11lectureHamlet - Hamlet 2: Hamlet and Ophelia and madness...

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Hamlet 2: Hamlet and Ophelia and madness Lecture structure: Hamlet and Ophelia Is Hamlet mad? Are Hamlet and Ophelia black and white opposites? The black of Hamlet comes from the tradition of melancholy that was developing in the Elizabethan period. It was very fashionable and involved sighing, and crossing your arms in a certain way, and wearing black. For example, Don Armado, in Love’s Labor’s Lost is advised to: “Sigh a note and sing a note … with your hat penthouse-like o’er the shop of your eyes, with your arms crossed on your thin belly doublet, like a rabbit on a spit.” ( Love’s Labor’s Lost , Act 3, scene 1) The interesting thing about melancholy is that it did not really ever apply to women. Critic Elaine Showalter says: From about 1580, melancholy had become a fashionable disease among young men, especially in London, and Hamlet himself is the prototype of the melancholy hero. Yet the epidemic associated with intellectual and imaginative genius curiously bypassed women. Women’s melancholy was seen instead as biological, and emotional in origins. (Elaine Showalter, ‘Representing Ophelia’, in John Drakakis, ed., Shakespearean Tragedy (Harlow, 1992), pp. 284-5) So women become hysterical and mad, and men wear black and are called melancholic. Ellen Terry, a Victorian actress, wanted to play Ophelia’s final scene wearing black because she considered that Ophelia was in mourning for Polonius. Henry Irving, a famous actor and theatre director, thought this was dreadful, and his stage manager, Walter Lacy, protested: “My God. Madam, there must be only one black figure in this play, and that’s Hamlet” (Ellen Terry, The Story of My Life , p. 172). This black and white binarism seems to set up an image of Hamlet and Ophelia as opposites. He is a man. She is a woman. He is in black. She is in white. He is pretending to be mad. She is really mad. However, this sets up several related questions:
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This note was uploaded on 03/26/2010 for the course ENGLISH 162 taught by Professor Dubrow during the Spring '08 term at Wisconsin.

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11lectureHamlet - Hamlet 2: Hamlet and Ophelia and madness...

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