Who was Ophelia?

“We are often to blame in this,
“As evidence shows, that with a religious face
“And an assumed holiness,
“We make the face of evil acceptable”

I have always been intrigued by the names give to hurricanes by the meteorology folk. The hurricane now sweeping across Ireland from South to North has been labeled “Ophelia”. I presume that this name refers to Hamlet’s girl-friend in Shakespeare’s play. If this hurricane is seen as feminine then she certainly is a mad, crazy woman who has no respect for those around her. Is that fair to the fair Ophelia? And is it fair to the hurricane?

Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet”, was on the curriculum the year I did my Leaving Cert. back in the 1950s. Or was it for the Inter Cert? I can’t be sure but I really loved that play. I was also fortunate that my English teacher was a very good teacher. He challenged us to analyse the characters in the play and helped us to articulate our own understanding of the characters rather than learn off set answers by heart for the exams. I am grateful to him for that because it was a skill that has stood me in good stead during my working life, encouraging me to trust my own judgment of others while allowing room for ongoing re-assessment. Human beings, like characters in a Shakespeare play, do develop and change over their life-time.

Life for women in Shakespeare’s time would not be acceptable in today’s society. In the opening scenes of the play, Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, was, in effect, advising her to keep her knees together and told her Be wary then best safety lies in fearbecause he knew his pal Hamlet! Well, that is advice that we might well bear in mind today when Ophelia hits our town or parish! Her father, Polonius, got in on the act as well, cutting short her protestations that Hamlet had “importuned (her) with love in honourable fashion” by telling her she was speaking like a “green girl”! I thought she was a bit wimpish when she gave in to her father and said: “I shall obey my lord“. Later when Hamlet flips his lid and behaves mega-strangely, he appears to succeed in getting her to support him in his plan to “out” his uncle as the murderer of his father. But the audience has the advantage of knowing that Hamlet’s “madness” is an act wherein he planned “to catch the conscience of the King”. In a turning of the tables it is actually Ophelia who goes mad and kills herself by drowning in the river after Hamlet kills her father.

So in looking at this hurricane through the prism of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the tragic character of Ophelia, I am looking past the drama of the hurricane at the global stage of climate. This hurricane is making us in Ireland face a mere fraction of the horror of a planet in agony. My personal spiritual understanding of planet Earth is that it is a conscious entity, together with other “living” components such as rocks, plants, and animals, each with its own level of consciousness. We humans are a responsible part of that great unified Consciousness. The Qigong mantra, “I am in the Universe, the Universe is in me, the Universe and I are One” is particularly relevant. Hurricane “Ophelia” is a call from Mother Earth and if we have any sense we must listen. We do not own the planet. We cannot control Nature. We must learn to bend with the wind, otherwise we shall break like the reed in the wind. And we must also beware of those of our leaders who either are mad or who are pretending to be mad in order to manipulate us for their own advantage. In the words of Polonius, father of Ophelia:

“We are oft to blame in this, —
“Tis too much proved – that with devotion’s visage
“And pious action we do sugar o’er
“The devil himself.”

[In today’s language, that reads as follows:

“We are often to blame in this,
“As evidence shows, that with a religious face
“And an assumed holiness,
“We make the face of evil acceptable”]

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