Thursday, May 21, 2015

Being Ophelia (Video)

Ophelia is, like most Shakespeare characters and particularly the women, a complicated part to play. She is sweet, innocent but not unknowledgeable about what men get up to in their spare time, in love, heart-broken, fragile, uninhibited, and in the end a kind of mad prophet of impending doom.

For the final assignment of Coursera's "Shakespeare In Community" class, we students were asked to make a video of a piece of any Shakespeare play. This afforded an opportunity to showcase our acting skills and creativity. However, I am only beginning to learn the ins-and-outs of Windows Movie Maker, so I decided to keep it simple.

"Hamlet" is one of my favorite plays and Ophelia is a character I can relate to. She is an innocent victim of events, but strong and wise in her own way, even after she descends into madness. So I chose her soliloquy from Act 3 Scene 1. But to portray Ophelia requires more than emoting Shakespeare's poetry.

First, there was the consideration of what my Ophelia should look like. I rarely tease my hair or use hairspray because it damages my hair extensively, but Ophelia is the daughter of the King's counselor. As such, she would dress well. I chose to clothe her in black and red because I wanted to convey that there is more to Ophelia than meets the eye, but chose simple makeup due to her youth and sweetness. (Also, my corset is red and black; one must work with what costuming one has. *shrugs*) The heart-lock and key earrings symbolise her relationship with Prince Hamlet. The lace-like cover-over convey her modesty and proved to add a dramatic touch at the end. It was rainy out and that resulted in wonderful lighting that I could not have arranged.

Then I moved on to more abstract considerations. For instance, in our modern world, how might an equally fragile and complicated woman react to the tragedies that eventually drove Ophelia to madness? That question brought the song "Chandelier" by Sia to mind. One could even argue that the lines "I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry, I'm gonna swing from the chandelier" could be something Ophelia was feeling as she drowned at last. The scene where she hands out the flowers spouting her prophetic riddles could equate to this verse: "Help me, I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes, keep my glass full until morning light, cos I'm just holding on for the night." Therefore, I chose to sing them in my "Ophelia Descends into Madness" scene to add a touch of the modern to my Ophelia.

The red nose was added to the costume in that scene to emphasise that Ophelia has at this point and in some measure lost touch with reality. I didn't realize that it is the first ever Red Nose Day in the U.S. today, until after I had made that decision (but in the famous words of Gwendolyn Brooks: "I have no objection if it helps anybody").

Getting in the emotional place for Ophelia's soliloquy took some preparation. I drew from my own experience with doomed relationships and listened to Sia's "Chandelier" on repeat while I dressed. Ophelia would have felt her pain deeply and without restraint of any kind.

Here is the text of Ophelia's soliloquy:

"Oh, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!—
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,
Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
Th' observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatched form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. Oh, woe is me,
T' have seen what I have seen, see what I see!"

Now I present to you the finished video to enjoy or criticise as you will:

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