Review Blog

Apr 19 2016

Ophelia by Jackie French

cover image

Angus and Robertson, 2015. ISBN 9780732298524
(Age: 11+) Recommended. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Denmark, Betrayal. French's re-imagining of the play, Hamlet, from the perspective of his girlfriend, Ophelia will have wide appeal to a young audience. French's Ophelia is a strong, wiley young woman, aware of much of the machinations behind the scenes that beset those in power. From her position as the young daughter of the Lord Chancellor of the country, she not only runs her father's household, but listens when he talks to her about his days' work. Neither Ophelia nor her father, Polonius are the dupes portrayed in the original play, but two hard working loyal subjects. So when Hamlet returns from university to mourn the death of his father, only to be greeted with his mother's marriage to her brother-in-law, Ophelia grasps the desperation of the situation and does all she can to help Hamlet, a man to whom she is attracted, and one who seems to be attracted to her.
French cleverly uses the words of the play in their dialogue, giving us a different emphasis that one usually shown. French makes the 'what might have happened' take place before our eyes.
Both of the main characters are beset by ghosts: Ophelia sees the ghost of the king usurped by Hamlet's father, and Hamlet sees the ghost of his father. Hamlet's father impels him to seek vengeance on his brother for killing him, while Ophelia's ghost warns her that vengeance only leads to more killing.
For those knowing the original play, Hamlet, this will be a revelation as Ophelia takes centre stage, with other main characters like Polonius, Hamlet, Claudius the king, and Queen Gertrude, taking lesser roles. Hamlet loses nothing of his prevarication, his indecision about Ophelia and his inability to make up his mind about carrying out his father's instructions, and with Ophelia having a much larger 'stage' presence, we see Hamlet afresh. This is a wonderful read. and if it might get a little sentimental at times, this will be quite acceptable to the target audience.
Fran Knight

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