Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ophelia was pregnant, yes... but there's more

(Creative Commons image by Colodio)

Readers in the San Diego area may want to mosey down to the Old Globe, where a bold interpretation of Hamlet is evidently being staged through Sept. 30—at least according to this review posted today in the Redland Daily Facts.

As the review points out (click on the above to see the passage), some renegade works of Shakespeare scholarship propose that Ophelia was pregnant at the time she took her own life, and indeed that in her madness, Ophelia handed out herbs commonly used for abortions.

Slightly glossed over in this review (and we're always grateful for ink, of course) is the fact that this interpretation of the Danish tragedy didn't just come out of nowhere. It was wholly biographically motivated. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the reason the author of Hamlet inserted those references to Ophelia's pregnancy and flirtation with abortion is that is exactly what happened in his troubled first marriage.

When Edward de Vere was traveling on the Continent in 1575, we now know that his wife, in her second trimester, asked Queen Elizabeth's physician to terminate her pregnancy. There's a whole epic tale behind that action that space does not permit delving into here. But suffice it to say, Hamlet ain't just blowing off steam when he asks the woman in his life why she's become a "breeder of sinners."

My question, then, is how does this controversial rendition actually fare as a piece of drama? Does a visibly pregnant Ophelia work as a directorial decision? The Redlands reviewer certainly liked it. To anyone who gets the chance to see the Old Globe Hamlet, please drop a line.

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