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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
Re: Ophelia / O-phallos
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0554  Friday, 24 March 2000.

[1]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday< 20 Mar 2000 13:52:37 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0529 Ophelia / O-phallos

[2]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Monday< 20 Mar 2000 21:45:34 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0529 Ophelia / O-phallos

[3]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Monday< 20 Mar 2000 23:51:29 -0600
        Subj:   Ophelia's name

[4]     From:   Lisa Hopkins <
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        Date:   Tue, 21 Mar 2000 11:20:43 +0000
        Subj:   Ophelia's name


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Monday< 20 Mar 2000 13:52:37 -0500
Subject: 11.0529 Ophelia / O-phallos
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0529 Ophelia / O-phallos

Lacan's poetic etymology probably isn't even meant to be accurate.
Ophelia comes from a greek word (wphe'leia) meaning "help or aid" which
in turn comes from another one (o'phelos) meaning "advantage".  The
ultimate roots of the latter are obscure, though it may be related to
Old Indian "pha'lam" = advantage.  "Phallus" comes from IE "*bhel"
meaning "to swell" from which we also get bellows, bull, ball, bold,
belly, etc.  It's very unlikely there's any connection between them.

What Shakespeare thought about Ophelia's name, of course, is another
matter, though he wouldn't have known what's above. Presumably it wasn't
a common name in England, or Denmark. I have no idea where he might have
come across the Greek word. Harold Jenkins cites the nymph "Apheleia"
(="Simplicity") in "Cynthia's Revels", as a parallel.  The idea of
Ophelia as a "helpmeet" bringing "help or aid" is obviously relevant to
the play, along several more or less ironic paths.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Monday< 20 Mar 2000 21:45:34 +0000
Subject: 11.0529 Ophelia / O-phallos
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0529 Ophelia / O-phallos

 I am sure the Hellenistic connotations are easy to secure. I will just
add the Hebrew: Ophelia - OF He L 'YA,  meaning, anyhow (despite her
manner of death) she is to God.

Florence Amit

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Monday< 20 Mar 2000 23:51:29 -0600
Subject:        Ophelia's name

Richard Burt asks about Ophelia's name:

<In his essay on Hamlet, Jacques Lacan puns on Ophelia's name (as
O-phallus) only to dismiss the pun. Any one happen to know anything
about her name, which I assume was rather rare in Shakespeare's day?>

John W Hales traced it (1876) to the Greek for "the helper";  in the
same year C. Elliott Browne found that it comes ultimately from Horace's
Ofellus(a) by way of Sannazaro's Arcadia. See *Shakespeare and the
Classical Tradition 1660-1960* (1968) #0295 and #0130 respectively.  The
phallic derivation is hopeless.

Cheers,
John

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lisa Hopkins <
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Date:           Tue, 21 Mar 2000 11:20:43 +0000
Subject:        Ophelia's name

Ophelia is Greek for 'help', but I have also seen it suggested that it
is related to the Irish place-name Offaly, which I believe was sometimes
spelled 'Ofelia', and that it might thus be one of Hamlet's several
references to Ireland.

Lisa Hopkins
 

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