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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
What does Ophelia know . . .
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1111  Tuesday, 25 May 2004

From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Monday, 24 May 2004 09:17:26 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        What does Ophelia know . . .

What does Ophelia know, and how does she know it?

Observing the tendency of filmmakers to relate Ophelia's madness to the
death of her father, a student of mine recently wrote a paper suggesting
her words refer instead to Hamlet's absence. While an interesting idea,
I don't think that quite works. However, the essay caused me consider
anew these lines from Hamlet 4.5 (copied, with slight correction, from
the Open Source Shakespeare site):

Enter Ophelia distracted.

Ophelia. Where is the beauteous majesty of Denmark?
Gertrude. How now, Ophelia?
Ophelia. [sings]
How should I your true-love know
 From another one?
By his cockle hat and' staff
And his sandal shoon.
Gertrude. Alas, sweet lady, what imports this song?
Ophelia. Say you? Nay, pray you, mark.
(Sings) He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
O, ho!
Gertrude. Nay, but Ophelia-
Ophelia. Pray you mark.
(Sings) White his shroud as the mountain snow-

Enter King.

Gertrude. Alas, look here, my lord!
Ophelia. [Sings]
Larded all with sweet flowers;
Which bewept to the grave did not go
With true-love showers.

With Gertrude as her audience, Ophelia seems to be singing about dead
King Hamlet: "How should I [Ophelia] your [Gertrude] true-love
[Claudius? dead King Hamlet?] know/ From another one [Claudius?]?" Is it
plausible that Ophelia is confronting Gertrude, whose first true-love
may indeed "bewept to the grave did not go/ With true-love showers"?

Jack Heller
Huntington College

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