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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: July ::
Thoughts on Ophelia as (a) Property?


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0163  Tuesday, 19 July 2011

[1] From:      Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 18, 2011 4:30:47 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: Thoughts on Ophelia as (a) Property?

[2] From:      Martin Mueller < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      July 18, 2011 4:53:22 PM EDT
      Subj:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV

[3] From:      Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:      Tuesday, July 19, 2011       
      Subj:      Ofelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 18, 2011 4:30:47 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: Thoughts on Ophelia as (a) Property?

Anna Kamarelli asks,

 >Is Ophelia merely the prop and/or property of the men in this play? <
 
It may be unfair to single out Ophelia as sole prop and property. If anything, the sins of the fathers (be they alive or dead) are visited upon ALL the young in this play. Some bristle, others buckle (often both) under the baneful influence of their male elders, These elders seem intent on blocking any fruitful union between Hamlet and Ophelia. Both, along with Laertes, are sacrificed to such ubiquitous patriarchal agendas. 
 
Regards,
Joe Egert

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Martin Mueller < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 18, 2011 4:53:22 PM EDT
Subject:      Re: SHAKSPER: Ophelia; MV

>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.


It may be easier to like or feel good about Rosalind than Ophelia, but it is important to remember that every dramatic character—male, female, or whatever—is product of an author's intentions. In Shakespeare's plays I see a lot of experiments with relative degrees of constraints and liberation. The cross-dressing Julia and Portia are quite different in their way of engaging the challenge of cross-dressing and whatever it implies. The Portia of Julius Caesar gains moral authority and courage from being the daughter of Cato and the wife of Brutus, while Ophelia is brothered, lovered, and fathered to death. But Portia kills herself by swallowing burning coals — a kind of contrapasso for having violated the Pauline rule that "tacet mulier in ecclesia"?--while Ophelia dubiously drowns (herself?).  Death by water and death by fire may be contrapuntal variations in a Shakespearean theme that begins with Adriana in the Comedy of Errors insisting that husband and wife are two "halves" in an (equal?) whole.  Lady Percy is a kind of Portia. So in a different way is Lady Macbeth. Rosalind, Cordelia, and Desdemona manage their fathers in very different ways.

All these characters can't really be blamed or praised for what they do or do not say or do. They take up positions (of their author's choice) in a spectrum of relative degrees of agency and communicative success. Ophelia is clearly at one end of this spectrum. So in a very different way is Lady Macbeth. Rosalind and the Portia of the Merchant of Venice are at another end — the one perhaps more likeable than the other. But the interest in the end may be in that constellation of figures and positions, rather than in this or that character.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         Tuesday, July 19, 2011       
Subject:      Ofelia

The Q1 version is even harder on Ophelia than Q2/F1. She is present, as I recall, when her father and Claudius treat her as an extension of Polonius's/Corambis's plotting to trap Hamlet in Nunnery scene--a feature I have seen in a few non-Q1 productions of the play. In Q1, just as Claudius is more culpable and Gertrude less so, Ofelia is more clearly the property of her father to dispose of as he sees fit.

Hardy

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