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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: June ::
Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0320  Wednesday, 17 June 2009

[1] From:   John Hudson <
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     Date:   Monday, 15 Jun 2009 16:16:50 -0400
     Subj:   SHK 20.0317 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

[2] From:   Hannibal Hamlin <
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     Date:   Monday, 15 Jun 2009 16:33:48 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0317 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Hudson <
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Date:       Monday, 15 Jun 2009 16:16:50 -0400
Subject: Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
Comment:    SHK 20.0317 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

Responding to  the correspondence between Conrad Cook and Alan 
Pierpoint,  and the suggestion that Ophelia typologically represents 
Divine Wisdom, I agree that she has a typological identity. However I 
think it is different. Linda Hoff in her fascinating book _Hamlet's 
Choice_, suggested that Ophelia typologically represented the Church. 
That came closer but was still not quite correct. I suggest that Ophelia 
typologically represents the Virgin Mary.

Hassel in his 1998  article on annunciation motifs in Hamlet, shows that 
the two interruptions of Ophelia while sewing and reading both echo the 
depictions of the Annunciation. The references to God kissing carrion 
and the maggots echo late medieval imagery for the conception of Christ 
-- see Gibson, 'Conception is a Blessing' (1949) and Hankins 'God 
Kissing Carrion' (1949). Hamlet's letter to Ophelia addresses her as an 
idol, the celestial, and possibly -- using Theobald's amendment --  as 
'beatified' which would also fit as an allusion to Mary. Her death 
scene, falling off the branch and being suspended between Earth and 
Heaven, while singing lauds, and being crowned with a coronet could be 
seen typologically as a version of the Coronation and Assumption into 
Heaven. Finally her name, meaning 'succour' is also a key attribute of 
Mary. This Fall,  the Dark Lady Players  are doing a production  in NYC 
which will make the Mary typology very obvious, in connection with the 
publication of several new  books on Shakespearean typology.

This also means that Hamlet represents typologically the Holy Ghost, who 
in Renaissance art was sometimes painted as a sunbeam shining 
continuously on Mary. This would explain why Hamlet walks out of the 
closet backwards, maintaining the light of his eyes upon her -- which is 
precisely appropriate since as the son of Hyperion, Hamlet is also 
typologically identified as  Helios.

John Hudson
New York City

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:       Monday, 15 Jun 2009 16:33:48 -0400
Subject: 20.0317 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0317 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

This is really too loose a use of typology to be relevant to early 
modern conceptions of both the term and the concept. For one thing, as 
someone else already argued in an article I can't now recall (but have 
somewhere), typology is a mode of reading the Bible, or a device used by 
biblical writers. The term was not used, I think, for secular literature 
or even for reading secular characters (historical or literary) in terms 
of biblical models. Some critics have inserted the "typological" into 
the standard four-fold system of meaning espoused by Dante in his famous 
letter to Can Grande, but Dante himself doesn't use the term, but 
instead calls it allegory. His example of the "allegorical level," 
however, is reading the biblical Exodus as the redemption of humanity 
through Christ, which does seem typological as it is usually understood. 
But then the fact that Dante's example is biblical encourages this. Does 
this really mean we can apply "typology" to the reading of non-biblical 
works, like Shakespeare's plays? If we do, how can we distinguish 
typology from allegory? I don't think we can. Typology is really a 
special form of allegory that depends upon the peculiar (for Christians) 
relationship between the two testaments of the Bible. Once outside of 
the Bible, it's just allegory again. Even if we accept that a character 
is a Christ-figure (a vexing term in itself), say, the character is 
hardly the fulfillment of Christ, in the way that Christ is of Adam. All 
we're really saying is that in certain respects the character is 
Christ-like. The same goes for Ophelia as Wisdom. This is just reading 
the play as an allegory.

That said, I find the argument for Ophelia as Divine Wisdom entirely 
unconvincing, all the more so since it seems to be positing her as 
Wisdom manque.

Shakespeare's audience was conditioned by both biblical and secular 
reading to think in allegorical, or typological terms, but not 
everything is an allegory. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, or a girl 
is just a girl. If she's not just a girl but "Divine Wisdom," there 
ought to be something specific that suggests this, an allusion perhaps. 
Shakespeare knows how to do this, since he makes it clear in Hamlet that 
Claudius is a kind of Cain (fratricide) as well as a kind of David (a 
king who murders in order to achieve the woman he desires). Both of 
these symbolic-allegorical relationships are established by allusions. 
Furthermore, as I've argued in print (Psalm Culture), Shakespeare 
underscores the distinct difference between his Claudius and David. In 
the so-called "Chapel" scene in Hamlet, Claudius tries to pray, 
unsuccessfully. His speech alludes to the washing white as snow of Psalm 
51, which is the Psalm associated with the penitential King David. David 
was forgiven, because he had a broken and contrite heart; Claudius, as 
even he recognizes, has only a desire to escape his guilt, which is not 
the same thing. So it is possible to allude to a biblical model in such 
a way as to point up contrasts as well as similarities.

Unless there are such allusions, however, or something akin, reading 
characters in terms of one biblical model or another seems too much like 
free association.

My two cents (and a few more).

Hannibal

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