• The Paradox of Female Agency: Ophelia and East Asian Sensibilities

    Alexa Alice Joubin (see profile)
    East Asian Languages and Literatures after 1900, Global Shakespeares, GS Drama and Performance, LLC Shakespeare, TC Translation Studies
    East Asian literature, Motion pictures, History, Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Adaptation, East Asian literatures, Film history, Gender studies, Shakespeare
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    There are three main East Asian approaches to interpreting Ophelia. The first is informed by the fascination with and reaction against the Victorian pictorialization of Ophelia, especially John Everett Millais’s famous Ophelia (1851), that emphasized, as Kimberly Rhodes describes, her “pathos, innocence, and beauty rather than the unseemly detail of her death.” Despite having lived through negative experiences, Ophelia retains a childlike innocence in these rewritings. For example, New Hamlet by Lao She (penname of Shu Qingchun, 1899-1966) parodies China’s “Hamlet complex” (the inability to act at a time of national crisis) and the fascination with an Ophelia submerged in water. Both Ophelia and Millais’s painting are featured in two of Japanese writer Natsume Sōseki’s early twentieth-century novels. A second approach emphasizes the local context. Adapters used local values to engage with and even critique the Victorian narrative tradition of moralization. Late nineteenth-century translator Lin Shu (1852-1924), for example, tones down the sentimentalization of Ophelia in his classical Chinese rewriting of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, showcasing the conflict between Victorian and Confucian moral codes. The third approach focuses upon an objectified and sexualized Ophelia. As other chapters in this volume demonstrate, this is not exclusively an Asian phenomenon. However, the eroticism associated with the Ophelia figure in a number of Asian stage and screen versions of Hamlet, such as Sherwood Hu’s film Prince of the Himalayas (2006), aligns Ophelia with East Asian ideals of femininity, but also brings out the sexuality that is latent or suppressed in Victorian interpretations. They do so by aligning Ophelia with East Asian ideals of femininity.
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    6 years ago
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