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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: May ::
Re: Ophelia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0856  Thursday, 13 May 1999.

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 May 1999 09:40:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0846 A Couple Questions

[2]     From:   Steve Urkowitz <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 May 1999 17:04:59 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0846 Ophelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 May 1999 09:40:59 -0500
Subject: 10.0846 A Couple Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0846 A Couple Questions

>I am interested in a character study of Ophelia, and have recently
>focused on the idea of betrayal.  Ophelia certainly betrays Hamlet, but
>not out of self-love and self-interest, rather it is for her father's
>interest.  I also realize that Hamlet "betrays" her in the mousetrap
>scene as well by slandering her, but I find this too easily justifiable
>in light of Ophelia's recent actions toward him (personally motivated or
>not).  Is Ophelia completely innocent and without fault in this play, or
>does her fierce loyalty to her family and traditions cause her to lose
>sight of what's important?

It seems that there is no one is this play who is without fault, but you
misread Ophelia to suppose that she acts as she does towards Hamlet
simply "out of her father's interests."   Like Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, Ophelia has been given evidence of Hamlet's - let's call
it - nervous breakdown (and she has perhaps intensified this by keeping
herself from him, as obediently she follows her father's orders).  Just
as in all situations of this kind one becomes oversensitive to
peculiarities of the disordered mind and looks for ways to soothe the
person and to help by means that would, in a normal context, seem
condescension or even betrayal - just in such a scene has Ophelia found
herself.  She is convinced that Hamlet is "sick," she wants to help, she
follows her fathers instructions largely with the hope that her
collaboration with the plan to bring Hamlet out for the benefit of the
a possible cure at the hands of the harassed Claudius and Polonius.
Ophelia's is a problem shared by many who have had to deal with the
mentally ill.

             [L. Swilley]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 May 1999 17:04:59 EDT
Subject: 10.0846 Ophelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0846 Ophelia

Ophelia's complicity seems to be one of the issues that tickled the
revisers moving from Q1 to Q2 HAMLET.

There's a key moment, variant in the Q1 and Q2 texts that bears on
Ophelia's participation in her father's plotting.  Immediately after the
"To be or not to be" soliloquy, in Q1 Ophelia speaks to Hamlet with
great respect, haltingly offering to return his gifts and letters.
Hamlet reacts angrily with harsh, derogatory questions, prompting
Ophelia to respond in kind.  She begins amiably, deferentially. In
contrast, the Q2 text has her begin far more forcefully, while Hamlet
initially is deferential.  Both texts move toward the same kinds of
mutual incomprehension and rage. But in Q1, at least as I read its
dialogue, Ophelia gets swept into her father's scheme.  In Q2 she
actively participates in its craft.  A simple line count at the opening
section of this exchange shows Ophelia dominating the moment, something
like eleven lines to three for Hamlet compared to a roughly equal number
of lines for each in Q1.  I have a recent essay from the SAA  1999
Seminar on HAMLET stage directions and stage action looking at the
patterns of action at this part of the play.

Variants in Ophelia's role through the play complicate her relationships
with Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, Gertrude and even the King.  Some of
this is covered in my "Five Women Eleven Ways," in Habicht, et al
CHANGING IMAGES OF SHAKESPEARE  (1988), and in "Well-sayd old mole," in
Zeigler, ed., SHAKESPEARE STUDY TODAY (1986).

We don't get any easy view inside her head, but what we do see in
externally visible action grows more delicately troubling as the play
moves through revisions.

But look for yourself.

Ever,
Steve Urquartowitz
 

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