Transplacing Ophelia: Woman and Nation in the Earliest Russian Hamlets


The two earliest Russian versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, composed by Aleksandr Sumarokov in 1748 and Stepan Viskovatov in 1810, bring the character of Ophelia to the foreground of a heavily politicized narrative. This essay examines the ways in which the early Russian Ophelia, or Ofeliia, departs from her English predecessor by becoming a vocal and proactive participant in the events of these plays. A newly authoritative figure, Ofeliia sets an example for righteous behavior and asserts her subjectivity by articulating personal wishes for social mobility. The plays of Sumarokov and Viskovatov thus make possible a new reading of the heroine by redistributing the imagery and motifs of the English play to reflect subversions of the Shakespearean narrative. Although Ofeliia gains new dramatic spaces through which to express her personhood, she yet circulates in traditional and gendered spheres of political participation, as is the case when she functions in a nuanced allegorical capacity by embodying the nation-state of Denmark. However, Ofeliia equally reflects the situations of real women in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Russia, providing evidence about contemporaneous Russian attitudes towards gender, authority, and social relations. Finally, this essay seeks to end on an overture, with the invitation to open a potential discussion of how consequent works of Russian literature and drama engage with Ophelia’s liminality and elasticity, and thereby help us to better understand centuries of interlingual, intercultural exchange centered around the Shakespearean tradition.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.