The 1880s. Werle's house and later Hjalmar Ekdal's studio in Christiania, Norway.
The first act opens with a dinner party hosted by Håkon Werle, a wealthy merchant and industrialist. The gathering is attended by his son, Gregers Werle, who has just returned to his father's home following a self-imposed exile. There, he learns the fate of a former classmate of his, Hjalmar Ekdal. Hjalmar married Gina, a young servant woman in the Werle household. The elder Werle had arranged the match by providing Hjalmar with a home and a profession as a photographer. Gregers, whose mother died believing that Gina and her husband had carried on an affair, becomes enraged at the thought that his old friend is living a life built on a lie.