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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: August ::
Re: Incest/Ophelia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0721  Monday, 3 August 1998.

[1]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Saturday, 01 Aug 1998 10:17:58 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0711  Re: Incest/Ophelia

[2]     From:   Michael S. Hart <
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        Date:   Sunday, 2 Aug 1998 10:11:39 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0711  Re: Incest


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Saturday, 01 Aug 1998 10:17:58 -0700
Subject: 9.0711  Re: Incest/Ophelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0711  Re: Incest/Ophelia

A certain reverence for madness still existed in the 16th century, a
holdover from pre-Christian days when oracles in drug-induced trances
responded to important questions with gnomic pronouncements that
required decoding. In the same way we see small children as
truth-tellers, too innocent to fear the consequences, it was thought
that madmen or women spoke the truth, although not always in a clearly
understandable way.

Ophelia's ravings seem clearly to be of this sort. Is the "truth" she is
telling about her sex life? Current politics at Court? Both? If so, the
author, and later, his editor, would have been at pains to make such
references too opaque for any but those on the inside to understand,
particularly when it came time to publish. We may be able to decode what
she's saying, but we'll have to know more about when the play was
written, among other things.

Madness brought on by sexual frustration, or grief over the mistreatment
by a lover, was a frequent theme in the old romance tradition, as in the
story of Orlando, whose madness is the central theme. Two Noble Kinsmen
has a young woman who goes mad when mistreated by the protagonist, very
much as Ophelia does in Hamlet.

Incest is also a frequent theme in these old romances, father lusting
after daughter, brother and sister falling in love without knowing who
the partner is, boy lusting after mother (again, without knowing). These
themes are found all the way through this tradition from the beginning,
and as it is a tradition that clearly affected Shakespeare, particularly
in his early plays, it becomes difficult to judge what comes to him from
his own experience or message, and what is simply there as a common
factor in the genre.

Stephanie Hughes

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael S. Hart <
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 >
Date:           Sunday, 2 Aug 1998 10:11:39 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 9.0711  Re: Incest
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0711  Re: Incest

> It may just be the way I was taught, but I found it poignant that a
> virgin might be singing bawdy songs in her mad fit.  Hamlet's bawdy
> remark about "country matters" at the play might be better evidence that
> he at least had lecherous intentions, but do we have any evidence that
> Ophelia had ever taken up an offer from Hamlet, or anybody else?
> Wouldn't she have passed the physical at that nunnery he is going to
> send her to?
>
> Roy Flannagan

I was my impression that "nunnery" in this context meant something on
the order of the opposite of its usually meaning. . . Michael S. Hart
 

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