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Applying Showalter’s Idea’s to Branagh’s Film of Hamlet

Applying Showalter’s Idea’s to Branagh’s Film Version of Hamlet

Elaine Showalter begins her essay, Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism, by criticizing analyses of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that have virtually ignored the character of Ophelia in the past. The feminist critic argues that Ophelia is an important character in her own right, not just a foil to Hamlet. Further, she says that Ophelia’s story is important to tell from a feminist perspective because it allows Ophelia to upstage Hamlet, and that this re-telling can be done by tracing the iconography of Ophelia in visual art, theater, movies, and even psychiatric theory.

Showalter’s essay revolves around three linked themes. She believes that society’s iconography of Ophelia demonstrates the cultural bonds between female sexuality and female insanity, and she thinks also that this iconography shows the historical exchange between psychiatric theory and the representation of Ophelia in culture. Finally, Showalter traces the ways in which actresses have portrayed Ophelia on stage throughout the evolution of the feminist movement.

By applying Showalter’s ideas to Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Hamlet, a feminist interpretation can be extracted from the movie. Not all of Showalter’s points are relevant to the film, though. It is not possible to trace the historical representation of Ophelia in the movie because there is only one portrayal, but it is entirely possible to use Showalter’s references about the association between female insanity and sexuality to interpret the film. If applied to Branagh’s movie, this theme, as well as Showalter’s ideas about the link between Ophelia’s repre…

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…sts between the representation of female sexuality and female insanity. So, by using feminist theory to show these bonds in Branagh’s Hamlet, Showalter’s goal to conclude with “a fuller sense of the responsibilities of feminist criticism, as well a new perspective on Ophelia” is achieved (224).

Works Cited

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Brian Blessed, Richard Briars, Julie Cristie, Billy Crystal, Derek Jacobi, Michael Malony. Castle Rock, 1996.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: St Martin’s, 1994.

Showalter, Elaine. “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism.” William Shakespeare: Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: St. Martin’s, 1994. 220-240.

The Tragic Tale of Ophelia and Hamlet

The Tragic Tale of Ophelia and Hamlet

The common problem of lack of communication has plagued couples since the beginning of time. The relationship Hamlet and Ophelia share in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, is no more immune to these human tendencies. Throughout the drama, many misunderstandings cloud their relationship. Unspoken problems and pressures within Ophelia’s and Hamlet’s private lives lead to overlooked, unnoticed love. For Hamlet, his bond with Ophelia pales in comparison to the weight of the les talionis obligation thrust upon his soul. Ophelia faces trouble of a different nature. Having been raised to be very obedient to her father and to let him think for her, she is coerced into pushing Hamlet away and not giving into her love. It is the very lack of communication of these personal dilemmas between Ophelia and Hamlet that ultimately leads to Ophelia’s untimely demise and brings Hamlet to the verge of hysteria.

In the beginning, Ophelia is first introduced as she is being warned by her brother, Laertes. He tells her to be wary of Hamlet, for his love for her may be short-lived and she is of unequal rank to him. Shortly afterward, Ophelia’s father, Polonius, joins in the crusade, but in a more forceful way. While treating her as if she was a child, he commands her to turn Hamlet away completely. After Ophelia tells him that Hamlet has expressed affection for her, Polonius replies, “Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl / Unsifted in such perilous circumstance” (1.4.94-95). Thus Ophelia is torn in two different directions—love for Hamlet and obedience toward her father. Since she has been trained since birth, the desires of her father push all other notions aside, and she replies as she ofte…

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…e / Whose violent property fordoes itself” stating that he believed Hamlet’s obsession with Ophelia was its cause (2.2.99-100). Finally, it is plainly established as Hamlet leaps onto Ophelia’s grave and declares his love for her. Their obvious love for each other is hidden, however, under a cover called lack of communication. While the couple is torn apart by forces beyond their control, they never tell each other, which leads to misunderstandings between them. To conclude, it is the very lack of communication in a relationship that can lead to misunderstandings that can obscure otherwise tight bonds. In Hamlet, Ophelia and Hamlet are a prime example of this and how it can lead to the ultimate misunderstanding—lost love.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. England in Literature. Eds. Helen McDonnell, et al. Glenview: Scott, Foresman, 1982. 136-201.

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