Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark written by Jackie French (Harper Collins) PBK   RRP 
$16.99   ISBN 9780732298524                                                                                                                     
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Following on from her interpretation of Juliet Capulet, Jackie French now presents another imaginative view of one of Shakespeare’s female characters – Ophelia from ‘Hamlet’.

Usually presented as the tragic maiden betrothed to Prince Hamlet, French presents us with an alternative view of Ophelia, which certainly proves a useful accompaniment to Shakespeare’s play.

King Fortinbras’ ghost presents himself to six-year-old Ophelia and tells her how his kingdom was lost to a man who tricked him into betting his kingdom on a sword fight. He must now roam the world until avenged. ‘Revenge is a dish that sits bitter in the stomach, even if the first taste is sweet.’

Fortinbras tells Ophelia the qualities of a good queen and tells Ophelia that she would make a good queen, thus sowing that desire within the girl. Ten years later she is on a path to achieving this after the death of King Hamlet and in her developing relationship with Queen Gertrude and Gertrude’s son, Hamlet.
When Hamlet discovers his new stepfather Uncle Claudius murdered his father he is set on a path of revenge, enhanced by his pretended madness – a cover to protect his own life.

Ophelia is unsure of Hamlet’s sanity and his love and a series of deaths occur, beginning with Ophelia’s father Polonius, the Lord Chancellor.
If Hamlet is able to feign madness to divert his suspicious uncle, then Ophelia can do the same – even faking her own death.

With the deaths of Hamlet, Ophelia’s brother Laertes, the king and queen, we are left with a final scene of hope – of Ophelia becoming Queen of Denmark after all with the new King Fortinbras. The story has turned full circle, the throne restored.

With Shakespeare’s play as the background, French overlays another story, one which celebrates the ingenuity and power of women. The book resonates with history and within it French weaves titbits of cheese recipes and references.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read, which lends itself easily to student book club or class study. Readers of I Am Juliet and Ophelia will certainly look forward to French’s continuation of the series in 2016 with The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gent and Third Witch in 2016.


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