We live in The Age of Ophelia and of the sticky transom, and neither of those things are good, or worthy, when day is done. Ophelia is one of the most insipidly sad characters in all of Shakespeare’s greatest works — and in Hamlet, she not only dies a coward’s death — she also deeply burns disappointment into every reader of the play and observer of her character in performance.
In simple observation, Ophelia may appear to be good and to hold nothing but earnestness in her heart, but in the context of the play in which she spins, Ophelia is nothing but yet another woman to be used, disparaged, and disposed.
Yes, Ophelia is strong, but she does not change, and her power is brittle. She is who she was born to be, and she lives and dies in that static end. Ophelia could have been a multi-dimensionally dramatic, Tragic Heroine, but instead, she dissolves into the pit of her own mind, becoming something to be pitied, and never admired.
We feel for Ophelia, but we do not feel her. Is this a failure of Shakespeare, the Writer, or a failure of the character never springing into life to demand the author’s attention? Yes, characters have lives of their own beyond the writer’s hand.
Ophelia’s collapsing into death is not how historic characters become immortal from the page.
There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue
for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,–
Unfortunately, we find ourselves today stuck on the transom, living in The Age of Ophelia. Nothing is our fault. We point our fingers at other, more existential, reasons for our belittlement of each other. We prefer the hard hand of the dictator over the softer grip of someone we trust to lead us upward.
Like Ophelia, we are designed to fall by a stolid plot and by a dramatic indifference — but not in a proper way defined by battles or progeny or accomplishment — but merely by inaction.
There was a time in America, not too long ago, when children were seen, and not heard, and they were expected to be out of the house by the age of 18, when they went off to college, or took a full time job.
Those kids, that now generation of adults, understand a deed-for-the-dollar, and the meaning of hard work resulting in the rewards of a job well done — as well as owning a self-sustainable sufficiency, that may not lead to riches or fame, but always includes serving a right moral duty for the benefit of the rest of society.
Then, something changed.
Helicopter Parents took over the role of the Nanny State and our children became weak, and unabridged, and soft. Today, the expectation is the child should stay in the home until the age of 26 — and that eight-year differential between what was, and what is now, equals a quantifiable dismay of tragic importance.
The transom has become sticky with trepidation. The child will not leave the home. The family is forever tethered — not by the needs of the necessity of the farm, and the tending of land, and sky, and animal — but by fear, and by the incapacity to be independent in a meaningful way of leaping from the continent to save the world from itself; or to at least heal the adult self from the ravages of an avenging childhood.
In this inability to leave behind what is familiar and safe, the rest of us become stuck in stasis, as well, because — singing into the maw, like Ophelia before us — we believe by dint in our own, inert, goodness, and that just by being, just by sticking around, we won’t lose our way; but for those of us who know, for those of us born of wisdom, for those of us weathered by beatings, for those of us burned by betrayals, we all know we shall, in the end, together, find our tears and finally taste the salty means of handing over our own, incorrigible deaths, done in by a thousand “might have beens” and a thick spackling of “what was wished upon.”