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Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so

Insighful, thought-provoking post over at Hoyden About Town on Ophelia, violence, and what is and is not in the text: On Ophelia, Who Never Got to Be a Hoyden:

There is no indication in the text that Hamlet harms Ophelia physically in this scene, no stage direction and no line that specifically requires such an action for it to make sense. If anything the text suggests a Hamlet who is trying to remove himself from Ophelia’s company, not run her to ground. He says ‘farewell’ three times, as well as repeatedly saying ‘go’, ‘go to’ and ‘go thy ways’. Nevertheless, the scene is often staged with Hamlet tipping over from verbal abuse of Ophelia into physical.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
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wiliqueen
Nov. 3rd, 2010 11:55 pm (UTC)
I love your crunchy brains.

That is all.
studiesinlight
Nov. 4th, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
This essay is excellent and resonant. Thank you for sharing the link. What an amazing -- and how disturbing, this amazement -- insight that the dialogue simply does not accommodate this common staging of that scene, and that is why the staging dissolves into silence.

How curious, also, that several of those quoted assume past sexual intercourse between Ophelia and Hamlet, which is perhaps allowed, but certainly not independently supported, by the timing of the play action and the larger cultural context within the play. How old is canon Ophelia, really? How long has Hamlet been away? I should re-read...

Coincidentally, I'm presently reading a non-fiction book titled The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases, about some of the most skilled forensic specialists alive. One of them, who considers himself among the five top profilers alive, with a resume that seems to back him up, when he was in college stumped his professor by vigorously disagreeing with the conventional interpretation of Hamlet as indecisive. This future uber-profiler insisted instead that Hamlet was in complete control from the beginning to end of the play, and orchestrated every action to the final conclusion that he had chosen. Unfortunately, this is just a teasing tidbit, not something more explored in the book.
wiliqueen
Nov. 4th, 2010 12:36 am (UTC)
insight that the dialogue simply does not accommodate this common staging of that scene, and that is why the staging dissolves into silence.

Yes, exactly! It's not a favorite play, and the one production I've been in was highly atypical in a number of ways, though pretty standard in this one. But yes, the simple statement that the words that come out of Ophelia's and Polonius' mouths at the close of the confrontation are not an appropriate response to violent behavior on Hamlet's part... That shouldn't be such a revelation, and yet it is.

And now I'm thinking about how much it contributes to the frequent construction/perception of Polonius as a well-meaning but utterly oblivious father. If he had seen nothing so disturbing in the prince's behavior toward his daughter because there was nothing so disturbing to see, would he look quite such a buffoon?

How curious, also, that several of those quoted assume past sexual intercourse between Ophelia and Hamlet,

I'm always puzzled by this assumption. If for no other reason, than because both characters, including in private conversation, repeatedly refer to her as a maid. Which has a pretty unmistakably specific definition throughout the canon!

Unfortunately, this is just a teasing tidbit, not something more explored in the book.

Talk about tantalizing! That's the sort of thing that drives me back to a text to try to construct the thought process of the person proposing it, purely for the sake of the exercise.

'Cause, y'know, I don't have anything actually constructive to do... *wry g*

Edited at 2010-11-04 12:39 am (UTC)
irish_horse
Nov. 4th, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you for linking to this very thought-provoking essay.

In all honesty, I've never felt that there was any sexual history between Ophelia and Hamlet. She may have had hero worship for him, and a profound adolescent crush, but there was nothing else there, and certainly not from his end. I've also never accepted the interpretation of Hamlet being physically violent with Ophelia - quite the opposite, he is completely disengaged emotionally, and it would seem to follow that the disengagement would be physical as well. His coldness is the hallmark of the "nunnery" scene to me.

I've never cared for Hamlet as a character.
wiliqueen
Nov. 5th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
She may have had hero worship for him, and a profound adolescent crush, but there was nothing else there, and certainly not from his end.

He sent the letters for a reason or reasons, and it's interesting to consider what they might have been, but I definitely agree the history is seriously limited at best.
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