Three Musical Interpretations of Hamlet's Ophelia

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Aydelott, Katherine
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Middle Tennessee State University
An obedient daughter, a scorned lover, a raving madwoman—each of these epithets is an appropriate description of the character of Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Character studies of Hamlet range from completely passing over her character to intense psychoanalyses of Ophelia, Hamlet, and even Shakespeare. Outside of criticism, art forms typically capitalize on the aestheticization of Ophelia, focusing on her femininity as the primary aspect of her character to be observed. Musical portrayals tend to be more open to interpretation due the lack of a visual representation. This paper considers analyses of three pieces of music from three different times and places—Hector Berlioz’s “La Mort d’Ophelie,” Richard Strauss’ “Drei Lieder der Ophelia,” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Song of Ophelia” (touching briefly on the music from the 1964 Grigori Kozintsev film Gamlet)—as a means to analyze the musical interpretations of Ophelia, as well as the influence from the culture and biography of the spotlighted composer.
Music history, English literature, Fine arts