Shakespeare Glimpsed?
  • Ophelia's death

    William Shakespeare — who’s remarkable for so many things that it’s easy to forget the thing he’s perhaps most remarkable for: the fact that he doesn’t reveal himself in any of his plays — was born in 1564, in Stratford, a tiny village which at that time had a population of approximately 1,500 people.

    In the summer of 1579, when Shakespeare was fifteen-years-old, a young woman named Katherine Hamlet fell into the river Avon and drowned, an incident the young William Shakespeare would have for certain known about.

    It’s not much, but it’s something.

    Here’s Queen Gertrude’s poetic description of Ophelia’s muddy death:

    Gertrude: There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
    That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
    There with fantastic garlands did she come
    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 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.

    Hamlet Act IV, scene vii

About The Author

Ray Harvey

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning at the core of my life.

4 Responses and Counting...

  • Averil Dean 03.20.2012

    “As one incapable of her own distress”

    Poor Ophelia, with her garland of rue. Even in Shakespeare’s time, men drove us to madness and left us with the consequences.

    Have you seen Gregory Crewdson’s “Ophelia”?

  • (Present company excepted, of course.)

  • Hi Averil Dean. No, I haven’t seen Gregory Crewdson’s “Ophelia,” and what’s more I haven’t even heard of it. Are you recommending it?

    “Garland of rue” — that’s very good.

  • Yes. Gregory Crewdson is a photographer who shoots these very elaborate, beautifully lit compositions with a large-format camera. Very surreal. If neo-noir has an expression in the world of photography, Crewdson is it.

    I can’t find a specific site to link because my work computer won’t play, but if you google his name you’ll see loads of images. “Ophelia” is a favorite of mine.

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