Shakespeare's Ophelia

Many people stumble upon this site looking for my and my site's namesake, Shakespeare's Ophelia. While she's not the theme of my site, this little page has some info about her, since for obvious reasons I'm interested in her too.

At Ophelia's Store:
teddy bear with gothic heart
My own illustration of Ophelia in the water.
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Shakespeare's Ophelia

Ophelia by JWW Waterhouse
Ophelia 1894, J. W. Waterhouse
There's rosemary,
that's for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember.
And there's pansies, that's for thoughts.
There's fennel for you, and columbines.
There's rue for you, and here's some for me.
We may call it herb of grace o' Sundays.
Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.
There's a daisy. I would give you some violets,
but they withered all when my father died.
They say he made a good end.


--Ophelia
 Hamlet Prince of Denmark
 Act IV Scene V




Ophelia appears in Shakespeare's Hamlet. She is Hamlet's lover. She watches the development of his apparent madness, suffers his coldness and strange behavior as he rejects and humiliates her (part of his strategem to make good his claim of  insanity,) she is used by her father as a pawn towards manipulating Hamlet, and then finally, discovers that her beloved has violently murdered her father. In the face of this, Ophelia falls into (genuine) madness, and eventually drowns herself. Part of the tragedy of her character is not the manner of her death, but the incidental treatment it is given. She fades like the flowers for which she is so well known, and dies quietly offstage.



Many Pre-Raphaelite and other painters through history have created their own version of Ophelia. Which is not a surprise, as the tragic and romantic aspects of her character, along with the imagery of the young woman floating amongst the flowers and billowing fabric of her gown and slowly sinking to her death while singing peculiar tunes is practically irrisistable, particularly to the high-strung and romantic artists of the nineteenth century.  Even today, she still remains a popular, iconic subject for painters.

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.


--Queen Gertrude
 Hamlet Prince of Denmark
 Act IV Scene VII
Ophelia by Millais
From Ophelia 1852, John Everett Millais


In film, Ophelia has been portrayed in many ways. The following list shows flim versions of Hamlet, with the name of the actress  who played her, and a picture if available. Unfortunately, for most pictures I was unable to find a shot from the actual film, or in many of the older cases, any pictures at all. There are a few existing film versions of Hamlet I have not included in the list, as I was unable to find the name of the actress portraying Ophelia. I've also included the name of the actor playing the title role, as versions of Hamlet as most often identifiable by their leading man.


Julia Stiles
Hamlet, 2000
(Ethan Hawke as Hamlet)


Kate Winslet
Hamlet,1996
(Kenneth Branaugh as Hamlet)


Helena Bonham Carter
 Hamlet, 1990
(Mel Gibson as Hamlet)


Linda Marsh
 Hamlet, 1964
(Richard Burton as Hamlet)


LindaGay Hamilton
 Hamlet, 2000 (TV)
(Campbell Scott as Hamlet)


Antonia Mohr
Hamlet, 1994 (TV)
(Michael Schenk as Hamlet)


Diane Venora
Hamlet, 1990
(Kevin Klein as Hamlet)


Marianne Denicourt
 Hamlet, 1988 (TV, French)
(Gérard Desarthe as Hamlet)


Trisha Hitchcock
Hamlet, 1987
(Hamlet unknown)


Pernilla August
 Hamlet, 1984 (TV, Swedish)
(Stellan Skarsgård as Hamlet)


Linda Certain
 Hamlet, 1973 (Canadian)
(Rick McKenna as Hamlet)


Susan Fleetwood
Hamlet, 1972
(Ian McKellen as Hamlet)


Ciaran Madden
Hamlet, 1970 (TV)
(Richard Chamberlain as Hamlet)

Marianne Faithfull
Hamlet, 1969 (TV)
(Nicol Williamson as Hamlet)


Julie Harris
Hamlet, 1964
(Alfred Ryder as Hamlet)


Jo Maxwell Muller
Hamlet, 1964 (TV)
(Christopher Plummer as Hamlet)


Dunja Movar
Hamlet, 1960 (TV, W. German)
(Maximilian Schell as Hamlet)


Barbara Jefford
Hamlet, 1959 (TV)
(Hamlet unknown)

Anita Björk
Hamlet, 1955 (TV, Swedish) (Bengt Ekerot as Hamlet)

Sarah Churchill
Hamlet, 1953 (TV)
(Maurice Evans as Hamlet)


Jean Simmons
Hamlet, 1948
(Sir Lawrence Olivier as Hamlet)
 

Muriel Pavlow
Hamlet, 1947 (TV)
(John Byron as Hamlet)

Gertrude Elliot
Hamlet, 1913
(Johnston Forbes-Robertson as Hamlet) 

Emilie Sannom
Hamlet, 1910
(Alwin Neuß as Hamlet)

Other Resources:

The Emory Univerity English department has an excellent directory of paintings based on the works of Shakespeare, including a page devoted entirely to Ophelia.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "The Tech" has a complete collection of William Shakespeare's plays online in HTML format (online singe 1993!) including the text of Hamlet

Wikipedia
Wikipedia's entry on Ophelia





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