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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: June ::
Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0331  Monday, 22 June 2009

[Editor's Note: Frankly, I have not been comfortable with this thread 
since it began. I view it as an invitation to speculate about "pet" 
theories and potentially to stray into discussions that are far removed 
from acceptable academic discourse. I will let the thread continue for a 
while, but should it move too far away from the mainstream, I will be 
compelled to close it. Typological analyses belong to seminar exegesis. 
-HMC]

[1] From:   Gabriel Egan <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 17 Jun 2009 22:03:35 +0100
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0320 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

[2] From:   Arnie Perlstein <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 17 Jun 2009 17:46:10 -0400
     Subj:   Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

[3] From:   Felix de Villiers <
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     Date:   Thursday, 18 Jun 2009 21:45:45 +0200
     Subj:   Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

[4] From:   David Basch <
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 >
     Date:   Thursday, 18 Jun 2009 15:16:55 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0320 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Gabriel Egan <
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Date:       Wednesday, 17 Jun 2009 22:03:35 +0100
Subject: 20.0320 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0320 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

Conrad Cook wrote that

 >Ophelia is the typolgical
 >image of Divine Wisdom

Elaine Showalter rather famously and outrageously began her essay 
"Representing Ophelia: Women, madness, and the responsibilities of 
feminist criticism" by invoking Jacques Lacan's claim that the name 
derives from O-phallus. She went on to explore the symbolic meanings 
with which this character has been burdened.

At a talk last week at Roehampton University in London on the subject of 
_Hamlet_, Showalter surprised her audience by admitting that she never 
had faith in Lacan's claim, nor indeed an interest in his work. In the 
early 1980s, she explained, you just had to embellish such a paper with 
something from one of the high French theorists. "This was my job-paper 
-- I wanted a position a Princeton and that's what you did".  The young 
students listening seemed to take it in their stride, but a couple of 
the older members of the audience wore a triumphant look of "I KNEW it!"

Gabriel Egan

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Arnie Perlstein <
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Date:       Wednesday, 17 Jun 2009 17:46:10 -0400
Subject:    Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

John Hudson wrote: "I suggest that Ophelia typologically represents the 
Virgin Mary. Hassel in his 1998 article on annunciation motifs in Hamlet 
. . ."

I had found Hassel's article a while back at the HamletHaven website. 
It's amazing to me that Hassel could so brilliantly discover and 
thoroughly analyze such a rich vein of allusion, be so completely on the 
money in that regard, and yet be completely clueless as to the big 
picture significance of Shakespeare's ultra-sly allusion, i.e., Hassel 
failed to connect the dots between that allusion and the by-now 
two-centuries' old scholarly tradition of Ophelia as ACTUALLY being 
pregnant, not merely suspected of same by Hamlet.

"This also means that Hamlet represents typologically the Holy Ghost"

Indeed the Holy Ghost is present in this play, in many disguises . . . 
but which Hamlet would this one be?

Arnie Perlstein
Weston, Florida

PS: Are you the same John Hudson who starred in the 1983 film Two 
Gentlemen of Verona?

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Felix de Villiers <
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Date:       Thursday, 18 Jun 2009 21:45:45 +0200
Subject:    Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

In reply to Conrad Cook's post of 13/6/09. Conrad, I think you hit the 
nail on the head with this sentence:  "At the plainest level, 
Shakespeare wants his audience to be both interested and puzzled: he 
wants them to have questions that they can't verbalize." There are an 
many such puzzles about which one could fill pages, but I want to 
concentrate as much as I can on Hamlet and Ophelia. What I couldn't 
understand was your categorisation of Ophelia as the type of Divine 
Wisdom, and this is because you didn't explain it. No sooner have you 
classified her thus, than you go on to describe her as a reversal of her 
type: demure, obedient, submissive. At the end of your comment, you 
reinstate her as Divine Wisdom, but ambiguously, as a being that will do 
anything for Mankind, i.e., Hamlet, and will allow herself to be used, 
in short, a masochist.

Shakespeare was too much a poet of the 'here and now,' despite all 
surrounding dimensions, too much a draughtsman of detail, to allow his 
work to be subsumed by classificatory concepts, allegories, and types, 
although these can, indeed, throw light on the richly fabricated content 
of his work. To continue the game of typologies, I'm interested in your 
discussion of positive and reverse typologies. The whole play is a 
reverse type of the tragic genre. It is full of procrastinations, and 
not only those of Hamlet: anything but the accomplishment of the act of 
revenge -- and this is one of the humane aspects of Hamlet's character. 
He is so busy pondering that it almost seems as though he does not want 
to be in a dramatic play at all. It takes Shakespeare to pull off a 
trick like this. Hamlet is not bold in action like Laertes, who could be 
seen as the budding type of a tragic hero.

If anyone in the play can be classified as the reverse type of  Divine 
Wisdom, it is Hamlet. In one of his letters Keats wrote, "Byron says, 
'Knowledge is sorrow'; and I go on to say that 'Sorrow is wisdom' -- and 
further for aught we know for certainty 'Wisdom is folly'" Shakespeare 
sums all this up in his play. Hamlet's wisdom is hollowed out by 
knowledge and despair. He seems, in one breath, to drink in the dank 
vapours of an unendingly bleak landscape. As we know, he has come to 
distrust human nature and its false appearances, including his own. But 
his negation is not nihilistic and absolute; for this his keen 
intelligence ponders and reflects too much. If his vision of reality 
could be turned inside out, we would indeed have divine wisdom, which 
Shakespeare does not wish to cheapen with false optimism. We are left 
with the enigma. Maybe the late 'Romances' recaptured some of the 
melancholy joy that is lost in Hamlet, perhaps they could never have 
been written without the tragedies that preceded them.

Ophelia has been described as a Goddess of Fertility which I find 
unconvincing and too close to the Jungian archetypes. I would see her 
rather as the allegory or symbol of downtrodden nature. If I consider 
the play as a Symphony and Ophelia as a 'second' lyrical theme, its 
structure is quite peculiar. She comes in very late and then quite 
timorously, fearfully and briefly, to describe Hamlet's dementia though 
she does get a shot, like Emilia, at male hypocrisy. In the conversation 
with Hamlet she is nature maltreated by diabolical knowledge. Another 
motivating force of the play is the old theme of obsessive jealousy, 
which Hamlet projects onto his mother and for which Ophelia has to 
suffer. We are back with Othello's fear of lust and unleashed nature. 
But nature -- Ophelia, the second subject -- is indeed redeemingly 
released in the lyrical scenes of her madness, damaged but full of 
melancholy floral verdure. Her madness is the perfect complement to 
Hamlet's dementia, in fact she outdoes him by actually breaking the 
boundaries of reason. The Queen's description of her death comes as an 
epilogue, a wonderful moment of relief, like balm falling on the wounds 
of tortured souls

Felix

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Basch <
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Date:       Thursday, 18 Jun 2009 15:16:55 -0400
Subject: 20.0320 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0320 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

Here is another two cents that might be considered. If you seek a 
typology of Wisdom in Shakespeare, then Miranda of The Tempest is it. 
Prospero, which in Italian means "I make happy" -- "Happy are those who 
dwell in His house" -- is a typology of God, for Whom wisdom is His dear 
one -- "Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter".

As written in Proverbs 4:8 "Exalt her [wisdom], and she shall promote 
thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her." This 
is what the romance of Miranda and Ferdinand in The Tempest is about. It 
is vital that Ferdinand deal chastely with her -- Wisdom -- in order for 
his marriage to her, Wisdom, to be meaningful.

Concerning Hamlet walking backward before Ophelia, consider this as the 
situation mentioned in Ecclesiastes 2:14: "The wise man's eyes are in 
his head; but the fool walketh in darkness:..." one of many situations 
in Hamlet that enact verses of Ecclesiastes. For example, Hamlet also, 
as mentioned in Ecclesiastes 11:4, "regardeth the clouds" ["Methinks it 
looks like a camel"] and as Ecclesiastes concludes, such a man "will not 
reap," a foreshadowing of the fact that Hamlet will not.

David Basch

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