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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0100.  Friday, 9 February 1996.

(1)     From:   Geoffrey T Wilson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 14:18:31 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093  Q: Hamlet & Ophelia:  Sexual Relations?

(2)     From:   Richard W Bovard <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 13:13:16 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(3)     From:   Kevin J. Donovan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 13:36:25 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(4)     From:   Ted Nellen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 18:33:15 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(5)     From:   Robert F. O'Connor <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Feb 1996 12:01:12 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093  Q: Hamlet & Ophelia:  Sexual Relations?

(6)     From:   Andrew Tsao <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 21:29:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(7)     From:   Louis Scheeder <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 22:58:49 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(8)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 09 Feb 1996 08:27:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(9)     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Feb 1996 10:09:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(10)    From:   Monique Quinta <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Feb 1996 09:04:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(11)    From:   Reg Grouse <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 Feb 1996 23:36:07 +1000
        Subj:   Ophelia-Hamlet sexual relationship


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geoffrey T Wilson <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 14:18:31 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0093  Q: Hamlet & Ophelia:  Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093  Q: Hamlet & Ophelia:  Sexual Relations?

Concerning Hamlet and Ophelia's distinctly sexual relationship, one could also
cite her description of the scene in her closet:

        My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
        Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbrac'd,
        No hat uppon his head, his stockins fouled,
        Ungart'red, and down-gyved to his ankle....

        He falls to such perusal of my face
        As 'a would draw it.  Long stay'd he so.
        At last, a little shaking of mine arm,
        And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
        He rais'd a sigh so piteous and profound
        As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
        And end his being.  That done, he lets me go
                                        (2.1.74-77, 87-93)

It sounds a lot like sex, but Ophelia doesn't seem to recognize it as such.
Maybe the "Valentine's Day" song registers a retrospective understanding of
what happened in Act 2.

Geoffrey Wilson
SUNY-Buffalo

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard W Bovard <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 13:13:16 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

From the opening questions "Who's there?" to all the other questions: what does
Gertrude know, how "adulterate" was Claudius and when, what does Claudius show
at the play-within-the-play, etc., etc.  The question, then, is appropriate,
surely.

From all that happens off-stage--Hamlet's appearance to Ophelia all out of
fashion, Hamlet's sea voyage, etc., etc.  The question, then, is appropriate,
surely.

From all the suggestions that men and women are spotted, corrupted,
stained--that existence itself is defined by falling ("Virtue itself scapes not
. . ."), etc., etc.  The question, then, is appropriate, surely.

But the evidence?  Spotty.  I once believed that I knew that the sexual
relationship occurred before the play started.  Thus, the songs could be used
to read back to a past that predates Act I.  Now, I am not sure.

The question you asked forces me back to the text . . . and human experience.
We know Hamlet is for England before the bedroom scene.  Is his trip public
knowledge?  Does Ophelia know that he's leaving?  Would Hamlet take the
occasion for departure to do as so many men have done on the eve of departures?

Certainly, Claudius's questions and comments after the bedroom scene take on
interesting meanings as I think about this matter.  "Where is he gone?"
vibrates a bit more, now.  Likewise, "How dangerous is it that this man goes
loose!" becomes a curiously possible pun.

But I do not think that we know.  And the play asks us to accept the mystery of
lot more than Hamlet's character.

But, then, if "long purples" are called one thing by "cull-cold maids" and
another thing by "liberal shepherds," Ophelia's language suggests that concern
for her 'maiden' or 'liberal' nature should continue.

Or are we falling into a sexist trap, worrying with Hamlet about a woman's
goodness ("a woman stain'd") and with Laertes about a woman's weakness ("The
woman will be out")?

Thanks for the stimulation.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kevin J. Donovan <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 13:36:25 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

I'm rather skeptical of there being any reason to believe that Hamlet and
Ophelia had sexual relations.  I find Harold Jenkins most convincing on this
topic--see his critical introduction and notes in his Arden edition, as well as
his 1963 British Academy lecture "Hamlet and Ophelia."

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Nellen <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 18:33:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

I cannot support it with anything other than the text.  I, too, have used this
to support the same argument that they were lovers.  I have always taught my
kids to use the text to support their arguments.  Outside sources I can't help
you.

Ted

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert F. O'Connor <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Feb 1996 12:01:12 +1100
Subject: 7.0093  Q: Hamlet & Ophelia:  Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093  Q: Hamlet & Ophelia:  Sexual Relations?

 Suzanne Lewis <
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 > has just thrown us an oldie but a goodie:

>This afternoon, I learned of a thought-provoking theory shared by two of my
>colleagues.  Justine Centanni and Art Garbosky contend that Hamlet and Ophelia
>had sexual relations in between Hamlet's slaying of Polonius and his departure
>for England.  Ergo, this would explain Ophelia's madness as a response to her
>learning that Hamlet killed Polonius.

Now, I've heard this theory before - we all have, I'm sure - I didn't realise,
though, that there were people so sure as to the when of it ...

Any guesses on the where?

>Mad or not, why would Ophelia repeatedly request of the Queen, "Pray you mark",
>asking Gertrude to listen to her songs?

I always thought the songs were a dead give-away, myself.

>My colleagues and I wonder, what do you all think?  Are they just songs that
>mean nothing, or do you see any evidence that Hamlet and Ophelia made love?
>Please offer your thoughts, impressions, and instincts. Also, can you lead us
>to published critical analysis to support this theory?  Thanks.

I'm afraid all I relly have to pass on is an anecdote, reported with glee by
one of my lecturers at the University o Western Australia.  He told us about a
public forum of some decription or another, with one of the Great Actors who
had played the role a number of times (he DID supply a name - but I forget
who's . . .).  When said Great Actor was asked for some opinions on the Danish
prince, the question inevitably came up: did Hamlet sleep with Ophelia?

Apparently, his response was, "Well, I always did."

My apologies for trivialising the debate - but I have always loved the story!

Robert F. O'Connor

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Australian National University

(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Tsao <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 21:29:20 -0500
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

Since Shakespeare is not explicit, we can only play at guesses, for deciding on
absolutes offstage is the road to foolishness.

Each performer must decide for herself and himself. However, who is to say that
they have not had sexual relations for quite some time before? Before
Wittenberg, even?

Finally, the simple answer is this: in our endeavor to make the dramatic
choice, the answer is yes. Shakespeare the dramatist would, I think, have
supported the choice. It raises the stakes.

(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Scheeder <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 1996 22:58:49 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

Not to belittle in any way the question regarding the relationship of Hamlet
and Ophelia, but I was reminded of the response to that question that goes,
"Only in the Chicago company."

Louis Scheeder

(8)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 09 Feb 1996 08:27:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

Robert Speaight in his little book on Shakespeare's tragedies suggests
something like this.  I haven't read the book in years, but as I recall,
Speaight suggests that Ophelia is pregnant, knows she is, and, given her
present circumstances, takes the big dive and drowns herself.  Gertrude's
description is a cover up. When did Hamlet and Ophelia make love? I'm not sure
at what point they did it -- in Speaight's scenario -- but I think it's
pre-ghost.

Yours (with a dim memory), Bill Godshalk

(9)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Feb 1996 10:09:03 -0500
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

The dramatic necessity surrounding the possiblity of sexual relations between
Hamlet and Ophelia is that we wonder. The same dynamic is rehearsed in Othello.
One of the respects in which the recent Othello film falls down is eradicating
this doubt through a cinematic, but atextual coupling of the principals. The
anxieties of Laertes and Polonius ought to be discounted; they are wrong about
everything else. Ophelia's chanting in the "mad" scenes is a parody of the OT
story of Jepthah's daughter, who "bewailed her virginity" for a month before
she was sacrificed. In fact, "virginity" signifies dying before marrying and,
particularly, without offspring. Ophelia's "virgin crants" were apparently hung
in the church during her requiem. This suggests a need in the community to
believe her a virgin. Those who read Hamlet as a Reformation chronicle detect
glances at the BVM here. You might see an article, "Ophelia's Maimed Rites."
Hope this helps.

Steve Sohmer

(10)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Monique Quinta <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Feb 1996 09:04:52 -0500
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

I have always believe that Hamlet and Ophelia were phyiscally  involved.  I
believe that Ophelia kills herself because she  has promised herself wholly to
Hamlet - body and soul.  First she is her father's and then she is Hamlet's.
With both of these people gone there is nothing left for her.  She is punished
for coming to Hamlet before her father sends her there.  She becomes her own
judge jury; sinking deeply into depression and carrying out her own sentence of
death.  I don't think her babbling prior to her death is not an act of insanity
but her comtemplations have brought into another plane.  She is lost in the
pain caused by the one act in which she made her own choice to commit.  She is
lost without these men to guide he. Her father is dead at her lover's hand and
her lover has takrn away his promise (and himself too) and shortly later she
herself is gone.

(11)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Reg Grouse <
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Date:           Friday, 9 Feb 1996 23:36:07 +1000
Subject:        Ophelia-Hamlet sexual relationship

The question of Ophelia's pregnancy has been posed before as a reason for her
madness and suicide.  One critic, whose name I cannot recall, in an article
full of vitriol against Hamlet suggested that, quite contrary to being a
beautiful young prince,  he was nothing but a callous cad who murdered
Polonius, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz without remorse and worst of all he
impregnated Ophelia only to abandon her when the mood suited him.

Most audiences have had sympathy for Hamlet and his actions.  He has been one
of the most popular heroes of the Shakespearean stage.  Auditors have seen him
as an idealistic young man, an introvert, and with that golden quality of
introverts; sensitivity.  They tend to forgive his murders and other
misdemeanours as unfortunate accidents.  I believe that if Shakespeare had
wanted us to think that Ophelia was Hamlet's lover, he would have given a
clearer indication.  The text suggests that she was a dutiful, chaste, daughter
whose father's death was the reason for her distress and that the words of the
songs were an indication of her madness rather than a literal description of
her actions.  Maybe Shakespeare intended the songs to represent Ophilia's
sub-conscious repressed desires.

It is an interesting question. Thank you for raising it, Suzanne.

Reg Grouse

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