Jaemi's Reviews > Ophelia

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein
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's review
Jan 12, 09

it was amazing
bookshelves: ya-fiction, favorites
Read in March, 2007

There seems to be something in the tragedy of Hamlet that speaks to us all. I think I myself have seen three different movie versions, though I never did make it all the way through the one I most wanted to see. Reviving Ophelia and Ophelia Speaks are both still on my shelf from when I read them years ago. Lisa Klein, who once taught English, has here given us yet another version of the story.

Through Ophelia's own eyes we watch her life unfold. The loss of her mother at birth, a hardened father, a dear brother. But her father's courtly aspirations soon separate Ophelia from what little family she has, leaving her stranded amongst ladies who want little to do with her. Still, her matron Elnora is kind, and she has Queen Gertrude's favor. In these things she is happy, and for a time, learns to keep it so.

While she will never take to her sewing, and is still prone to speak her mind, Ophelia has learned the arts of observance and wit. And Elnora, much pleased with her cures, has left her to study not only herbs, but whatever she chooses as often as she likes. The life of study, which she knew growing up, more suits her.

But still life at the castle feels like nothing more than a cage to her. A sentiment which Prince Hamlet, returned from study abroad, commiserates with. Though each knows it to be wrong, still the pair are drawn together with a strength it is beyond them to deny. Horatio, Hamlet's most trusted friend, becomes their only ally.

For a time, all is well. They have their love, and while hiding it strains Ophelia, and indeed causes her to lose the Queen's favor for a time, she would not give it up for anything. But upon the heels of their secret wedding comes much woe.

King Hamlet is slain. Too close to his passing, his Queen remarries his lustful brother, who is not fit to rule. Hamlet, claiming to have been told the truth by none other than his father's spirit, becomes possessed with revenge. A path down which Ophelia cannot follow.

Soon all are drawn into the plot. The gentle Horatio, Ophelia's father. Indeed, having stumbled upon the truth, and after showing her perhaps the largest kindness he ever has, her father is killed. By none other than her own husband. A sorrow she cannot fully express, as no one knows. And while Hamlet tried to come to her himself, his wretched state left him barred entry.

On and on the madness continues. While first a pretense, Hamlet is soon lost to his mind. Ophelia, following with her own pretense, hoping with it to win invisibility, at times seems lost as well. And is also brought to realize that she works against herself--drawing more attention rather than less.

With the help of trusted Horatio, she devises a plan. Brewing a potion, she fakes her own death--though a little too closely for comfort. The life she knew being lost for all time, Ophelia flees to France, where she is taken in at a convent.

Long fearful of her past, she does not fully divulge the truth to anyone until the birth of her son has come to pass. Those who did not already know some of the truth are quickly won over when they hear the news. And while the past will always haunt her and the future will bring fear, Ophelia has learned much through her entrance to motherhood, and looks on each new day as a gift.


I really, really enjoyed this book. I think it's a great take on the historic Tragedy, and wouldn't be surprised to find schools putting it to good use. Klein should be much pleased with her Ophelia, who transcends, despite all odds.
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