When I saw the headline “9 Artistic Representations of Shakespeare’s Ophelia” I thought immediately of Millais’ Ophelia in the river. But what else? I remember a variety of Juliets and Mirandas and Ladies Macbeth, but I couldn’t remember how many interpretations of Ophelia I’d seen.
Well here we have 9 of them, and yes Millais is the first “iconic” one to get that out of the way. I’m a little weirded out that so many of them are artistically naked. Not only have I never thought of Ophelia that way (I tend to think of her as very young), but it does kind of go against that whole “her garments, heavy with their drink…” thing. This is mentioned in the article.
Pretty sure I’d seen #5 before. Never #2, #2 is creepy.
My daughter is heading off to college next year but I don’t care, they’ll all be geeklets to the day I die.
Today I’m at work (from home) when I get a text:
“Do you have Hamlet?”
It’s a new semester and she’d mentioned they’re doing Hamlet, so that was not an unexpected question. I love when the kids need to draw on my Shakespeare library, it’s why I’ve been building it over the years. Just the other day I found a Taming of the Shrew in my mailbox – my oldest had let one of her friends borrow it last semester, and she was returning it.
“Which version?” I ask, because you don’t get full dad points if you don’t drag stuff like this out unnecessarily. I honestly don’t know how many Hamlets I have. I don’t typically collect individual editions, there are too many. I do have multiple “Complete Works”, though.
“Uhhh,” comes the reply. “Hamlet. High school. Just Hamlet.”
“Well there’s Arden, Riverside, Folger … ” I reply, then go looking to see what’s on my shelf. I find the Arden edition, which is a bit intimidating. I fear she’s looking for one of those glorified pocket editions that’s just the text with a few glossary words sprinkled down the edges. This is very much not that. Less than half of each page is actual play text, the rest is footnotes. Great for research, but probably overkill for this assignment.
Later that evening, at dinner, I find. out that she relayed this question to her teacher. “Did your dad tell you to ask that?” said the teacher. My reputation precedes me!
I can’t wait to see how it goes. I”m probably going into her class at some point, though to do what and speak on what, I’m not sure. I’m willing to pretty much go off the top of my head, as long as I can keep the kids’ attention. That was easier when they were in elementary school.
For comparison, my son did Julius Caesar last semester. I knew this was on the curriculum. And I heard about it in the context of, “Oh, yeah, we’re doing Julius Caesar in history class.” I said let me know if you need help. He said, “We finished it.” The closest I got to any actual content was when he mentioned “some guy talking at a funeral”. Sigh. I guess I teased him too often with “I’m coming in to your history class to talk about Shakespeare when you get to that topic.” Both girls got a kick out of that, and at one point had a school reputation as the Shakespeare experts. My son, on the other hand, will bend over backward to make sure his friends and classmates never see me 🙂
I’ve long been fascinated with “visualization,” mostly because I discovered that I can’t do it. You know that thing when someone says, “Close your eyes. Picture yourself standing on a beach. A woman approaches, carrying a box…?” I have no picture in my mind. I can’t tell you whether there’s other people in the scene, or how old the woman is or what she looks like, or the color or size of the box. It’s more like my brain just establishes the connected concepts and says, “Ok, yup, on the beach, woman carrying a box. Next?”
I learned in college that people actually *do* see a picture in their head. Maybe you, dear reader, are one of them (you probably are). Consider the scene I described. What does the woman look like? What color is the box? Are there other people around? What’s the sky like? You probably have answers to all of those things.
My kids recently taught me the word “aphantasia” to describe this. They’re fascinated with it. “You have no mind’s eye!” they’ll tell me, astonished. Whether they realize they’re borrowing from Hamlet, I’m not sure, but I’ll take it. When we talk about math I’m astonished that they tell me they literally visualize numbers lining up in columns, and when they say things like “carry the 1” they really see the 1 moving over to the next column. I get none of that. Numbers to me are just quantities, they have no visual component. They can’t imagine it working like that.
This isn’t just a random rant about the inner workings on my brain. I’m wondering whether or not it’s precisely because of aphantasia that I’m interested in theatre, and Shakespeare specifically. See, I don’t know or care about how anything looks. I have no picture of Hamlet or Ophelia or Gertrude. People talk about “a director’s vision” and I think, “Nope, I could never be a director.” All I have, and all I care about, is the words. So the words are 99% of the experience for me, and the fact that every production of the play brings forth a new visual interpretation just adds to it.
Audio is excellent, too, by the way. This is not a “read only” type of thing. I’m perfectly happy to have the words acted out for me, to put all the emphasis in the right place. But literally at no point do I picture a snivelly little hunched Claudius or a big fat Claudius. He is entirely defined for me by the words that come out of his mouth, which are what define him in relation to the other characters. So when someone else puts a visual to him and I get to see Claudius? I never, ever think, “That’s not how I pictured him.” I almost always think, “Ok, interesting, let’s see how well the visual connects to the words.”
Ok, that’s it for a Sunday night. Just something I’m thinking about, with no pictures.
Barry Edelstein and The Old Globe are producing Hamlet as a radio drama, April 23 + 24 (it’s in two parts, it’s not playing twice).
My first thought is, how’s this different from an audio book? I mean, I remember the fascination of “old time radio”, my parents grew up in that era. That idea that if you weren’t in front of the radio and paying attention when something happened, you’d miss it? An actual live performance where things might go wrong, rather than a highly produced final copy? It sounds very interesting.
I may have to put this one in my calendar and try to tune in. If this were a play you’d never seen before, you might be thinking, how can pure audio paint that picture? But … it’s Hamlet. We’ve all seen Hamlet, probably multiple versions. So how do you not just fill in the blanks with past experiential memories?
My kids think that I have something called aphantasia – where you basically have no “mind’s eye.” I’m amused that I get to use that expression in a Hamlet story, given where that quote comes from. But, yes, when people say things to me like “Imagine a young woman falling out of a willow tree into a river” I’ve got … nuthin. My brain says “oh, like that Olivier version you saw in high school 35 years ago?” and “how about that famous painting?” But I can’t create a new, original version of that image. When I read a book I rely heavily on dialogue. If you spend a lot of words painting a picture for me about where everybody is in the room? I may remember a lot of the words, but I am very much not making a visual image in my head.
So I wonder what it’d be like listening to a live Hamlet? Maybe I’ll find out!
Apparently Stalin “disapproved” of Hamlet, he didn’t ban it. Which I’m gathering, though I’m not a student of this particular time in history, that Stalin was the kind of dude who, if you did something he disapproved of, you lived to regret it … but not very long.
The rest of the linked article, be warned, is about cancel culture – a very hot, very divisive topic these days. The Stalin story makes the point – you don’t have to enact a law to cancel something. Sometimes, just the right word from the right person can do the trick.
(*) How’s TS Eliot get dragged into this? The poet wrote an essay entitled, “Hamlet and his Problems“, where we get the infamous quote referring to the English language’s greatest play as “certainly an artistic failure.” Unlike Stalin, however, Eliot apparently did not have cancel powers – few people would say that they stopped producing Hamlet because TS Eliot said so.