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  • Ophelia Locke

Her life in green: A document in madness

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

By Ophelia Locke


The obsession has been there for years now. That one person haunting you. Sending you small fragments and images as you travel through life. She leaves her muddy footprints in the books you read or the music you listen to. Her life is photogenic and attractive to the lens of your camera. Then one day you scroll through your 5 year collection of photographs only to find the puzzle pieces of her story scattered throughout the different folders. They came years apart. Miles apart. But she planned it that way.

Call me an opheliac – one obsessed with another person. That person being Shakespeare’s Ophelia in Hamlet. Ophelia being dependent on another’s thoughts or feelings. She has always been a mere figment of the imagination. She is made up of words and images. She infiltrates the dreams of young actresses. That is how the immortal nymph lives on. And now her madness has taken over my gaze. She has summoned me to document that infamous final slip (or leap) into the English canon of tragic characters.

She found me through the neglected porcelain dolls in some hoarder’s backyard in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Some body parts still intact, others just missing. They were forgotten, their dresses unkempt, torn and dusty. But the hands were still facing upwards, always willing to serve. Ophelia. From the Greek όφελος [ofelos = help, servant or benefit]. “I shall obey, my Lord”. Ophelia is the name given to one of the moons of Uranus. She is a shepherd moon; an important force in holding the planet’s matter in place.

She holds everything together, but no-one notices her limp. Crippled by life’s complexities. Thoughts and feelings she is not allowed to have. But she loves. She loves unconditionally. And her heart belongs to the noble Hamlet. “Affection? You think like a green girl”, she hears her father’s words bounce off the white walls of her chamber. Green? She’s heard about the colour green. But nobody seems to be able to explain it to her. Can you touch green? Can you smell it? Perhaps hear it? What does it feel like underneath your feet?

“I do not know, my Lord, what I should think.” She is told what to think. What to believe. Words are forced down her throat. Like a black hole she drinks it in, only to spit it out when she is told to. She is a faceless creature, donning a head shaped to her father’s liking. A puppet on a string, used to trick the Lord Hamlet. An unsuccessful trick. When heartache strikes she shouts into the darkness, “I was the more deceived!” But no sound can be heard. Hamlet’s words echo through the cavities of her headless body: “I love you not. I love you not. I love you not. I love you not. I love you not. I love you not. I love you not.”

Then the madness. The beautiful madness. “They withered all when my father died.” A puddle catches her eye. In it, the reflection of a world she had never seen before. A bottomless world so fantastically inviting. What could be on the other side of the black and white path she trod? One step into the ever flowing puddle in front of her would leave her crippled feet in the icy cold grip of the unknown. She takes it.

A black curtain lifts, unveiling images she never could have imagined existed. So this must be green? Shall I call you Lord Green, as I am delighted to make your acquaintance? I’ve heard so much about you, good my Lord. “How does your honour for this many a day?” Well, well, well. The shimmering water beckons as if thousands of meteors exploded right before her eyes. Fireworks of falling stars signal: there is no turning back.

She can barely keep up with her own legs dragging her forward to see more. She limps over stone pathways through rivers.

As she wanders off even further, Lord Green becomes even more generous as He dresses her world in the most vivid greens and textures. You cán smell green! You can hear it. It is soft to touch; a velvety carpet underneath your feet. You will be my hiding place, good Lord. Your shade is light to my darkness.

She comes to a standstill. A string hanging between two shades of green. Will she take the plunge; swinging deeper into this splendid new world?

She does it. She surrenders to the beauty that has been unlocked in front of her, through her, within her. It fills her very being through the veins of her soul. Every breath makes her feel lighter, her vision brighter.

How lovely these colours would look in a wreath. A garland of sorts with her wild hair beneath. Shades of purple and scarlet and green. A perfumed crown for a marvellously mad queen.

Pick it.

“There’s rosemary.” Or what she thought was rosemary. Her judgement clouded by the overflow of colour and words and song that beautiful madness inflicted upon her thoughts.

Pick it.

                            OPHELIA:                                       That’s for remembrance.

                                                       Pray, love, remember.

                                                                                                                             [Hamlet: Act IV, SceneV]

She remembers. Her last conversation with Hamlet flashes in fragments through her vivid mind’s eye. His eyes. Whirlpools of fire. Volcanoes. His lips. The corners of his mouth twitching. His teeth clenched. His hands cupping her shoulder. Trembling. Bruising her. His nails marking her skin. His breath warming her face. Spitting hateful words onto her eyelashes.  A tear. As she watched him leave, praying to the Heavens to restore his troubled soul.

OPHELIA:             And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,

                                                That sucked the honey of his music vows,

                                                Now see that noble and most sovereign reason

                                                Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune

                                                And harsh.

                                                                                                                             [Hamlet: Act III, Scene I]


Crowned with flowers and madness, she gazes down at the end of the earth in front of her.

Seconds from disaster. A brook. Veiled like a virgin bride. Deceivingly Pure.

There!!!! A sweet flower grows aslant the brook. She needs to have it in her bouquet. Violet in colour. Violent in colour. The final nail in the coffin. She reaches.

The sound of a branch snapping. She slips. Her porcelain legs splinter and vanish below her soaring body.

GERTRUDE:         When down her weedy trophies and herself

                                                       Fell in the weeping brook.

                                                                                                                          [Hamlet: Act IV, Scene VII]

Her eyes, which could see so clearly a second ago, are clouded by the watery veils of the stream. Colours float around her like a kaleidoscope. Formless. Yet so familiar. 

 At last she is on her back. She looks up at the lustful Lord Green grinning as she reaches the surface to catch a breath. Not to survive, but to sing. For she was free. Her words were her own. As was her face: a beautiful document in madness.

               LAERTES:                 Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,

                                                 She turns to favour and to prettiness.

                                                                                                                            [Hamlet: Act IV, Scene V]

GERTRUDE:                                       But long it could not be

                                                            Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,

                                                            Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay

                                                            To muddy death.

                                                                                                                          [Hamlet: Act IV, Scene VII]

Silence. Her ears filled with water as she began to shut her eyes to the world above. She was a mermaid. Her legs had no purpose anymore.

She was cracked, but she was whole. At last.

OPHELIA:                                             Come, my coach!

                                                              Good night, ladies. Good night, sweet ladies.

                                                              Good night. Good night”

                                                                                                                            [Hamlet: Act IV, Scene V]

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