Another Side of Shakespeare: Ophelia by Lisa Klein

I read Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the first time this fall as a part of our tragedies unit in Mr. Hopkins’ senior English class. When I first opened the book, I was not exactly expecting sunshine and rainbows, but having finished the entire play I can definitely attest to it falling into the tragedy genre. Friends and brothers betray each other, multiple people go insane, and by the end of the story a better part of the cast has been killed off. No doubt the writing is brilliant and the story is a timeless tale of deceit and betrayal. I did very much enjoy reading the play and am happy that I will graduate having read and analyzed Hamlet, but I’m not sure it would qualify as a book you would pick up and read for fun. So, when I saw Lisa Klein’s Ophelia in the local library’s book sale room, I was immediately intrigued.

Ophelia is told from (you guessed it), Ophelia’s point of view. In case you haven’t read Hamlet, Ophelia is his love interest who ultimately goes crazy and drowns herself in a stream beside the castle. While reading the play, I did not really understand exactly what led Ophelia to take her own life, and she has just a few lines but plays a huge part in the story overall. Needless to say, I bought the book immediately.

Klein’s writing draws the reader in from the very first page. She writes with historically accurate details but most of the dialogue is easy to understand and written in modern English, no Sparknotes required to get through this take on Shakespeare. The narrative begins when Ophelia is a small child, so the reader gets a brief glimpse of how she grows up, the relationships she has with her brother Laertes and father Polonius, and how she is forced into adulthood with the death of her mother. Many aspects of Ophelia’s life are invented by Klein, such as her close relationship with an herbalist named Metchild who lives just outside of the castle and her courtship with Hamlet. Readers will be surprised to learn that Klein interprets Ophelia’s insanity as an act, and a means of escape from the increasingly dangerous Elsinore Castle. The book follows her journey past the castle and as she works to escape the painful memories with Hamlet and dangerous secrets she possesses from her days as a lady in waiting to the Queen.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has read Hamlet, and even those who haven’t. The story itself is a great read, and filled in all of the details that I was missing from the play. It was especially interesting to see Shakespeare’s world through a women’s eyes, as most of his plays that we have read in school focus mainly on the men. Best of all, this book has a happy ending, despite the tragic events that take place throughout Ophelia’s life.

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