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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: June ::
Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0344  Monday, 29 June 2009

[1] From:   Martin Mueller <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jun 2009 22:35:17 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0337 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

[2] From:   Felix de Villiers <
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     Date:   Thursday, 25 Jun 2009 09:45:33 +0200
     Subj:   Hamlet and Ophelia, Typology


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Martin Mueller <
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Date:       Wednesday, 24 Jun 2009 22:35:17 -0500
Subject: 20.0337 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0337 Hamlet and Ophelia, Typologically

About typological readings of Ophelia (and other things): It helps to 
remember that the literal meaning of 'allegory' is 'saying other' and 
that it was a technique of reading before it became a technique of 
writing. You take the 'other-saying' route when, for whatever reason you 
don't like what the text appears to be saying on the face of it.

You can read anything allegorically or 'typologically' and, given the 
initial problem allegory was meant to solve -- i.e. that you want the 
text to say something else -- there is no end of it. There are, of 
course, ways of writing allegorically, but once you're in the habit of 
reading allegorically there is no easy way of drawing a line between 
what you would like for the text to mean and what you think the author 
intended.

There are a variety of ways in which one could put Hamlet/Ophelia, 
Othello/Desdemona, and Red Cross/Una in the same paragraph and learn 
from the comparison. What you see clearly (or I see clearly) is that 
Spenser writes very explicitly in a figurative framework and that 
Shakespeare does not. You learn something from looking at Shakespearean 
situations 'as if' they were figurative, as long as you are aware of the 
difference.

I remember Northrop Frye referring to Roy Battenhouse as the 'peeping 
Thomist'. I learned a lot from Battenhouse in a graduate seminar at 
Indiana many years ago, but often the things you learn from a teacher 
are not the things he meant to teach. What I took away was that some 
connections are more tenuous than others and that to force them is to 
destroy them. 'Allegory' is a technique of making a text mean something 
else. The trick is to know when and where to stop.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Felix de Villiers <
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Date:       Thursday, 25 Jun 2009 09:45:33 +0200
Subject:    Hamlet and Ophelia, Typology

Concerning typologies, I have a revolutionary statement to make: Ophelia 
is Ophelia. Undoubtedly types exist in Shakespeare: the fool, the 
villain, the tragic hero. Is Hamlet not, among other things an 
apotheosis of the type of the fool? Like our editor, I felt 
uncomfortable with this theme from the beginning. In the end the 
typologies can be just about anything that pops into our heads: Ophelia 
as Divine Wisdom, the Virgin Mary, Laertes as the Messiah, and so on. In 
my last comment (18/06/09), I went along with this game, but really with 
the intention of undermining it and going more deeply into the play. 
With the richness of detail and characterisation in his plays, 
Shakespeare himself undermines the allegories that may be hovering as 
abstractions above his theatre. I can imagine his caustic reaction if 
someone had asked him whether Ophelia represented the Virgin Mary. I 
know that there have been plays with heavily allegorical figures in 
them, but Shakespeare humanises these out of recognition.

"To me, I humbly confess, 'allegory', rightly or wrongly, means 
nuisance," wrote Sir Leslie Stephens, Virginia Woolf's father, in an 
essay on Tennyson. "The meaning which it sticks on to a poem is 
precisely what the poem cannot properly mean. (-) But when the 
personages, instead of obeying the laws of their own world, are 
converted into allegory, they lose their dream (fictional FdV) reality 
without gaining the reality of ordinary life. The arbitrariness 
especially ceases to be delightful when we suspect that the real 
creatures of the fancy have become the puppets of a judicious moralist."

Apparently Tennyson was asked whether the three Queens that appear on 
the lake in the Morte d'Arthur were not Faith, Hope and Charity. He 
replied that they were and were not; that they might well be the three 
Virtues or the three Graces, but added that there was nothing in his 
poem that might not be explained without any mystery or allegory 
whatever.- When Ophelia is described as the Virgin Mary, she loses her 
fascination, she loses herself.

My citations of Leslie Stephens come from an old schoolbook of mine:
Tennyson, Oxford University Press, London, 1967

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