Also a painting by John Everett Millais
It has Ophelia floating down a lovely, flower-dotted stream, singing in her madness, oblivious of tragedy. It is certainly a romanticised and sanitized view of Ophelia, to the extent that one questions whether Millais was familiar with the text (Hamlet) at all. If he was indeed intimate with the true account of Ophelia then one can only assume he consciously chose to disregard the facts, for there is no mud, and Ophelia appears to swim, to float. This is conflicting with Gertrude’s account that she fell in the brook. Ophelia’s face in this piece seems unsuitable; her expression does not at all suggest the misery she has seen in her lifetime. One presumes by this that Millais intended to imply that Ophelia withdrew so deeply into her madness that she lies unmindful of her doom, frozen and impassive. Ophelia takes on a rather angelic appearance, not at all evocative of the ill girl she was portrayed to be in the play.
The excessive forest details in the background overpower Ophelia, reducing her torment to just another part of the scene. The water is still and promotes the air of tranquility. It is as though Ophelia was gently placed in the water rather than the reality of the situation, which was that Ophelia was supposedly torn from the banks unsuspectingly into a merciless river. It seems as though the artist carefully selected and paint his flowers and flora so that most of them are identifiable. Dozens of flowers and plants are depicted and it also appears that Millais deliberately selected some with intentions of utilising their symbolic meaning. For instance, poppies signify sleep and death. Violets signify death in youth and forgetfulness. Daisies signify innocence. In Act IV Ophelia refers to some of the flowers that wound up being illustrated by Millais.
Millais’ impression of Ophelia is certainly a very euphemised one. I feel that a more appropriate painting would show the torment of Ophelia. It is true that her character might have possessed an innocence, an angelic purity. I feel however that these have no reason to manifest themselves in a painting depicting her death when the tragedies which took place, the miseries she endured or witnessed, erased all trace of her simplicity and girlish incorruptibility. They left her a tangle of madness, a victim of the disease that had been spread so widely. I feel that the painting should have shown a violence, a muckiness. The flowers should not have been so pretty, and if they were, it would have been in direct contrast with the mess that became of the poor Ophelia.
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