The Ophelia versions : representations of a dramatic type, 1600-1633
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‘The Ophelia Versions: Representations of a Dramatic Type from 1600-1633’ interrogates early modern drama’s use of the Ophelia type, which is defined in reference to Hamlet’s Ophelia and the behavioural patterns she exhibits: abandonment, derangement and suicide. Chapter one investigates Shakespeare’s Ophelia in Hamlet, finding that Ophelia is strongly identified with the ballad corpus. I argue that the popular ballad medium that Shakespeare imports into the play via Ophelia is a subversive force that contends with and destabilizes the linear trajectory of Hamlet’s revenge tragedy narrative. The alternative space of Ophelia’s ballad narrative is, however, shut down by her suicide which, I argue, is influenced by the models of classical theatre. This ending conspires with the repressive legal and social restrictions placed upon early modern unmarried women and sets up a dangerous precedent by killing off the unassimilated abandoned woman. Chapter two argues that Shakespeare and Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen amplifies Ophelia’s folk and ballad associations in their portrayal of the Jailer’s Daughter. Her comedic marital ending is enabled by a collaborative, communal, folk-cure. The play nevertheless registers a proto-feminist awareness of the peculiar losses suffered by early modern women in marriage and this knowledge deeply troubles the Jailer’s Daughter’s happy ending. Chapter three explores the role of Lucibella in The Tragedy of Hoffman arguing that the play is a direct response to Hamlet’s treatment of revenge and that Lucibella is caught up in an authorial project of disambiguation which attempts to return the revenge plot to its morality roots. Chapters four and five explore the narratives of Aspatia in The Maid’s Tragedy and Penthea in The Broken Heart, finding in their very conformism to the behaviours prescribed for them, both by the Ophelia type itself and by early modern society in general, a radical protest against the limitations and repressions of those roles. This thesis is consistently invested in the competing dialectics and authorities of oral and textual mediums in these plays. The Ophelia type, perhaps because of Hamlet’s Ophelia’s identification with the ballad corpus, proves an interesting gauge of each play’s engagement with emergent notions of textual authority in the early modern period.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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