Recently, I was watching Upstart Crow, a funny, reference-filled show about Shakespeare before he becomes famous and it inspired me to write another ‘Imaginary Interview‘ post, this time featuring Ophelia. She seems like an especially fitting character to write about since my dislike of Hamlet is well documented here on my blog.
So, let’s imagine that we’re sitting in expensive, squashy chairs and sipping artisan chamomile tea or something, listening to Ophelia open up about her brief teenage crush on Hamlet and how it changed her life forever.
Ophelia sits primly in the chair. It’s really lovely to be here, chatting. I’ve never been interviewed before. No has ever been interested in my opinions before. She smiles, but lets her long hair swing forward to hide half her face.
It’s about time then. Would you like to talk about Hamlet?
I suppose. I mean, he definitely had, like, a profound effect on my life. Falling silent, she gnaws her lower lip and stares off in the distance.
Did you love Hamlet?
Ophelia blinks, gaze focuses again. Love him? I don’t think so…I thought at one time that I did. At least, I wanted to. I guess I tried to, like, convince myself that I did. Look, growing up, I’d always had this idea that Hamlet and I would be married. He talked about it sometimes, and my father my brother Laertes also thought we were a couple. I think my father approved at first, because of course Hamlet was a Prince, and it would be a good match for me. Her voice drops a bit. A better match than I expected. I mean, I could have been Queen someday if I married Hamlet, and that seemed, like, too good to be true.
But Laertes didn’t want you to marry Hamlet, right?
Right. He told me that Hamlet’s love was fleeting, that he would never be able to commit to me. It really hurt, actually. Maybe I was just being insecure or something, but it made me feel like he wasn’t saying that Hamlet couldn’t love anybody. It felt like he was saying Hamlet couldn’t love me. Like no one could, like I wasn’t good enough. Ophelia curls up in the chair, tucking her feet under her. So, I broke things off with Hamlet. I had to. My father and my brother told me too, and I couldn’t go against them. I was always very obedient to them – after all, my father was the head of the household. But then Hamlet came to see me, and he seemed just, like, completely stricken. He was all pale and disheveled and kept saying weird things.
And your father believed your rejection of Hamlet had driven him insane?
Yeah. And I won’t lie, that was a bit of a confidence boost after what Laertes said. He made me feel like Hamlet would hardly even notice if I stopped talking to him, and now he was clearly having issues. When my dad sent me to talk to Hamlet, I thought maybe I could cheer him up, that we could work things out. I thought maybe I’d still end up marrying him. She sighs, and irritation sparks in her eyes. But then Hamlet was sooo rude. Like, he was such a poisonous hunch-backed toad. Ophelia flushes scarlet. I’m so sorry. I know I shouldn’t use language like that – it just slipped out. I guess I have a lot of anger about this still. But Hamlet said some really cruel things. He basically called me a (her voice drops to a whisper) whore. And, for propriety’s sake, I felt like I had to pretend I didn’t quite understand all his double meanings, but come on. I’ve been to plays and heard poetry. That Shakespeare guy is super inappropriate sometimes. And, another time, Laertes made this whole speech about virtue and kept going on and on about flowers – it was actually kind of disgusting. I knew what he was talking about and I didn’t need this lecture from my brother, of all people. I never did anything wrong, really, and I always just wanted to please everyone…She trails off, and seems agitated.
Anyway, Hamlet kept saying awful, crude things to me, even during a play. He seemed like a totally different person, although I guess to be honest, I didn’t know him all that well before. I mean, how well can you really know someone? But now he was someone I didn’t like. Ophelia straightens in the chair, twisting her fingers together so hard that her knuckles look white. And then he murdered my father! I know dad shouldn’t have been hiding behind the curtain, but it was a small deception. Not worth killing over. Hamlet ran him through with a sword without even checking behind the curtain to see who it was! Can you imagine? Her voice rises. I can’t even. What a horrible, stupid man.
Was he very remorseful, do you think?
I don’t think so. Well, I don’t know. It was very upsetting to me. I confess that I wasn’t paying much attention to Hamlet or anyone after that. I felt quite mad with grief. Like, I was so crazy that I wandered around singing these crude songs and handing out flowers. Her voice cracks. Father would have hated those songs – that’s why I sang them. I kept thinking that maybe, if I said enough bad things, he’d just show up and scold me, like old times. Crazy, right?
And then you went to the river…
Ophelia nods. Yeah. I didn’t have a specific purpose in mind when I walked there, but as I stared down into the water from a tree branch – I climbed it because I knew Father and Laertes would disapprove – I kind of realized that I would never be free. Hamlet and Laertes would just keep dictating my life and I couldn’t stand either of them at the moment. I thought about jumping into the river. I’m not sure I would have gone through with it, but then the branch broke – I know, convenient, right? And then the river was pretty fast, and my dress got quite heavy, and suddenly I didn’t have a choice anymore. She looks very sad.
What’s your greatest regret?
I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but honestly, sometimes I feel upset that I drowned before Hamlet died. He died from my brother’s poisoned-tipped sword. My brother died too, but first he and Hamlet forgave each other. I can’t help but wonder, sometimes, if my life would have been better if I lived and Hamlet didn’t. She scowls. Did you know that, after I died, he went on and on about how much he loved me? I was dead, and he still made it about him! You know, I think my biggest regret is that I had no agency at all. I know this was a play – I’m not totally oblivious – but why couldn’t I have been given more exciting lines? Like Juliet – she died too, but at least she tried to take charge of her future. She made plans, even if they went wrong. I didn’t get to do anything. Shakespeare could have done better, you know?