Article Title

"Ower Swete Sokor": The Role of Ophelia in Hamlet


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The virtuous disguise of evil in woman is described most bitterly by Shakespeare in King Lear (IV.vi.120-29): "Behold yond simpering dame/ Whose face between her forks presages snow.../But to the girdle do the gods inherit,/ Beneath is all the fiends'." If she can be separated from sexual considerations, for example in royalty or in comedy, woman can appear on a level with, if not equal to, man; but where his feelings are most deeply aroused, in love and veneration, or in lust and frustration, the writer finds her angel or devil, separately or interchangeably. In the opening cantos of The Faerie Queene,1 Spenser presents the two pictures of woman which combine in a potent myth in the literature of all ages: the pure, young, innocent Una, characterized by her name, and her exact physical duplicate, who is, behind the façade, a filthy fiend. This sinister figure is later presented as Fidessa/Duessa, but in her first appearance she usurps the fair form of Una, the one truth. In one of the fragments of Euripidean tragedy, there is the saying "Woman brings to man the greatest possible succour, and the greatest possible harm."2 The words for "greatest possible succour" are ophelian...megistan.

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