15 Jul 2011


'Ophelia' - Sir John Everett Millais.

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
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 lauds;
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.
- Hamlet: Act 4: Scene 7.

Now as I have mentioned before I'm no fan of Shakespeare - studying Julius Ceasar for my O' Level English course aged 15/16 put pay to that.

However, having matured somewhat, I have come to the conclusion that the Bard's work was meant to be watched and not read, and so have enjoyed some of his works at the theatre - The Merry Wives Of Windsor, A Midsummer Night's Dream, both brilliant, Hamlet, not so much so.

Anyway, a few weeks ago now I was intrigued to read this article about the drowning of Ophelia in the Telegraph

DROWNED GIRL MAY HAVE BEEN THE REAL OPHELIA. Academics now believe Shakespeare's depiction of the death of Ophelia may be based on a real family tragedy that occurred when the playwright was a child.
A study of coroners' reports from the 16th century has unearthed a link between Shakespeare and a girl who drowned in a pond while picking flowers.
Jane Shaxspere was just two when her lifeless body was found floating twenty miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon, home to Shakespeare.

Probably not so claims Sylvia Morris, former head of the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, in this article by Nick Britten also reporting in the Telegraph (Sorry, I'm unable to provide you with a link.)

The death that lies behind the fate of Ophelia was that of a young lady called Catherine Hamlet who drowned at Tiddington, a village one mile from Stratford, in 1579 when Shakespeare was 15.
"Katherine Hamlet is much more likely to have influenced Shakespeare because he was a young man at the time and she was much more local.
"The circumstances find a strong echo in the description of Ophelia's watery death in Hamlet.
"The Jane Shaxspere link is interesting because of the name, but this was a common name in this area in those days. As always we don't know," said Mrs Morris.

..... And nor are we ever likely to.


NRIGirl said...

So,that's the story...

Somewhat hurts to read the poem looking at the picture, however fictional or real...

Misha said...

That's interesting!
I am not a big fan of Shakespeare either, though I do like some of his works.

Kelly said...

How fascinating! Like you, I've never been a big fan of the Bard and probably have enjoyed more of the productions I've seen than what I've actually read.

I love the painting you chose to accompany this post!

anilkurup said...

I guess the poem made sense with the gist you gave. Quite a picture the woman gives lying in the muddy waters.Good choice .

chitra said...

Remeber studiying Shakespeare for my college . We had wonderful teacher who taught us well. She made the difference in learning which otherwise would have become a drag.
A wonderful post as usual. Liked Ophelia's story

joan said...

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Dorte H said...

No matter where, I am sure he found inspiration all around him.

And as I keep telling my students, Shakespeare was a wise writer who tried to give his audience what they wanted. So if they wanted ghosts and witches, he added those. (Just like me, actually ;D)

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

That is interesting! I am curious if that was true even if we will never know for sure.

Betty Manousos@ Cut and Dry said...

how interesting! stories like this one may not happen nowadays.

i am not quite a big fan of Shakespeare either... i studied his plays and poems as i had to at school though.

big hugs!
betty X

Monalisa said...

I read this post on my feeds and it didn't load more than the part in Hamlet. And it didn't even show it was from Hamlet. I never read Shakespear fully and this I kept reading over and over. I simply loved it, when I began drowning deep into it. Such a beautiful script. So beautiful. Now I read it in full, I don't know who Ophelia is, but it certainly is interesting