Re-mediating Ophelia with Pre-Raphaelite Eyes

Simonetta Falchi


The Shakespearean fair Ophelia has become through the centuries a multi faceted heroine apt to embody all the victims of patriarchal domination, but also the evil and victimized decadent lady, who would annihilate her tormentor. Similar oxymoronic identifications were possible partly because of the vagueness that distinguishes her character in the Shakespearean tragedy, and partly because of the fluctuating status of adolescent girls in society. Moreover, the contemporary reception of Ophelia has strongly been biased by the treatment of this literary myth by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In the Victorian era, when issues about the condition, the power, and the rights of women were raised with particular force, Ophelia soon became an icon of sublime but dangerous beauty. Such an association even came to the point that Elizabeth Siddal – poet, painter, and model of Millais’s Ophelia – was identified with the Shakespearean heroine, by virtue of her unquenchable thirst for knowledge, her unrequited love, her prettiness, and the torture she allegedly provoked to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s conscience.


John Everett Millais; Heiner Mueller; Ophelia; Pre-Raphaelitism; Rewriting of myth; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Elizabeth Siddal

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