Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0101. Saturday, 10 February 1996.

(1)     From:   Helen Ostovich <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 9 Feb 1996 13:57:09 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(2)     From:   Shirley Kagan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 9 Feb 1996 16:53:48 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0100 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(3)     From:   John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 10 Feb 1996 12:41:05 GMT
        Subj:   RE: SHK 7.0100 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sex

(4)     From:   Susan Mather <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
        Date:   Saturday, 10 Feb 1996 12:40:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0100  Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(5)     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, February 10, 1996
        Subj:   Characters: Real. Fictive, or What?


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Ostovich <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 9 Feb 1996 13:57:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0093 Q: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

It's funny that this subject should come up on the list.  It just came up in my
Shakespeare class, where several students argued that the songs coming after
the murder of Polonius and the disappearance of Hamlet seem to voice Ophelia's
sense of abandonment by the two authoritative and loved figures in her life.
They too saw the lyrics as confirming either that she had indeed slept with
Hamlet, or that she has fantasized about sleeping with Hamlet and is now in her
madness accepting the fantasy for the reality.  The feeling of being bereft or
abandoned seems to confirm her other feelings of having been used (abused?)
sexually, by her father's dismissive "Pooh ... green girl" attitude towards her
infatuation with Hamlet, then using her to spy on Hamlet in 3.1, and Hamlet's
declaration that he never loved her or gave her anything.

Helen Ostovich
Department of English / Editor, _REED Newsletter_
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada  L8S 4L9

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shirley Kagan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 9 Feb 1996 16:53:48 -1000
Subject: 7.0100 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0100 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

Coming at the very interesting question of the Hamlet/Ophelia relationship from
a production point of view, I think it's very much up to the director and cast
to decide what they feel comfortable with.  I do not think there is any
definitive textual evidence one way or another. I've always thought that the
"mad" scene is not mad at all; Ophelia is stone-cold sane and is telling
Gertrude in no uncertain terms how she has been used.  The fact that Gertrude
and the court prefer to react to Ophelia's behavior as if it were madness then
only further reinforces the hypocricy and rottenness of the State of Denmark.

Shirley Kagan
University of Hawaii

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 10 Feb 1996 12:41:05 GMT
Subject: 7.0100 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sex
Comment:        RE: SHK 7.0100 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sex

I fail to understand the need to treat Ophelia as a real person.  Whether she
is pregnant or not is about as irrelevant as whether Gertrude and Claudius had
a clandestine affair before the death of Old Hamlet, or whether Lady Macbeth
had any children (and how many).

The assumption is that when Ophelia speaks what is a disturbing series of
verses, that it is the autonomous consciousness Ophelia who is speaking, and
that she is referring to her own private history.  I see no reason to believe
that she is.

John Drakakis

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan Mather <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
Date:           Saturday, 10 Feb 1996 12:40:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0100  Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0100  Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

Having been told of the misconception of "the closet" by modern audiences--as
well as--some directors, I do not believe Hamlet and Ophelia to be unchaste.  I
think, in fact, that by believing Ophelia to have let Hamlet have his way with
her (as it appears in the quote given by a member on Ophelia's telling of
Hamlet's "madness"), we are no better than those who thought badly of her
virtue in laying her to rest.  There is a suspicion of her virtue, as you may
recall, when it comes to answer what rites of burial she ought to be given.  I
just can't believe it of Ophelia.  Further, why would she go into such detail
about her sexual encounters with those who could harm her?

Just a thought...

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, February 10, 1996
Subject:        Characters: Real. Fictive, or What?

Regarding the issue of character:

I, as I am sure many do, teach that treating characters in plays as if they
were "real" people is a practice that can be traced back at least to the
English and German Romantics and that culminated in the work of Bradley and
perhaps Granville-Barker (to whom I will return in a moment).

As a person born just after World War II and thus as one who came of age in the
mid-sixties, I welcomed wholeheartedly the recent -- that is past thirty years'
-- theoretical challenges to formalism, which attacked the historical/
biographical approach that in turn had attacked the character-centered approach
of Bradley and his predecessors. I confess to being knocked out by *Alternative
Shakespeares,* *Political Shakespeare,* *That Shakespearian Rag,*
*Shakespearean Negotiations,* and more recently by the work of Jerome McGann
and Randall McLeod -- all works that greatly influence the way I look at and
teach Shakespeare.

I agree completely with the position that characters are only characters in the
fictive medium of drama.  I agree that there is nothing outside of the text.  I
admit that to myself I responded to the did-Hamlet-do-it-with-Ophelia question
by thinking of how many children did the Macbeth's have, and this is from one
who was taught in graduate school by James McManaway, whose Jephthah's daughter
essay argued very early for Ophelia's virginity.

But let me be naive for a moment.  As much as I would like to think of myself
as a shin-kicking, post-structuralist, I still value close reading.  I surely
know I am opening myself up here to being interrogated from both the left and
the right in Shakespeare studies with a statement such as this, yet I do wonder
if there still is some value, if not to actors preparing for roles (thus the
Granville-Barker reference above), to reading closely for possible clues to
character in the text even though such speculation is outside the text.

How do the rest of you deal with this issue in your classes and writings?  I
guess I am especially interested in what John Drakakis and Terry Hawkes have to
offer.

For example, I'm currently looking at the Q1 *Hamlet,* in which I find a less
problematic Gertrude than the one in Q2 and F1. Am I mistaken even to make such
an assertion?  The Q1 Gertrude has less to say and is seemly less involved and
thus less problematic than she -- that is, the Gertrude character -- is in Q2
and F1.  In the closet scene, she appears to capitulate to her son and in the
following scene appears to cover up for him.  Q1's scene 15 -- between Gertrude
and Horatio that is not in Q2 and F1 -- further supports these assumptions as
do other omissions in Q1 related to Gertrude that do not appear in Q2 and F1.
In making such assertions, am I *essentially* counting children?

I'm genuinely perplexed and am also preparing my ISA paper.  Any thoughts would
be appreciated.

--Hardy
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.