Cultural references to Ophelia

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Ophelia was a favorite subject of artist John William Waterhouse.[citation needed]

Ophelia, a character in William Shakespeare's drama Hamlet, is often referred to in literature and the arts,[1] often in connection to suicide, love, and/or mental instability.

In literature[edit]

Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1852) is part of the Tate Gallery collection. His painting influenced the image in both Laurence Olivier's and Kenneth Branagh's films of Hamlet.[citation needed]
Ophelia as appeared in The Works of Shakspere, with notes by Charles Knight, ca. 1873

Novels[edit]

  • Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, in the first chapter of his 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov, described a capricious young woman who committed suicide by throwing herself off a steep cliff into a river, simply to imitate Shakespeare's Ophelia. Dostoevsky concludes that "Even then, if the cliff, chosen and cherished from long ago, had not been so picturesque, if it had been merely a flat, prosaic bank, the suicide might not have taken place at all." Dostoevksy also depicts the heroine Grushenka as Ophelia, binding the two through the words "Woe is me!" in the chapter titled "The First Torment".[2]
  • Ophelia's Revenge (2003), a young adult novel by Rebecca Reisert, is a retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia's point of view.[3]
  • Dating Hamlet (2002), by Lisa Fiedler, tells a version of Ophelia's story.[4]
  • Agatha Christie's characters refers to Ophelia in the novels After the Funeral (1953), Third Girl (1966) and Nemesis (1971)[5][6]
  • In Jasper Fforde's novel Something Rotten (2004) Ophelia tries to take over the play during Hamlet's excursion to the real world.[7]
  • Ophelia by Lisa Klein tells the story of Hamlet from Ophelia's point of view.[8]
  • In Paul Griffiths' novel let me tell you (2008) Ophelia tells a narrative using only her words from Hamlet, rearranged. The novel has been adapted as music by Hans Abrahamsen.[9][10]

Poetry[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

  • Mary Pipher alluded to Ophelia in the title of her nonfiction book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. The book puts forth the thesis that modern American teenage girls are victimized, lost, and unsure of themselves, like Ophelia.[13][14]

Drama[edit]

  • In 2011 the Department of Theatre and Performance at the Victoria and Albert Museum invited director Katie Mitchell and Leo Warner of 59 Productions to conceive and produce a video installation exploring the nature of 'truth in performance'.[15] Taking as its inspiration 5 of the most influential European theatre directors of the last century, the project examines how each of the practitioners would direct the actress playing Ophelia in the famous 'mad' scenes in the play. This multiscreen video installation, launched at the Chantiers Europe festival at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris on 4 June, and opened at the museum on 12 July 2011.[16][17]

In film and television[edit]

  • Sons of Anarchy included several paralells to Hamlet, including Ophelia influencing the characters Tara Knowles and Opie Winston.[18][19]
  • In the Simpsons episode "Tales from the Public Domain", the story of Hamlet is retold using Simpsons characters. The role of Ophelia is taken by Lisa who, upon seeing Hamlet (Bart) talking to a picture of his deceased father (Homer), claims "Nobody out-crazies Ophelia!" She then backs up her claim by jumping on a table, stepping in people's food and kicking over flowers before finally cartwheeling out a nearby window and into the moat, presumably to her death.[20]
  • In the opening montage of the 2011 film Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst's character is shown in her wedding dress, floating face up in a stream, similar to John Everett Millais' painting of Ophelia.[21][22]
  • In the 2005 film The Libertine, Samantha Morton portrays aspirant actress Elizabeth Barry, who portrays Ophelia, and brings the house down.[23]
  • In The Addams Family, Morticia's sister is named Ophelia: both sisters are played by Carolyn Jones. Ophelia is depicted with flowers in her hair, and often carrying flowers, alluding to the play.[24]
  • In the second episode of the television series Desperate Romantics, Elizabeth Siddal poses for John Everett Millais' Ophelia painting.[25]
  • In the 1986 film Fire with Fire, Virginia Madsen plays a Catholic schoolgirl enthralled with John Everett Millais' depiction of Ophelia which she saw in school. She later recreated the scene for a photography project and took pictures of herself immersed in a pond.[26]
  • In the 2012 film Savages it is mentioned that the character "O" goes by "O" because she is named after Ophelia, "the bipolar chick who killed herself in Hamlet."[27]
  • In the 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth, Ofelia, the main character, alludes to the play.[28]
  • The 2013 anime Blast of Tempest has many Shakespearean elements, including references to Ophelia.[29]
  • In Queen and Country (2014) the protagonist nick-names his mentally unstable girl-friend Ophelia.[30]
  • In the 2019 Jordan Peele film Us, Ophelia is the name of a speech-recognition virtual assistant. This may be a reference to the play.[31]


In music[edit]

Classical works[edit]

Contemporary[edit]

The First Madness of Ophelia (1864), by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In science[edit]

In art[edit]

Arthur Hughes[edit]

John William Waterhouse[edit]

Other artists[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Harris, Jonathan Gil (2010). Shakespeare and Literary Theory. Oxford University Press. p. 118. ISBN 9780199573387. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  2. ^ Jackson, Robert Louis; Allen, Elizabeth Cheresh; Morson, Gary Saul (1995). Freedom and Responsibility in Russian Literature: Essays in Honor of Robert Louis Jackson. Northwestern University Press. pp. 105–109. ISBN 9780810111462. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  3. ^ Rokison-Woodall, Abigail (2015). Shakespeare for Young People: Productions, Versions and Adaptations. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 148. ISBN 9781441175298. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  4. ^ Shaughnessy, Robert (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 125. ISBN 9780521844291.
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