Hamlet’s Ophelia: How imagery supports characterization

For all of my Shakespeare loving former students out there…

Folger SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY

By Jill Burdick-Zupancic

In English 10, I chose to study Macbeth with the students this year. However, because we were also looking at how imagery supports characterization, I decided to get them back into the world of Shakespeare with a look at Gertrude’s recount of Ophelia’s drowning in Hamlet. I’ve recently been really into taking scenes from a variety of plays to support the study of a larger piece. This scene, as described by the queen, has taken root in pop culture as well; there’s even a band! But, what we did is take a look at the speech (as shown below, courtesy of Folger Digital Texts) and explored how artists interpreted the imagery to support characterization.

Hamlet: 4.7.190-208

There is a willow grows askant the brook
That shows hishoar leaves in the glassy stream.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long…

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