The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0160 Monday, 18 July 2011
Date: July 16, 2011 7:54:55 AM EDT
Subject: Thoughts on Ophelia as (a) Property?
I have never been particularly interested in Ophelia. When Shakespeare draws so many women who bubble with determination and wit, I didn't know how to engage with one who seemed to make no effort to write her own story but passively let others write upon her what they would. Nevertheless, a while ago, I felt compelled to write a paper on the way she had been presented in a number of recent performances, prompted mainly by seeing several productions in which she was slapped around in the nunnery scene with no apparent inclination to fight back. At these times, she seemed less a character than a prop, used by the various men to better play out scenes with each other, rather than being one of the players herself. Then it occurred to me that 'prop' is of course short for 'property', which carries much resonance for the place of women in general, and Ophelia in particular, in the world being represented here.
Is Ophelia merely the prop and/or property of the men in this play? Presenting her as such may be a conscious piece of commentary on the nature of the role, though that would be sadly limiting for the poor actress. Does it have to be like that? Or was Frances Barber right when she called Ophelia Hamlet's "counterpart and counterpoint" (before Roger Rees decided he needed to slap her around in the nunnery scene)? I would be very interested in hearing any examples list members recall of performances of Hamlet in which Ophelia was either very clearly, or very clearly not, played as Hamlet's prop.
I am particularly interested in recent and high-profile productions (I had no opportunity to see Ruth Negga play the role at the National, sadly), as I would ultimately like to haul out the paper I wrote, update and expand it. I'm happy to hear, however, about any related moment in a performance that anyone has found made an impression on them, or whether others have mused on this topic themselves.
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