Hamlet: Branagh's Ophelia and Showalter's Representing Ophelia
Ophelia falls to the floor, her screams contrasting eerily with the song pieces she uses as her speech. In an instant she is writhing and thrusting her pelvis in such a gross sexual manner that it becomes clear that, in his film interpretation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh wants to imply a strong relationship between female insanity and female sexuality. Such a relationship is exactly what Elaine Showalter discusses in her essay -- "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism" -- "I will be showing first of all the representational bonds between female insanity and female sexuality" (Showalter 223). "Tracing" various representations of Ophelia throughout history, Showalter attempts to tell Ophelia's story by examining the way in which the culture of a society, their views of women, and psychiatric theory relates to the representation of Ophelia at that time. With the amount of attention Branagh affords the role of Ophelia in his film, and because Branagh's Ophelia represents many of Showalter's ideas about Ophelia's drowning death, the bond between sexuality and insanity, and the conventions of femininity, Branagh's Ophelia can supplement Showalter's essay -- her "trace" of the history of representation of Ophelia -- serving as a Post-modern example of the representation of Ophelia.
In his representation of Ophelia, the relationship that Branagh attempts to establish between female insanity and female sexuality is a strong and obvious one. Through costume, cinematography, blocking, and various other aspects, Branagh makes clear his interpretation that Ophelia's insanity is the direct result of her sexuality. However, there is also more to Branagh's interpretation; he portrays the relationship between Ophelia's insanity and her femininity as existing like an inverse relationship such that when Ophelia is deepest in madness, not only is she grossly sexual but she is also furthest from an ideal feminine state. Such a deliberate choice by Branagh can be most easily seen by his representation of Ophelia in the "mad scene" (Hamlet 4.5) and Branagh's inclusion and representation of Ophelia in scenes where she does not appear in the text. In fact, in contrast to past representations of Ophelia when some of her lines were cut, Branagh actually gives his Ophelia more lines than Shakespeare does to better convey Branagh's own interpretation. One such instance occurs when Branagh gives Ophelia a line that is, in the text, Guildenstern's: "A thing, my lord?" (Hamlet 4.2.28).
In the Branagh film, Ophelia first appears at the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude ( Hamlet 1.2). Dressed in bright red, with make-up on her face and her hair done beautifully -- up off her face and curled -- Ophelia stands next to her father like a coy maiden: joyfully and dutifully applauding in support of...