sexual experience of Opelia : LUSENET : Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet : One Thread

I am doing my Alevel courcework on the question of,is Ophelia sexually experienced or not.I would like to know if there are any coments on this question,refering if posible to Branah's film and Mel Gibsons film.It would be great help if you know of any web sites of the topic.And anyones own views on the question would be of great help too.

-- William Murray-brown (, January 30, 2002


I believe the key to Ophelia's sexual experience (or rather lack of it) is the Jephthah ballad ('O Jephthah, judge of Israel...') partially quoted within the text of HAMLET by Hamlet in II.ii.399-414. A version of the whole ballad can be found in the Longer Notes of THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE edition of HAMLET, Methuen & Co., London and New York, 1982, edited by Harold Jenkins. If you can't find that, let us know and I'll type it out for you if it'll help.

The Jephthah story itself is from the BIBLE, 'Judges' 10:6-12:7.

The point to the story in the context of Ophelia is that Jephthah's daughter is pointlessly sacrificed by her father, due to an indiscriminate vow Jephthah makes to God.

And more than this, the story emphasizes that Jephthah's daughter is a virgin, and dies a virgin, which makes her lot sadder, and for which other women mourn for her.

Which is not to say that she does not know the facts of life, but just that she hasn't physically experienced them.

Obviously, though, Branagh at least didn't see Ophelia this way.

Judges 11:36-39 also demonstrates the girl's piety, and her obedience to her father (regardless of how stupid or careless he has been).

-- catherine england (, January 31, 2002.

I think that it is all in interpertation. But in act 4 scene 5 Ophelia is singing about sexual experiences. This also leads to the question if hamlet and ohelia have had sex. However there is controversy becasue Ophelia means pure and frality.

-- Mel (, April 03, 2002.

My Greek's non-existent, but I believe Ophelia actually means 'succour'. Aphelia means 'innocence' or 'simplicity'. Some people think WS made a mistake using Ophelia when he meant Aphelia. I doubt it. Ophelia, succour, goes with Laertes likening her to 'a ministering angel' (V.i.233-235), and her repentence references in IV.v.42-44, and her final two lines in IV.v.196-197.

And as we see from her responses to Hamlet's crudities in III.ii and from her songs in IV.v, she isn't innocent in knowledge, though she doesn't think it proper to talk about the birds and the bees in public while she's sane.

-- catherine england (, April 04, 2002.

I guess I should expound on IV.v.42-4.

The ‘gentleman’ has told us in lines IV.v.7-14 not to read too much meaning into Ophelia’s speech, but there are undoubtedly references in it:

A) ‘They say the owl was a baker’s daughter’: the owl was seen as a bird of mourning, whose call in addition could warn of coming disaster. Bakers’ daughters, similar to those of fishmongers (cf. II.ii.173-186), were traditionally thought to be sexually loose. In popular legend, the story went that a baker’s daughter, asked by Christ for some bread, was unwilling to give him much, for which he turned her into an owl.

B) ‘Lord we know what we are ...’: see 1 John chapter 3 (a passage about God’s love and willingness to forgive sin), and especially, ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us ... Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. ... ‘And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. ... He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. ‘... whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. ... ‘Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. ... ‘My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. ... ‘For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.’

C) ‘God be at your table’ implies the offering of a wish for plenty which the baker’s daughter denied Christ.

Bloody hell, and that's what's in just three lines of this play. Ain't it great?

Now at the risk of being gibbetted by the Gentleman, let's take a huge leap of logic and equate Ophelia with the Baker's Daughter, Hamlet with Christ and even 'the Son of God' in the 1 John passage, and Claudius with Cain, and remember her last two lines say 'God have mercy on ... all Christian souls: the ministering angel-succour thing really seems to fit.

And incidentally, remembering that Ophelia herself is about to die and no one wants to die without having been forgiven for their sins, the 1 John passage implies that salvation comes through one's own true faith and effort to be and do good, rather than the mere repentence of sin after the fact.

Poor Claudius. Happy everybody else.

-- catherine england (, April 04, 2002.

Someone just emailed me asking for this, so I typed it out, so now I'll stick it in here: the Jepthah ballad. As I said, there's a version of the ballad in THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE edition of HAMLET. This is the version printed there. The editor of THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE edition of HAMLET, Harold Jenkins, has taken it from a seventeenth century collection of ballads called 'the Roxburghe collection', but has made a few emendations to it using a separate manuscript text, the Shirburn manuscript. I've emended some of the punctuation (just so it makes sense!).

A popular new ballad, intituled, Jepha Judge of Israel.

I read that, many years agoe, when Jepha Judge of Israel Had one fair daughter and no more, whom he loved passing well, And as by lot, God wot, It came to passe most like it was, Great warrs there should be, and who should be the chiefe but he, but he.

When Jepha was appointed now chief Captain of the company, To God the Lord he made a vow: if he might have the victory, At his return to burn For his offering the first quick thing Should meet him then, from his house, when he came agen, agen.

It chanced so these warrs were done, and he came home with victory, His Daughter out of doores did run to meet her father speedily, And all the way did play To Taber and Pipe, with many a stripe, And notes full high for joy that he was so nigh, so nigh.

When Jepha did perceive and see his Daughter first and formostly, He rent his cloths and tore his haire and shrieked out most piteously. 'For thou art she' (quoth he) 'Hath brought me low, alas for woe, And troubled me so, that I cannot tell what to doe.'

'For I have made a vow' (quoth he) 'which must not be diminished, A sacrifice to God on high, my promise must be finished.' [She answers:] 'As you have spoke, provoke No further care but to prepare Your will to fulfill, according to God's will, God's will.

'For sithence God hath given you might to overcome your Enemies, Let me be offered up as right, for to perform all promises; And let this be' (quoth she) 'As thou hast said. Be not afraid, Although it be I. Keep promise with God on high, on high.

'But Father, do so much for me, as let me goe to the Wildernesse, There to bewaile my virginity, three months to bemoan my heavinesse; And let there go some moe Like Maids with me.' 'Content' (quoth he), And sent her away to mourn till her latter day, her day.

And when the time was come and gone that she should sacrificed be, This virgin sacrificed was, for to fulfill all promises. As some say, for aye: The Virgins there, three times a year, Like sorrow fulfill for the Daughter of Jepha still, still, still.

-- catherine england (, August 10, 2002.

Oh dear: the lines don't come out ...

-- catherine england (, August 10, 2002.

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