actress Martha Plimpton.
British playwright John Osborne prepared an adaptation in 1972, and in 1991 the Canadian playwright Judith Thompson presented her version at the Shaw Festival. Thompson adapted the play a second time in 2005 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, setting the first half of the play in the nineteenth century, and the second half during the present day. Early in 2006, the play gained critical success at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and at the Liverpool Playhouse, directed by Matthew Lloyd with Gillian Kearney in the lead role. A revival opened in January 2009 on Broadway, starring Mary-Louise Parker as the title character and Michael Cerveris as Jørgen Tesman, at the American Airlines Theatre, to mixed critical reviews.
Performance of a production of the play, as translated and directed by Vahid Rahbani, was stopped in Tehran, Iran in 2011. Vahid Rahbani was summoned to court for inquiry after an Iranian news agency blasted the classic drama in a review and described it as "vulgar" and "hedonistic" with symbols of "sexual slavery cult." A modernised New Zealand adaptation by The Wild Duck starring Clare Kerrison in the title role, and opening at BATS Theatre in Wellington in April, 2009, was referred to as "extraordinarily accessible without compromising Ibsen's genius at all."
A Serbian production premiered in February, 2011, at the National Theatre in Belgrade.
A 2012 Brian Friel adaptation of the play staged at London's The Old Vic theatre received mixed reviews, especially for Sheridan Smith in the lead role.