Ophelia 1894

Date: 1894
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 49 x 29 in

This article focuses on the character of Ophelia from Shakespeare's play Hamlet and her portrayal in two paintings by John Everett Millais and Sir John William Waterhouse. If you're familiar with the play or the painting, you'll be able to identify the subject matter in both. Ophelia is a young noblewoman of Denmark, and a possible wife for Prince Hamlet.


Several famous paintings feature the character of Ophelia, wife of the Prince in William Shakespeare's play “Hamlet”. The theme of Ophelia was used extensively by the Pre-Raphaelites, and Waterhouse continued the tradition a decade later. The painting features Ophelia sitting on a branch, surrounded by flowers. The subject is a young woman who looks towards a tree, while her hands rest on a flower.

The theme of romantic heartbreak, death, and youth have long captivated artists and viewers. A great example of this is Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet.” While the two characters meet, the story of Ophelia is more powerful and enticing to viewers. In Waterhouse's 1910 painting of Ophelia, the character leans against a tree, holding flowers, and staring at the viewer. The image of Ophelia is still the picture most people think of when they hear the name Ophelia. John William Waterhouse's Ophelia also features sirens, naiads, and mermaids, along with Shakespeare's heroine Miranda.

Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet

The central theme of Shakespeare's Hamlet is love, and it is also one of the themes that is most challenging for Ophelia to navigate. Although Hamlet is young and untried, he already walks on a longer tether than his devoted wife. Ophelia, on the other hand, is determined to make her husband believe in him. However, this does not end well, and the audience will be left feeling torn between her desire for her and his duty to his family.

The secondary characters of Shakespeare's Hamlet are the foils for the main character, and act as the opposites of each other. Hamlet is slow and deliberate, and plans his revenge carefully, and his reaction to his uncle's murder is equally deliberate and insidious. Ophelia, on the other hand, is impulsive and impatient, and reacts in a wildly different manner to Hamlet's actions.

Ophelia in John Everett Millais' painting

The scene depicted in John Everett Millais painting of Ophelia after her tragic death has a unique significance. It shows the young girl half-submerged in water, singing a mournful song. The scene is also beautiful, with colorful flowers and plants surrounding Ophelia, suggesting that death isn't necessarily a dreary event. While her body is submerged, her gaze seems serene, suggesting that Ophelia has just reached the end of her life. The painting also shows that she is reincarnated into the earth.

The painting of the dying Ophelia by John Everett Millais is a perfect example of an early English landscape. The lush greenery and flowing river reminisce of England's countryside. The painting's hyper-realistic details unnerved viewers, but later prints prompted awe and appreciation for the groundbreaking conception. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1852, where it was the most famous work by an English artist.

Ophelia in John William Waterhouse's painting

Ophelia is a character in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, and a potential wife for Prince Hamlet. Waterhouse's painting is a striking depiction of the young woman. Ophelia is a powerfully moving portrayal of the character, and is well worth a look. In this painting, Ophelia is rendered in the most stunning light.

The final portrayal of Ophelia in Waterhouse's painting is one of his most dramatic. While her hair is long and red, her dress is blue and crimson. Ophelia occupies most of the pictorial space, and her hand is resting on a tree. Her final scene in the play is portrayed with a similar emotional impact. Waterhouse was interested in portraying literary figures in his paintings, and he submitted this painting to the Royal Academy of Art.

Ophelia in Claire McCarthy's film

Claire McCarthy's film Ophelia retells Shakespeare's “Hamlet,” altering the tragic structure in a way that empowers Ophelia and separates her from the story that happened 400 years ago. While the liberation of Ophelia isn't perfectly executed, the film is still enjoyable and raises some interesting narrative questions.

The Drowning of Ophelia is an adaptation of the novel by Claire McCarthy. Set in a pre-Raphaelite brotherhood world, the film's opening scene depicts Ophelia lying face down in a pool of water, holding a bouquet of wildflowers. Ophelia explains the meaning of the flowers to her companions, while millais's painting of Ophelia is the backdrop for her story. Ophelia's death is depicted through the symbolic use of flowers, including nettles and willows, as well as poppies and daisies.