Women of Hamlet: Not a Wilting Flower


Blog by Annette Kaplafka

When Dan Hodge first called me to audition for Ophelia, my initial and unfairly stereotypical reaction was, “I’m not necessarily the ‘wilting flower’ type.” However, once Dan started to explain his vision of the character, it became apparent he had every intention of allowing the actress he cast to show her strength and power in the performance.  This is a daunting task, considering Ophelia pretty much begins the play in a losing position.  From the start, both her brother and father are telling her the relationship with Hamlet isn’t real or lasting.  And, the first time the audience sees both her and Hamlet together (at least in our cutting) is in the nunnery scene, which well, doesn’t really solidify your hopes in a happily ever after.  So, I started to question how do I show Ophelia as a grounded woman, in a real loving relationship, when it is all just my character’s backstory? Not to mention, she does go mad, which pretty much belies any strength or stability one would try to portray early on in the play.  

Without a doubt, the mad scenes were what seemed to be the largest challenge as I began my work for the role.  What circumstances does a person need to experience to have such a mental break?  Is there a propensity for certain personality types to be more susceptible to such an actuality than others?  Do only the “weak” fall?  And really, how do we define this “madness?”  

One thing I came to realize as I was doing my research about mental instability and the institutionalized is that sanity is really just the most widely accepted opinion or thought.  Every person who we deem “crazy” usually has their own thought process to get from point A to point B.  But, if we don’t comprehend their reasoning as a society, we often (unduly) label it unbalanced or insane.  Science and history have proved this to us again and again.

Looking at the words and songs Shakespeare gave Ophelia, there is definitely a through line to what she is sharing. It became easy to find justification and clear purpose to the scenes and her action, and allowed us to question if it is truly madness, or if like Hamlet, (to pull a thought from our director) she is merely feigning and speaking in code to tell what she knows.   If the latter is true, then we get to see a woman who has lost all agency, standing in front of those who took it from her, saying “I know!” and telling the others, “Be careful!”  It’s definitely a much more interesting choice, and also, allows one to begin to find her strength again.  Her actions come out of a need to hold on, if only by a thread.  Sadly, even self harm and/or suicide are often the acts of a person trying to maintain control over whatever they can.  

Working from this perspective has hopefully allowed me the opportunity to bring our audiences an Ophelia of courage, empathy and spirit.  Sometimes, the truth is just too overwhelming in itself to put out there in plain terms. There is great truth and reasoning to all of what Ophelia says in the second act.  Just because you might not follow the thought process, don’t call me crazy. 🙂

(Ophelia) is so pleased to be working with everyone at Hedgerow.  She has performed coast to coast on stage, film, television and voice-over projects. Stage credits include Stewardess, (Camino Real) The Shakespeare Theatre; Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz); Senator (Timon of Athens) Philadelphia Artists Collective; Moyra/Sister Irene (At The Hand of My Mother) Ward Studio Company; and The Other Woman (Dead Man’s Cell Phone) Simpatico Theatre Project.   Film and TV credits include Mayor Cupcake (opposite Leah Thompson), Café, Sam and Rose, Homicide, and Arrest and Trial, as well as over 100 industrial films, and numerous Regional and national commercial and VO spots.   This and all things for ‘Lil Darts and Big Steve.