By Natalie Merchant

Ophelia was a bride of God
A novice Carmelite
In sister cells
The cloister bells tolled on her wedding night

Ophelia was the rebel girl
A blue stocking suffragette
Who remedied society between her cigarettes

And Ophelia was the sweetheart
To a nation overnight
Curvaceous thighs
Vivacious eyes
Love was at first sight
Love was at first sight

Ophelia was a demigoddess in pre-war Babylon
So statuesque a silhouette in black satin evening gowns

Ophelia was the mistress
To a Vegas gambling man
Signora Ophelia Maraschina
Mafia courtesan

Ophelia was the circus queen
The female cannonball
Projected through five flaming hoops
To wild and shocked applause
To wild and shocked applause

Ophelia was a tempest cyclone
A goddamn hurricane
Your common sense, your best defense
Lay wasted and in vain

For Ophelia’d know your every woe
And every pain you’d ever had
She’d sympathize and dry your eyes
And help you to forget
Help you to forget
And help you to forget

Ophelia’s mind went wandering
You’d wonder where she’d gone
Through secret doors down corridors
She wanders them alone
All alone

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Texts: Patterns of Representation and Reproduction

Look for the patterns in everything.

Every text, even this one that you are reading right now, is a media text.

Texts exist as the middle ground between the author and the audience. They are the means through which thoughts, feeling, and ideas can be shared and linked.

Modes of Communication New

Texts exist in various forms, delivered through various modes. The mode for creating texts are the matrix from which reproduction occurs.

And all texts are re-presentations. They can re-present our thoughts, they can re-present our emotions, and they can re-present our ideas on a subject or issue. Everything we write is a presentation that has a source, and ultimately, the broader and deeper the source for your representation, the more potentially insightful and creative your representation or your text will be.


But everything comes from somewhere. We all have sources, and we copy the patterns that have come before; we re-create.

Re = again

Re – presentation = to show again

Re – production = to produce again

I guess creation is really just recreation.

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Why Read Old Books?

Students often ask why we continue to read Shakespeare when there are so many good books written in this century. I certainly agree that there are many great contemporary novels, but the classics offer something different.

In this Big Think video, a Yale professor offers some advice to students about studying the classics.

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Digging up the Present

The echoes of Hamlet in the present continue as I watch the news. It mediates between our experience of the real, and our thoughts about the real. How are we to act in the face of tragedy? Acting quickly can be as disastrous as acting slowly.

I think apathy is pernicious. 

At least Hamlet thinks about acting. And he is the consummate actor unable to perform beyond his own stage. He cannot perform an action in his existence.

George Herbert Mead, a scientific sociological philosopher has noted that to act with intention and purpose is to have an understanding of the “self”. Hamlet does not know himself. He speaks using the infinitive form of verbs, “to be, or not to be”, but acts in the play of his own imagination in a world of deception an lies. He does not place himself, “I”, into the most famous of soliloquies. So do our actions matter?

In “Waking Life” a group of young men walk about spouting philosophies of action: “Live as if something depended upon one’s actions.”

This vignette attempts to show the problematic struggle between the extremes of philosophy and existence. Action without philosophically based intention is as pointless as philosophical intention without action. But, Mead said that

“Our specious present as such is very short. We do, however, experience passing events; part of the process of the passage of events is directly there in our experience, including some of the past and some of the future. “hamlet_olivier_skull

The gravediggers accept all tenants into the graves they dig, while by contrast the Priest hesitates in offering the rights of passage under religious doctrine, and the living fatherless sons. Laertes and Hamlet, jump into it. In his work, Poem Unlimited, Harold Bloom claims that the “Gravedigger is the reality principle, mortality, while Hamlet is death’s scholar.” (Bloom 76)

the-rest-is-silenceOne scene remains in the great play, “and the rest is silence”.

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Pirates in Hamlet?

In Act 4 scene 6, Horatio reads a letter from Hamlet telling him that on his way to England, the ship was attacked by pirates. Hamlet managed to escape sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their imminent death in England. Pirates in the North Seahamlet lego

In the next scene, Claudius convinces Laertes to seek revenge against Hamlet for killing his father Polonius. Suddenly, a messenger arrives announcing Hamlet’s return to the Danish court and Claudius then persuades Laertes through flattery, then pressures him to prove that he truly loved his father. Claudius has the attention of Laertes, then reveals his plan.

“When Hamlet comes home Laertes is to stay away from him, but the King will get people to praise Laertes’ skill with his rapier in front of Hamlet, so that Hamlet will become even more envious. (In the following scenes we don’t see or hear anything more of this first part of the King’s plan.) Then a wager will be made that Hamlet can’t best Laertes in a fencing match. At the fencing match Laertes will have a “sword unbated,” that is, one without the protective button on the sharp end. At this point, the King gives Hamlet an unconscious compliment, saying that “He, being remiss, / Most generous and free from all contriving, / Will not peruse the foils” (4.7.134-136). So Laertes will be able to get his revenge accidentally on purpose.” Hamlet Navigator

Where there are pirates, there must be opera!

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Things Matter in Hamlet

The words “something”, “nothing”, “anything”, and “thing” appear in the text of the play 74 times. Even though this is a huge play, I think “things” matter.where_the_wild_things

The play begins with Marcellus referring to the ghost of Hamlet as a “thing” and Bernardo says it is “nothing” – this of course is the ghost of the former King Hamlet. Young Hamlet tells Horatio that the ghost is a “guilty thing”. Hamlet tells Polonius that he “cannot take anything that [he] would more willingly part withal, except [his] life”.

Apparently, things are everywhere in Hamlet, and something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. This “thing” is the king. In fact, if one were to chant the legalese of nobility that sets the king apart from the rest of the court, then the rhyme would be that “the king is a thing”. Remember that this is poetry, and Shakespeare plays with the words and sound of “thing” and “king”.

And yet, “thing” is the most ambiguous of terms lacking any sense of meaning, because a “thing” could be anything, nothing, and something. Check out the definition of “thing” and you will find more than 20 terms from object, to circumstance, to statement, to feeling, and…well…pretty well anything can be a thing. At least we know “the play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience..”

think too much

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Philosophy and Poetry

Tragedy moves like a ghost appearing in the most unexpected places. And in the midst of experience, philosophy seems both more and less important to our feeble attempts at understand suffering and loss.

While reading the fictional tragedy of Hamlet in my safe classroom, real tragedy moved “with Tarquin’s ravishing strides towards his design, moves like a ghost” in Connecticut. I saw, what I felt was the most moving and poetic speech of Barak Obama in a long time.

“Something is rotten in the state…” And while some may argue about constitutional rights, I will argue that “there is no meaning without context”. Rights upheld, should never be more of a threat, than rights denied. How I would dearly love to write more but, “break my heart for I must hold my tongue” and avoid digression into the political.

Instead, I will argue for philosophy, and poetry. The philosopher pursues wisdom; the poet pursues beauty. The allure of tragedy “puzzles the will” and the beauty associated with Ophelia‘s tragic death is timeless.

Ophelia is a child of nature, innocent, obedient, and powerless. She is a pawn in her father’s politics, and a victim of Hamlet’s misogyny. In the end, she becomes a victim of her own inaction.

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
Therewith fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down the weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with her drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious buy
To muddy death.

Tragedy has much to teach us about action. May we all choose it with philosophy and poetry.

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Perspectives: Poor Polonius, Poor Gertude


Poor Polonius – the fool finally meets his end doing what he does best – hiding behind a curtain trying to get knowledge – “by indirections, find directions out”. Adding “insult to injury” in the one and only moment that Hamlet decides to act, he kills the father of his love. Now, Ophelia is motherless, brother-less (as he has left the country), lover-less (scorned by Hamlet), and fatherless.

Hamlet acts, Ophelia feels. But this comes later in the play.


Poor Gertrude. How overwhelmed she becomes when Hamlet assaults her,  kills Polonius in her closet, accuses her of conspiracy to murder, seems mad as he sees the ghost of his father, and is told by her son to abstain from physical relations with her husband.

Gertrude is an enigma in the play. She doesn’t really say or do anything that suggests she has any particular motives, nor any observable character flaws. Her name is German meaning “strong spear”, but what are we to make of Gertrude?

“Gertrude Talks Back” by Margaret Atwood

Queen Gertrude explains to Hamlet how his father’s death came about.

Gertrude: I always thought it was a mistake, calling you Hamlet. I mean, what kind of a
name is that for a young boy? It was your father’s idea… I wanted to call you George.
I know your father was handsomer than Claudius. But handsome isn’t everything, especially in a man, and far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but your dad wasn’t a whole lot of fun. Noble, sure. But Claudius, well, he likes a drink now and then. He appreciates a decent meal. He enjoys a laugh, know what I mean?

Some days I think it would have been better for us both if you hadn’t been an only child. But you realize who you have to thank for that. Every time I felt like a little, you know, just to warm up my aging bones, it was like I suggested murder. And now you tell me you think Claudius murdered your dad? Well no wonder you’ve been so rude to him at the dinner table! If I’d known that, I could have put you straight in no time flat. It wasn’t Claudius

It was me.


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Hamlet and “Waking Life”

Do you have memories which you recall and then wonder if you were awake or dreaming?

memoriesDo you ever feel like you might have dreamt a memory that you previously thought was real? How can you be sure? Are you filled with doubt?

The word “dream” can be defined as “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations that occurs during the state of sleep”. But the word “dreams” is often used metaphorically to represent our ambitions for the future or what we desire. Dream analysis is the process of looking at the connection between our sleeping dreams and our waking desires.

There is little doubt that Shakespeare had a particular fascination with sleep and dreams. I wonder if Shakespeare himself had trouble sleeping? I often feel possessed each time that I am teaching either Macbeth or Hamlet. The lines seem to echo in context like I am sleep walking through my waking life, and they enter my dreams like I am wake walking through my dreaming life. I started thinking about this when, some decade ago, I discovered the rotoscoped animated film “Waking Life”.

Here is a short trailer with a voiced over explanation of the film:

Hamlet has troubled dreams, and does not know what to do with his waking life. He talks about talking and is filled with doubt. All his surplus consciousness is proof that he is alive and without this talk, “the rest is silence”.

the rest is silence

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“…the present death of Hamlet. Do it. England”

More resources

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