Ophelia’s parry

I’m reading Hamlet for the first time in over 20 years. Shakespeare’s women never impress me – least of all Ophelia – but in all the productions I’ve seen, I’ve never quite noticed her perfect reply to Laertes’ advice to stay chaste – and steer clear away from Hamlet. Would that there were more lines like this!

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

– Hamlet (1.3.48-52)

An interesting aside: I’m also reading Harold Bloom’s Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. Shortly after I posted the above lines, I read his chapter on Ophelia, which begins:

“We first encounter Ophelia in a familial context, with her departing brother Laertes and her father Polonius alike warning her not to yield her person to Hamlet. ‘I shall obey, my lord,’ she gently says to her father, and so her strategy is already in place.”


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