Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Inspiration: Ophelia

For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.

-Arthur Rimbaud

Driven mad by the sudden loss of her family, the maiden wanders the halls of the castle, bereft, carrying flowers and singing fragments of songs. She meets her own untimely end when she falls into the river and drowns, letting herself be carried away by the current rather than swim.
The tragic tale of Lady Ophelia, from Shakespeare's Hamlet, has captured the imaginations of millions since her first soliloquy. She has been especially beloved in the spookier cultural circles- from Morticia Addams' sister Ophelia Frump, to Emilie Autumn's Opheliac, to alternative model Ophelia Overdose.

I fell in love with the iconic Ophelia myself when I read Anne of Green Gables as a young girl. In the book, strange Anne, with her newly regrown auburn hair, is elected by her friends to play the part of equally dreamy and odd Lady Ophelia. Though Anne's venture ends in mishap, the idea of playing Ophelia floating down the river in her bower of wildflowers stuck with me. As a head-in-the-clouds, out of place little girl myself, pretending to be woebegone Lady Ophelia helped me get through my various daily struggles. As I grew up, I began reading Shakespeare and the part became even more dear to me. So much so that even one of my cats is named for her! (though I must say that my lumpy, clingy cat lacks a certain theatrical grace). Even my favorite author, Anne Rice, had the witch Mona Mayfair- a wild, red haired young woman obsessed with Ophelia.

As Ophelia has developed as a literary and cultural icon, her visual representation has also developed certain cliches. There is a certain whimsical, otherworldly appearance that has become a part of her identity. 
Here are a few ways to channel the ill-fated Danish princess into your look.

1. Long, wavy hair. This is perhaps her most consistent feature- long, wild, unbound hair. Try crimping it or letting it dry in braids. Red or strawberry blonde are the most common colors for her hair if you're in the market for wigs.
If the above is too plain for your tastes, try a simple medieval-inspired braided hairstyle. Something half braided, half down would be lovely and romantic.

2. Flowers. Whether fake or real, weave them into your hair, make a flowered headband, or pin them on in a corsage. Also look for flower inspired jewelry and prints.

3. Looser, more flowing dresses. Cast aside your structured bodices and OPs this time, and look for somethings softer and more draped (although, the effect of pairing a loose dress with a tight corset is quite nice). This might be a great opportunity to incorporate some Mori-Kei as well. 

4. Wear white. Ophelia's innocence is often portrayed by her being shown in white. In my opinion, wearing white or cream has a certain ghost-like quality when paired with long hair.

5. Jewel tones, if white doesn't suit you. Rich greens, blues, and burgundies will compliment the look and reference the time period Hamlet is set in. 

I think a concept to keep in mind whilst channeling our darling Lady Ophelia is "tragic beauty". Something beautiful that is ruined or tarnished in some way, so that it's beauty is even more apparent but at the same time terribly sad. The contrast of loveliness with darkness heightens the allure. Cracked porcelain dolls, wilting roses, old statues, crumbling castles...a beautiful maiden whose young life was snuffed out by madness and death.


  1. What a classic you chose! I adore Opheliac stuff on all its expressions (being myself a little romantic drama queen). I leave the following lonk to my other blog here for you. It is about Ophelia and It´s writen in Spanish but you can use the google translator and should be ok.

    Indeed, one of the photo artist who I work with has been wanting an Opheliac shoot from me for a long time. I think I am going to do It now, totally inspired from your post!


  2. One of my favorite tragic characters. I've never read Anne of Green Gables, but now I have to! :) And who doesn't love Ophelia Frump? ;-D

    Sophistique Noir - Dark, Elegant Fashion

  3. I really want to play Ophelia! The Theater company I work for is doing Hamlet next season, and I really want to her.

    Also, when Alice and the Pirates was doing the Theater prints, I was really hoping they would make a Hamlet print. With Forget-me-not's, a Beautiful Ophelia floating in a river surrounded by flowers, and poor little Yorick skulls. *w*

  4. OH, the character is so tragic but the painting so breathtaking! Everytime I go to the TATE in London, I make sure to have a look at it. It is so vivid!, despite not being as big as you would had originally expected...


  5. i really love this pinting of ophelia by this pinter <3 i did drawing little like it :3 !!!!
    doo you like art ??


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