But should we thank them?
|The big one, by Millais from 1851-2|
|The First Madness of Ophelia D G Rossetti|
|Ophelia (1887) Simeon Solomon|
|Ophelia (1890) Henrietta Rae|
|Ophelia Weaving her Garlands (1842) Richard Redgrave|
|Ophelia (1873) Thomas Francis Dicksee|
|James Dean and his car, Little Bastard|
|The Play Scene in Hamlet (1897) Edwin Austin Abbey|
|Detail of Ophelia J W Waterhouse|
|Ophelia J W Waterhouse|
|Ophelia Alexandre Cabanel|
|Ophelia Constant Montald|
|The video for this song referenced Millais' image|
|A typical Ophelia-based fashion shoot|
If I was to wear my very serious feminist hat for a moment, I would admit I don't feel comfortable with the currency of Ophelia. I am torn between how utterly beautiful the images are and how we link feminine beauty and feminine madness so closely. It is a damaging construct to reach for: that women are at their most beautiful in madness and death, that it is a natural state (as hinted at by the one-ness with nature that Ophelia achieves). It's no good blaming Shakespeare, he had it all happen off stage. We turn an unblinking eye on the suicide-porn of Ophelia's demise in all its glorious colour. Do we want to emphasize how a woman is at her most beautiful when she is at her most fragile or even when she is dead? Yet that very dangerous message slips past our radar into the pages of our glossy magazines. Mind you compared to the other messages they push, it seems to fit right in.
I suppose what I am asking is that we question our consumption of images drawn from the art we love. Don't reject Ophelia, I would never shout that and the Tate can sleep soundly knowing I would only come to marvel at their beautiful painting. I think I need to be more aware of how my contemporaries choose to use her because if they want to sell me my victimhood, then I'm not sure I want to buy it.