Which, as her winks, and nods and gestures Yield them, Indeed would make one thing there might be thought, Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily.

I am so interested in Ophelia’s winks and nods and gestures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Ophelia winking. I’ve seen some crazy Ophelias but a wink is such a funny thing for her to do. Which is probably why she’s not usually played with winks.
It might feel a little like those guys from the Monty Python sketch where the guys go, “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” Which, though completely out of place in most productions of Hamlet, would still be compelling. Weird. But compelling.

And what are her gestures? Nods, obviously. But what is she doing gesture-ly that is out of the ordinary. It would be fun to find out.


Her speech is nothing, Yet the unshaped use of it doth move The hearers to collection; they aim at it, And botch the words up to fit their own thoughts;

Sometimes it feels like this is what we’re all doing all the time, gathering sense out of nonsense, projecting our own thoughts onto the screen of what other people say.
We seem to understand one another but we may be missing what is in front of us entirely. Botching up our own meaning.

Speaks things in doubt, That carry but half sense:

And here is where I think we really make the connection with girls becoming teens – why the book on the subject is called Reviving Ophelia. Because it is the speaking things in doubt all of a sudden that really gets to the heart of the difficulty with so many girls’ journey into adolescence. Everything that was sure and confident can slip very easily into doubt. Sense becomes less important than fitting in, than beauty, than appearances.
They still know things but don’t know that they know them anymore.

Spurns enviously at straws;

This image is so evocative. I imagine her shouting at a little piece of straw that she’s startled by on a floor somewhere. Maybe she thinks it’s a snake. Maybe it’s like those cats startled by cucumbers – seeing something they didn’t expect to behind them.
I imagine straw was a bit more common to see in Shakespeare’s time. Maybe it gets brought in on the feet of a courtier who’s come in from outside, where the horses stand in straw. Maybe it lives on the floor of a kitchen and so makes its way into even the most ornate beautiful elegant rooms. And of course in my urban life, the more common straws are the ones in drinks and to watch someone spurn one of those enviously would also really be something to see.

and hems, and beats her heart;

I’ve been having this experience with this speech as I’ve been looking at it these last few days – one that I couldn’t understand until today. This text is incredibly familiar to me – as is most of Hamlet, truth be told, given all the ways I’ve worked on it over the years. But this speech has the quality of something I memorized, something I worked on, a role I played. But I have never played the Gentleman. It’s also a speech that rarely gets done in the educational settings I have tended to work in. So it’s not that I guided some student through it.

Reading this line, though, I finally worked out why it’s been ringing so many bells. And that is because when I was in Hamlet in my first acting job, there was some serious drama offstage. I wrote a long poem about that and included bits of text that were particularly salient. This speech made a lot of appearances. And because I read and re-read that poem, I feel like I know this speech much more intimately than I know some others. I have spoken those lines – just in a different context.

Says she hears There’s tricks i’ the world

Most people work out that there are tricks in the world a little later than Ophelia does. I guess she really is an innocent. Even an 8 year old child in this day and age understands that not every one is honest, that the world doesn’t always do the right thing or the fair thing. A child can understand that a magician is tricking them and not REALLY performing magic. But it feels like this might be news to Ophelia. “No! He didn’t REALLY saw that woman in half and put her back together? There aren’t magic rabbits in that hat? He didn’t really put a rope back together by waving a wand over it?”

That sort of late revelation really might explain why Ophelia goes crazy so quickly. To suddenly be thrust into a world of distrust would be incredibly disruptive.

She speaks much of her father;

My friend’s father is declining rapidly. He was always a man full of vigor and vitality but has, in recent months, lost his ability to move with ease, has fallen, has relied on a wheelchair for the first time. His speed has shifted.

There are people throughout the world that have gone through this before. It is a common enough occurrence – but they were not my friend. And their father’s were not my friend’s father.

When we were first friends, I learned a lot about my friend’s father. He was a strong force in her life. When I met him, I felt as though I knew him already. He was so vividly and accurately described by her. Now, in my friend’s email update on the situation, the vividness in description is just as sharp. I feel as though I am a witness to something I am miles away from. I wish though, that I were closer, to be able to be more a support.

Her mood will needs be pitied.

I watched the entire first season of Unreal in a couple of days. It was an extraordinary show by virtue of revealing the behind the scenes machinations on reality show and by featuring two women at the center of it. But the thing that was most extraordinary was that the woman at the center was so incredibly complex. Her character was reprehensible in so many ways. She’s manipulative and cruel but somehow I liked and empathized with her anyway. When things went badly for her, I pitied her and wanted things to get better, to work out, to get the guy or the job or whatever she wanted.
She may be one of the first feminist anti-heroes. Ha! Screw you like-ability trap!

She is importunate, indeed distract:

It’s probably significant that this line is spoken by a character called “Gentleman.” It is often played by a servant character of Horatio – but I think the Gentleman is on purpose. Only a gentleman might find the strength and have permission to speak to the Queen this way. A servant would likely not dare to advocate for the crazy woman outside the door. A servant might be like, “Uh. The Queen says no. Get that crazy lady out of here, pronto.”
Similarly, it’s a little weird when directors have Horatio speak these lines. It makes him seem a little presumptuous and familiar with his friend’s mother – when everything Horatio actually does and says is much more measured – with a kind of distance, a remove from the whole experience. He has a foreigner’s reserve – so to have him plead Ophelia’s case is weird.
This line is a Gentleman’s job.