Ophelia Project

Ophelia is one of Shakespeare’s iconic tragic heroines, who has remained an archetypal example of romantic suicide and mental illness to this day. I want to explore depictions of Ophelia in the 1800’s and why she became so popular during this time. In particular, I aim to analyse the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais’  famous painting of Ophelia, why it is so celebrated, and the possible reactions of the Victorian audience. I want to focus the romanticisation and idealisation around her suicide by the Victorian painters and audiences, and by modern artists. I want to explore what Ophelia reveals about femininity and madness, patriarchy and female agency, and gender expectations, and how Shakespeare explores this through symbolism, which is then translated into paintings and photographs of her. I also want to see how this has translated into the modern and postmodern world of art, literature, and film (such as the ‘Melancholia’ film poster) and again: why is Ophelia so popular? Why does a small role hold such power and appeal? How much did Millais’ painting lift the character of Ophelia to a higher profile? Why are young women now drawn towards the image and wider pre-Raphaelite imagery of women?