What magic is this? A blog post from Lexie Bellafonte? Be still my beating heart! We had perchance thought you had died and gone to heaven, so quiet has your correspondence been of late.
Hello J I shan’t apologise for the Shakespeare. It’s been a very Shakespearean week. I started a post yesterday entitled ‘Simply Ophelia’ about what happened on Monday, but then today happened, so now you have this instead. I pray you, lend me your ears…
Alright, I’ll stop now.
Shakespeare. One of the great loves of my life. Seriously, that dude could write. His plays are as relevant today as they were in the 1600s. And this week has been full of him. Somehow, this week, I’ve managed to go on a journey of the self through Shakespeare. Much like Hamlet, only cheerier and this ending has no death.
On Monday, as part of my Drama and Medicine student project, I played the part of Ophelia. The task was to, as a group, chose a play with a healthcare theme and perform for the class a 15 minute scene/combination of scenes. For some strange reason my group decided to do ‘Hamlet’. Cause modern-day English was too easy for us :p We presented Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy and his nunnery conversation with Ophelia followed by Ophelia’s mad scenes. And I played Ophelia in her mad scenes.
It was exhilarating. Liberating. I’ve always wanted to play Ophelia and that will probably be the first and last time I’ll ever do so. There’s something very freeing about forgetting what people think and acting crazy.
And at the time, I indentified with her. I was Ophelia. Not because I was playing her and I was trying to get into the role (I’m not that good an actor) but because I felt crazy. I’d had a rubbish weekend, my mental health was all a-kilter and I went into that class ready to cry. And when I played her I channelled all of that crazy – the anger, the grief, the delusion and despair I was feeling – into her character. It was by no means brilliant. Most of the actual acting I borrowed from Ophelias I’ve seen on stage and screen. But it was so easy to act crazy because that’s how I felt.
At the end of each performance we had a discussion and one person asked me how I prepared for the role, what I drew on. I wasn’t about to tell him the truth but I said (and I do believe this) that we all have a bit of crazy in us and I drew on that. We laughed at that because it was funny. And after, as liberating and wonderful as it felt in the moment, I went back to feeling ignored and alone. A bit like Ophelia, I suppose.
After that class I didn’t fancy going home. So I went to Stratford where, coincidentally, they were performing ‘Hamlet’ that night. I went and saw it. It was a wonderful performance. Jonathon Slinger as Hamlet…wow. Pippa Nixon as Ophelia was even better. Afterwards I had that warm glow I get from watching a performance. But, because I am me and was already feeling pretty emotionally unstable, I identified with Hamlet.
We’ve all sympathised with Hamlet at some point in our lives. Sure we may not ponder suicide like he does but we’ve all had a bit of an existential crisis. And I felt like that. Off kilter with the world around me, questioning life and its meaning, even if life had a meaning. Alone amongst friends and family. Existential. I’ve never heard understood his soliloquies as well as I did on Monday night.
Prufrock (from Eliot’s poem)
I went to Stratford again today to see ‘As You Like It’. I was so, so excited. It’s one of my favourite plays and Horatio and Ophelia from Hamlet were Rosalind and Orlando. I’d been waiting for today for ages. And it didn’t disappoint. I’m going to go see it again. It was magical. Truly, wonderfully, properly magnificent. Perfect. I mean, it wasn’t perfect. There were some bits (like with even the best of books) which were left wanting. But I came out feeling that theatre feeling but ten, no, a hundred times more. Calm. Complete. Happy. Content. Whole. Perfect. I skipped along the pavement. I haven’t skipped since primary school.
In the car on the way home I found myself reciting part of Eliot’s poem:
I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool
This poem is one of my favourites. It’s the poem I go to when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. It’s a bit long but sounds wonderful read out loud, which I do because somehow it calms me. I don’t know why I starting saying it in the car. Probably the Hamlet reference.
I’ve identified with Prufrock before, and for those ten minutes in the car I did again. I’m a little buttoned up like his frock coat, I um and ah and overthink thinks drastically. I’m known to be a little pessimistic. This section sums up one feeling especially – that feeling that you’re not the main person in your life. I’ve been getting that a lot recently. Not important enough to be Hamlet. Not the protagonist in your story. Just an attendant lord. I’ve always thought he refers to Polonius in the poem, who dies in the play. Hamlet kills him, actually. Ironically.
And I’ve been writing recently. I’ve got this idea and I’m hoping to run with it. The point is, the main character gets told, repeatedly, that she is the hero in her own story. You are the protagonist in your life’s book. I have a tendency to not follow my own advice. And because I’d been identifying with so many Shakespearean characters recently I asked myself, whilst driving: if you could be any character in any Shakespearean play, who would you be?
Any character? That’s quite an ask.
Hamlet is a fantastic figure in the history of literature. It can be argued that he is the first character to show introspection. And I’ve identified with him. But would I be him? No. Ignoring the fact that he dies at the end, he spends the whole plays running circles in his own head, asking and reasking the same questions. I do that. But do I want to do that? No.
Ophelia is beautiful but she goes crazy. And dies. Her grief and despair overwhelm her. No.
I love Horatio. I’d forgotten how much until I saw Monday’s performance. He’s learned and cultured and I believe he loves Hamlet with every fibre of his being. I mean, when Hamelt goes to England he doesn’t leave (you have to remember that he came to Elsinore to see his friend). Instead he stays and looks after Ophelia because (I think) he knows how much she means to Hamlet. I’d love to see Horatio played by a female actor. I’d love to be Horatio, but only in the play. Because he lets Hamlet drive his every move. At the end he’s ready to die for his prince in a very Romeo and Juliet way…No.
Romeo and Juliet both need to get a grip. Yes it’s an epic love story, and yes it is lovely, and yes I have been in many a situation where I let one little emotion well up and take me over but GROW UP! You’re teenagers. Try and live a little.
King Lear is horrid. His children are bitches. Macbeth is power hungry, his wife even more so. Othello…needs to know his own mind more. Puck would be cool. I was Puck at school. But no.
Ultimately the choice was between Viola and Rosalind. I’m sure there’s more (Beatrice for example) but in the car I was debating Viola and Rosalind. Both are brave and courageous, both love their friends and family dearly and would do anything for them, both love other people and would do anything for them. Both are wonderful examples of strong, independent women. But truthfully, I’ve always thought Orsino was a bit fickle. I hate how he says Viola can be his mistress at the end. I know mistress means wife but, why doesn’t he say wife? Mistress still has that connotation. I think he loved Cesario, not Viola, but social conventions meant he was pleased when Cesario turned out to be a woman. Viola deserves more than that. However Orlando loves Rosalind. Irrevocable, unconditional love. And that is special. And Rosalind is special.
It’s highly likely that I’m just identifying with whichever character is in the main role when I’m contemplating who I identify with. Or something.
Anyway, if I could be any character in any play, I would be Rosalind. Who is not an attendant lord. She is the master of her own destiny, the hero in her own story, the protagonist of her book. Which I should be. Live is short. It is what you make it. And I would rather be Rosalind than Prufrock or Polonius. Rather be Rosalind than Hamlet. And, somehow, in the space of 6 days I went from being Ophelia to being Rosalind. I can guarantee you that by the end of next week I’ll feel like Hamlet or Ophelia again. But tonight, now, I am Rosalind. I am the protagonist of my own story. And it feels really, really good.
PS I’m looking for a new calm-me-down poem, one with a character more Rosalind than Prufrock. Any suggestions?