In Hamlet, the mainstream of the play takes place at Elsinore Castle, located in Denmark. This is a real place and Shakespeare describes in details this literary home of Hamlet. These details of the setting significantly transfer the motifs of spying and deception. The audience perceives the ideas of dishonesty due to Shakespeare’s successful highlights of the scenes. The graveyard scene becomes the ideal setting for Hamlet to express his existential thinking. The image of the man with the skull must be the most recognizable symbol. Another similarly familiar image and scene is Ophelia’s death. The aura of tragedy, the imagery of disease and destruction in this scene contribute to the idea of total madness in Denmark, the darkness and evil in deceitful hearts, as well as the dependable fate of a woman.
If I were to construct the stage and props for the scene of Ophelia’s death I might design the set as follows. In absolute darkness around and with the only spotlight following her, Ophelia would slowly move along a wooden podium singing her song and handing out bright flowers. Her long white dress, messy worn down hair and barefoot are emblematic for the depiction of female madness. The white color contrasts to Hamlet’s “nighted colour” (Shakespeare, Hamlet 13) and “customary suits of solemn black” (Shakespeare, Hamlet 13). The female nature is in opposition to male pressure and abuse that course her madness. White symbolizes Ophelia’s tricked virginity and fragile individuality. I suggest prolonging the scene by dramatizing the Queen Gertrude’s depiction of Ophelia’s death. The big hyaline pond full with soft blue material (substitute for water) would stand at the end of the podium. Ophelia would fall in the “water” and continue singing. She would softly sink with her hands are the same as on the picture of John Everett Millais symbolizing the gesture of Christ. The presented stage setting remains true to the original text though it dramatizes the report of the Queen. The intention of this scene is to show Ophelia’s unclear character that resembles water. She is fluid, immaterial, without shape. The scene would show her neglecting to save herself from sinking and present the metaphor for Ophelia’s dependable position in life. She does what her father and brother tell her to do without making decisions on her own. Ophelia is “mermaid-like,” “native” (Shakespeare, Hamlet 114) in the water. She symbolizes women who are natural, beautiful and dead without their individual will. There is no place for women in the male court.
In her last scene, where she hands out flowers to the people in the court, Ophelia seems to finally realize the nature of people around her. The bouquet of dead flowers would be an important prop as each flower has meaning. She is mad but at the same time aware to give every flower to the right person. I would suggest the holographic images of possible recipient of flowers to appear while she is singing. Rosemary means remembrance. People should not forget about the death of King Hamlet. Laertes should not forget Ophelia and his father. Pansies stand for thoughtfulness. They may be for Hamlet as a thinker, not a pretender. Moreover, another name of pansies is love-in-idleness. Shakespeare in Midsummer Night’s Dream says they are ‘purple with love’s wound’ (Dream 16). Ophelia’s heart is also hurt by Hamlet abandoning her. Rues mean sorrow. They may be for the Queen and for Ophelia herself as they “wear [their] rue with a difference” (Shakespeare, Hamlet 106). Daisies indicate hypocrisy. They may be for the King who hides something. Violets mean faithfulness wasted with her father death. She still loves her father and believes he did what was best for her. The text does not point directly who Ophelia gives flowers and the audience may not know the meaning of each flower. So suggested appearing images of flower recipient could improve understanding of symbols for today’s audience.
Suggested design of the stage and props could maintain the aura of tragedy, disease and destruction which the depiction of Ophelia’s death creates. The scene contributes to the idea of total madness in Denmark, the darkness and evil in deceitful hearts, as well as the dependable fate of a woman in the court. The female nature is in opposition to male pressure and abuse. Cruel and deceitful world of Elsinore contrasts the natural world presented by Ophelia’s introduction of flowers and by the setting and manner of her death.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Electronic Classics Series. Net. < http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/shakesp/midsum.pdf >. Web. 24 June 2014.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Net. < http://www.w3.org/People/maxf/XSLideMaker/hamlet.pdf >. Web. 24 June 2014.