Tag Archives: Ophelia

Hamlet’s Most Famous Character

Ophelia’s suicide: why has a fictional character inspired so many artists for hundreds of years?

© Anita Salemink 2014. 100 Days: 100 paintings, No.39  Watercolour 12.5 by 12.5 cm

© Anita Salemink 2014. 100 Days: 100 paintings, No.39 Watercolour 12.5 by 12.5 cm

Ophelia has been portrayed in numerous paintings throughout the centuries as the beautiful young maiden with the white skin who drowns herself: she floats on the surface of a river amongst flowers and leaves, only staying adrift for a short while, just until her clothes have weighed her down, and ultimately drown her. ‘Her clothes spread wide, And mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up; which time she chanted snatches of old tunes […] Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay To muddy death, (Hamlet, Scene IV, line 175-183). In the famous painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais from 1851-52, we see the maiden floating in a stream holding a garland of flowers, William Shakespeare describes her as holding a garland of ‘crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,’ (Hamlet, scene IV line 170) which symbolize her innocence, youth, virginity, pain and sexuality. 

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