THE OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE OF OPHELIA
Ophelia by Lisa Klein, Bloomsbury
“Dear Mr. Shakespeare, I respectfully but completely disagree. Sincerely, Lisa Klein.”
This could easily be the philosophy behind Klein’s first novel, which describes the life and times of Hamlet’s doomed lover, Ophelia. This heroine’s famously tragic death has made her one of the most sympathetic characters in Shakespeare’s plays. But while the Bard portrayed Ophelia as altogether rather pitiful, Klein takes the opposite approach and constructs a strong-minded, witty and intelligent Ophelia who plays a surprisingly significant role in the events that unfold during the dark days at
Ophelia’s personal history is discussed at length in this novel. She is motherless, but educated as well as her brother Laertes. From a young age, Polonius does his utmost to groom his children for a life in the royal court, hoping by extension to improve his own social standing. He cares more for Ophelia’s station as lady-in-waiting to Queen Gertrude and Laertes’ friendship with Prince Hamlet than he does for their happiness.
Ophelia first meets Prince Hamlet when she is eight and he is fourteen. Although he treats her like a child until years later, her fascination with him only grows. In their adolescent years, he is attracted to her wit and sharp intelligence when she wins a debate with him. Ophelia knows that her romance with Hamlet is risky, and the lovers go to great lengths to keep it secret from the court. Hamlet himself is as complex in the book as in the play. He is romantic and kind, yet secretive and melancholy. Early in their courtship, he gives Ophelia a coin with the two-faced Roman god Janus on it. Like Janus, Hamlet has a dual personality that confuses Ophelia, though Hamlet professes he truly loves her.
After the assassination of King Hamlet and the ascension of Claudius to the throne, Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship becomes even more serious, culminating in an elopement. But their happiness is short-lived once Hamlet is given the responsibility of avenging his father’s death. Ophelia is alarmed by the change in her husband and his talk of committing murder. She agrees to help him, but secretly plans to deter him from his goal with her love. Together, they devise a startling scheme to both discredit and protect themselves from all who would endanger their lives. Unfortunately, the main events of the story stay true to the play, and neither Hamlet nor Ophelia’s best efforts can prevent the tragedy that ultimately ends their relationship.
What must be remembered about this book is that this is Ophelia’s side of the story, not Hamlet’s. Lisa Klein creates a strong heroine who must take her destiny into her own hands if she is to survive. There is a lot that can’t be revealed without spoiling the story. But if you are curious to know how Ophelia took up arms against her own sea of troubles, I highly recommend this book.
Nell Curley is an avid book reader and volunteers at the Library.