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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Ernest Jones; Hamlet and Ophelia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0434.  Wednesday, 9 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Apr 1997 13:27:11 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 8.0409  Re: Sources for Oedipus Theory

[2]     From:   Jayel Wylie <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 08 Apr 1997 13:28:58 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Hamlet and Ophelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Apr 1997 13:27:11 -0400
Subject: Re: Sources for Oedipus Theory
Comment:        SHK 8.0409  Re: Sources for Oedipus Theory

Syd Kasten is right. Ernest Jones was certainly a Welshman, born in
Gowerton and educated initially at the University of Wales in Cardiff.
Whether this accounts for his extraordinary percipience in respect of
Shakespeare, I am unable to judge.

T. Hawkes

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jayel Wylie <
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Date:           Tuesday, 08 Apr 1997 13:28:58 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Hamlet and Ophelia

In defending Hamlet against charges of misogyny, Don Hamersley wrote:

>>the turning point in Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia occurs right AFTER he appears to her all disheveled after the ghost's visit.  Maybe he went to her to confide in her and then determined that he could not (thinking that she might give his secret away-"Frailty, thy name is woman").<<

But is this Ophelia's failure or Hamlet's?  How much evidence does he
have that his girlfriend can't be trusted-is this something he's learned
from bitter experience, or merely an assumption based on . . . . what?

At this point in the story, Ophelia has been refusing to allow Hamlet
access to her person or her correspondence at her father's orders, which
could be construed as justification for mistrust-even if she's not
"frail," this behavior could mean she's fickle-and how profound and
hurtful this turning away has been for Hamlet depends on how involved we
as players, readers, or audience think these two characters have been
before it.  (Certainly in the action before his meeting with the Ghost,
Hamlet seems far more upset about the loss of his father and his
mother's betrayal than he is about the loss of Ophelia's company.)  Of
course, as Mr. Hamersley seems to suggest in his analysis, Hamlet's
interpretations of Ophelia's behavior could be a direct reflection of
his knowledge of his mother's.

But even if Hamlet thinks Ophelia less than steadfast in her affections,
either because of her own behavior or his identification of her with
Gertrude, he still goes to her after seeing the Ghost.  Why, if he's
already identified her as unworthy of his confidence?  Does the sight of
her remind him of her betrayal, her "frailty?"  And when we actually
hear him speak to her again, his first address is, "Nymph, in thy
orisons be all my sins remembered."  Would he ask to be "remembered" in
the prayers of a traitor?  Is this line ironic?  Maybe . . . but not
necessarily.

I've always seen Hamlet's silence in his dishevelment as protective
rather than mistrustful.  He goes to Ophelia after seeing the Ghost
because he does trust her; he believes her to be innocent and pure, a
creature of light.  Which is why he doesn't tell her anything when he
gets there-he can only look on the light; to converse with it, share his
darkness with it, would destroy it.  (This attitude is every bit as
misogynistic as an unreasoning mistrust, of course, but it's "nicer" and
more in keeping with the usual treatment of Shakespearean virgins.)  So
he turns his eye upon it for as long as possible as he silently
withdraws-a symbolic pantomime of his own resolve to turn murderous
avenger and his doubts about that course.

>> Certainly, their relationship goes straight downhill from this point forward...<<

Again, not necessarily-if the "in thy orisons" line is not ironic, then
Hamlet still trusts Ophelia when next they meet-he still thinks she's on
that shining white pedestal of purity with a direct line to God.  Only
when he hears her lie does that illusion shatter-"where is your
father?"  "At home."  That's where everything falls apart-the creature
of light has already been tainted with darkness; all his efforts to
protect her were for naught.  "Get thee to a nunnery!" becomes a lament
as well as a curse, a pathetic/ironic plea for a locking of the barn
door after the horse is out.

This may well be an overly-romanticized reading of the Ophelia/Hamlet
relationship, but I think it works, textually and in performance, just
as well as the other.

Sorry, DH, if this is too long . . . .

Jayel Wylie

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