Another image that lived in my home for several years quietly speaking to my subconscious was a painting titled The Rescue of Ophelia (by Christine DeCamp). A massive leaf borders the body of the floating Ophelia as she cradles in her arms an owl, Shakespeare’s last word trumped by DeCamp’s alternate reality. Cross-Pollination: Claudel, DeCamp, and Beattie (Feral Mom, Feral Writer).
Today’s prompts refer in part to the poem Ophelia, originally published with Nefertiti Among Us at Stone Canoe Online and forthcoming in November Butterfly (Saddle Road Press). The poem was inspired by a painting titled The Rescue of Ophelia by Christine DeCamp (pictured below). Poets from Rimbaud to Natasha Tretheway (Bellocq’s Ophelia excerpts at South Writ Large) and Meghan O’Rourke (Ophelia to the Court up at poets.org) have taken on Ophelia. Read the versions linked to above. Then, step into Ophelia’s mind.
- Speak in first person as Ophelia. Write her an alternate ending. Her story, her words, before or after Hamlet.
- Consider, like Tretheway, alternate Ophelias. Is there an Ophelia in your family’s history, either a modern Ophelia or one from generations back? Tell your alternate Ophelia story. Or were you ever heading down an Ophelia trajectory in your own life? How did you prosper?
- Consider other sirens of the deep, such as the Rusalki of Slavic folklore (spirits of women who met death early through accidental or unjust means). If musically inclined, listen to Kitka’s: The Rusalka Series: Songs Between the Worlds (audio sample for the album can be found here: Singing Shapeshifters in the Shadow of Chernobyl: Kitka Ignites the Embers of a Disappearing Song Ritual; see Crossing the Blue Bridge or Navigating by Mermaid for more background context) where “far voices, jubilantly macabre, swirl as if from down a long silver hall with unparalleled simplicity to the lilts of cello. Phantom criers rise and fall in the background, garlanded by the voices of sisters.” Choose one of the songs to “translate” into a poem.
- Or consider male sirens of the deep. Last year’s theater production of “The Last Goodbye” performed at The Old Globe in San Diego combined Jeff Buckley’s music with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Were you to set Hamlet to music, specifically the scenes involving Ophelia, which musician or music would you choose to fuse, to represent her story? Set your own poem to music.
Write for at least twenty minutes without censor and share your exercise or any thoughts about your writing process in comments below. Or add links for us to visit along any topic line inspired by the exercise.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet (MIT’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare).
Website for Christine DeCamp; her painting The Rescue of Ophelia joins a series of her paintings she has chosen to accompany with text and publish in the form of Wild Spirit Woman Cards.
To Be or Not To Be: Hamlet as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Novel by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings
Website for Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Lives of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher
An Interview with Mary Pipher at Spirituality and Practice.com
Rescue of Ophelia and Nefertiti Among Us at Feral Mom, Feral Writer
Ten Things You Never Knew About Ophelia by Benjamin Secher at The Telegraph on the Millais painting
Regarding Jeff Buckley:
Nothing New Under The Sun: The Eternal Life of Jeff Buckley at The San Diego Troubadour
This Time Out, Parting is Such Sung Sorrow, Theater Review by Charles Isherwood, New York Times