samedi 7 juillet 2012

Inside # 2 : Ophelia




Ophelia was a bride of God
A novice Carmelite
In sister cells
The cloister bells tolled on her wedding night

Ophelia was the rebel girl
A blue stocking suffragette
Who remedied society between her cigarettes

And Ophelia was the sweetheart
To a nation overnight
Curvaceous thighs
Vivacious eyes
Love was at first sight
Love was at first sight

Ophelia was a demigoddess in pre-war Babylon
So statuesque a silhouette in black satin evening gowns

Ophelia was the mistress
To a Vegas gambling man
Signora Ophelia Maraschina
Mafia courtesan

Ophelia was the circus queen
The female cannonball
Projected through five flaming hoops
To wild and shocked applause
To wild and shocked applause

Ophelia was a tempest cyclone
A goddamn hurricane
Your common sense, your best defense
Lay wasted and in vain

For Ophelia'd know your every woe
And every pain you'd ever had
She'd sympathize and dry your eyes
And help you to forget
Help you to forget
And help you to forget

Ophelia's mind went wandering
You'd wonder where she'd gone
Through secret doors down corridors
She wanders them alone
All alone


Ophelia is a character that holds great literary weight. She is one of the most used female symbols in art, and not just literary (which lyrics fall into that category). There are many, many songs and poems written about Ophelia that are not necessarily about Ophelia. For instance, in my intro to Lit class I had to memorize and recite a poem for the class, and I chose the poem Ophelia's Confession by Tracey Herd because I adore Ophelia as a symbol. The poem, in short, is of Ophelia confessing the kind of person she would have liked to be if she had been given a choice, wearing a dress far too tight showing lots of skin, a tattoo of flowers rather than the anchor that dragged her down (referring to not really the flowers but her love and grief), and being very sexual with men and women alike. In the last stanza she says that if she were alive today she would have had a very different final scene, and she is then painted as Princess Diana, though not in name but in death, finally stating that, at least, was an honest way to die.

Most important though, is the shortest stanza in the poem, which is my favorite. "I didn't drown by accident. I was a suicide. - At least let me call my mind my own - even when my heart was gone beyond recall."

What many people seem to forget is that Ophelia didn't die on accident, or at least the suggestion is heavy she didn't. In fact, a sexton in the play at her grave insists she had to have killed herself, which greatly upsets her brother of course because suicide is unforgivable and a one way ticket to Hell. I point out that she killed herself, that it was suicide, because it was not madness which killed her. Yes, she was torn and destroyed, broken inside and out over the death of her father and the supposed lost love of Hamlet. Yes, perhaps she was mad with grief (as suggested in the play) and distraught to the point of mad thoughts and speech. But what makes Ophelia's character so interesting, and why she and her name are used like in this song so much, is simply what she is. She is a woman, obedient to those she loves, innocent, naive, optimistic, loyal, and loving. She is so loving that the loss of those she loved, her father and in a sense Hamlet, destroys her completely. Her heart has been shattered, her world has been left empty, the universe has been struck senseless and useless. Rather than wallow and become nothing but a shell of a person, Ophelia instead calls out those she feels has wronged her and her father. She gives people flowers, something her father was not given when he was buried, and then she gives Hamlet, and herself, rue, which is both a symbol of regret, and also a poisonous plant. To me this is a statement, "you will regret this Hamlet, because I will use this". After this, she is found drowned. 

Today, if a woman decided to kill herself instead of living without her father and the love of a man we would call her weak, stupid, a classic case of thinking women are the weaker sex. But, in the play, Ophelia made her decision, a very big one, and had the strength to go through with it. As far as symbolism goes, Ophelia in the moments before her death was a very, very strong woman. Distraught, destroyed, and broken-hearted, yes, but very strong.

Back to this song. I have always heard this song as a description of various women, in various times, with very, very different lives. A nun, a 'demigoddess', a Marilyn Monroe type, a circus woman, a dark rebel girl, a mother, a mistress to a Vegas sleaze, the whole feminist movement, and a lost and broken woman (the last stanza). So very different, and yet still all holding one very important bit, which is part in the lyrics and part in the tone of how it's sung; they are all very powerful women. My favorite stanza is the Marilyn Monroe type one, depicting a very beautiful woman, and perhaps she has nothing else going for her, but she won the love of a nation overnight. Say what you will but that's power.

In short (and in case you went TLDR), this song in my opinion is a depiction of all women everywhere, no matter how different. We all may seem very different, in some cases like all we have in common is our gender, but we are all Ophelia, and ultimately, we all hold the power to be who and what we want, and we have the strength to make whatever it is we want happen.


1 commentaire:

  1. Bonsoir Gaïd-Marie,
    Quelle très belle chanson de Natalie Merchant. Le clip est très émouvant. Je la connaissais surtout avec 10 000 Maniacs.
    Ton interprétation du mythe d'Ophélie est vraiment très réussie. Ton anglais, impeccable! Connais-tu la chanson de Vanessa Paradis, écrite par Gainsbourg, "Ophélie"? Elle est sur son 2e album.
    Je t'embrasse.
    Charlotte.
    ps : et oui, il y a une Ophélie qui sommeille en chacune de nous.

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