Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: May ::
Re: Ophelia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0858  Friday, 14 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Andy White <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 10:29:04 -0400
        Subj:   What Did Ophelia Know, and When Did She Know it?

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:50:23 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Ophelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy White <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 10:29:04 -0400
Subject:        What Did Ophelia Know, and When Did She Know it?

As my heading implies, one fruitful avenue is to take the actor's
journey with the character: read only the scenes in which she appears,
and assume that for Shakespeare's purposes this is all she knows.

You seem to be on the right track-it is my belief she is acting at her
father's behest, and has been told this scenario with the letters, etc.,
should work like a charm.  One question for you, for the "nunnery"
scene, is how much of her lines are truthful and how much are lines fed
to her by Polonius.  "Rich gifts wax poor" sounds too aphoristic to be
Ophelia's own words, for instance.

Another question; how good an actor/spy is Ophelia?  Every time I see
this scene, the actress and director treat her as if she were
professional at this; I question that assumption, particularly since
Hamlet's first reaction is to laugh and question her honesty.

And keeping her limited knowledge in mind, her madness might come from
an impression few have really treated on-stage.  Lately we have seen
angry Ophelias, sexy Ophelias, etc.-but if we understand the madness as
springing from her lack of understanding, the madness takes on a more
interesting form, it seems to me.  She's been told Hamlet's health and
future lie in her ability to bring him back-she fails, gets insulted by
Hamlet, and then Hamlet kills her father.

Whose fault is it?  That depends on who was expected to cure Hamlet of
his madness.  If it's Ophelia, then her failure to bring Hamlet back to
his senses is the cause for all that follows ...

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:50:23 -0400
Subject:        Re: Ophelia

Steve Urkowitz makes an interesting point about the variations between
Q1 and Q2.  I wonder if he, or anyone else, sees a difference in these
formulations in terms of Hamlet's discovery of Ophelia's duplicity.

I have never been a fan of the "shoes under the arras" or "unseen
eavesdropper" in II.ii theories.  They are too melodramatic and
sophomoric for my tastes-not to mention unsupported by anything in the
text.  Therefore, I searched for a textual solution and think I found it
at the beginning of this scene:

Hamlet greets Ophelia courteously enough and responds politely (if
redundantly) to her greeting.  When she offers to return his gifts he
protests that they really were nothing.  She persists and Hamlet reacts
only after she says "... for to the noble mind/ Rich gifts wax poor when
givers prove unkind."  Hamlet's response-"Ha, ha!"-is suggestive.  I do
not think he was laughing; rather, this is an exclamation of awakening,
an "Ah, ha" moment.  And what inspired this is not Ophelia's words?  Do
the quoted words sound like typical Ophelia to anyone, or more like
something Polonius would teach her?  If the actress speaks the lines
haltingly as if she is conjuring them from  memory, the point can't be
missed, and her last three unmetrical words ("There my lord") give
Hamlet a beat or two in which to register realization.  The rest of the
Nunnery scene follows logically from this, including, for example, the
double meaning of "honest" in the "Ha, ha!" line.

I think Theobald reached the same conclusion, but I have not seen anyone
else suggest this reading.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.