Friday, October 12, 2012

Ophelia re-imagined

Shakespeare's women never die. Although female characters are overshadowed by the male characters in Shakespeare's plays, that does not mean that they have to stay in the margins, shadows, in madness or death.

Ophelia, from Hamlet, is one of the most re-imagined Shakespearean women. Above you can watch Natalie Merchant's captivating video/song performance of Ophelia re-envisioned through Merchant's haunting lyrics, mesmerizing vocals and performances. Ophelia is many women. In Shakespeare's play, Ophelia goes mad and then falls into a stream and as her dress gets heavier and heavier with water, she resigns herself to drowning. She dies chanting old tunes; leading to her death, she had been singing Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny songs of madness as her mind breaks because of male power.

Millais' Ophelia (1851-52) romanticizes and eroticizes Ophelia's death, immortalizing her as a martyr for love, as a saintly woman more beautiful and desirous in death and ever lasting silence, than in life. In the play, Ophelia's death is off stage; it is recounted through Queen Gertrude to Laertes, Ophelia's brother. It is from the words of Queen Gertrude that Millais imagines and paints his Ophelia:

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
. (4.7.2)
MariCruz Suarez Rolobos reimagines Millais' imaging of Shakespeare's Ophelia.In Rolobos' remake, the strand of violets around Ophelia's neck becomes a crown.  

Because MariCruz's image is digital, it is unlikely that her model had to lie in cold water for hours and hours like Millais' model did. Perhaps, as a digital image, the model is not even in water! On the other hand, Lizzy Siddal, Millais' 19 year old model, caught a terrible cold and pneumonia from lying in the bath, warmed only by some candles on the floor around it (Millais painted the creek and foliage separately), from which she never recovered. She died years later of ill health, addiction, anorexia, stress from her tumultuous relationship with Dante Rossetti and, perhaps as some believe, suicide.

Elizabeth (Lizzy) Siddal, known as the muse of neo-Raphealite painters and the wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was also herself a poet and artist.

Ophelia (Drowning). Helen Morton, in a Birmingham University performance piece at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009. In this re-imagining of Ophelia, in a bridal gown, she falls into a hotel swimming pool. Andrew Allen writes:

Helen Morton’s gloriously cracked voice husks across the water as she brokenly negotiates her way through a collection of brutal love songs, her useless wedding veil trailing ahead of her in the water like a precursor of her own ghost, while other characters indulge in a lot of kissing, thrusting and sighing in this pool, all warm, wet and heated, and savagely ignoring her.   We’re told that Serafina Kiszko’s character is new, created for this production, but she could just as easily be interpreted as a splinter of Ophelia’s paranoia, or a memory of herself in happier times.


Merche Pallarés said...

Really enjoyed reading about Ophelia and seeing the videos. Too bad about Lizzy, Millai's model who had to pose through that hell which, finally, ended up with her life. Too sad. Hugs, M.

Merche Pallarés said...

Sorry, meant Millais' model...

northshorewoman said...

Wasn't it the case too often in the past that creative women were made mad by being put into the shadows of men.

Merche Pallarés said...

Yes, quite true, Taina... If a woman stood out for some reason, she was put down immediately. But what's most sad is that's still happening nowadays in many countries! Look at that young fourteen-year-old student who was shot (fortunately, she survived) by a hysterical, fanatical Taliban in Pakistan... Simply because she was defending women's right to education... Unbelievable. Hugs, M.