Free Essay. Transgression of the Madwoman Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Published: 2023-04-03
Free Essay. Transgression of the Madwoman Ophelia by John Everett Millais
Type of paper:  Creative writing
Categories:  Inspiration Arts Shakespeare
Pages: 2
Wordcount: 442 words
4 min read

John Millais did the painting on Ophelia in 1851, establishing the background from observation of the Hogsmill River in Surrey (Frisch, 2013). In the portrait, Ophelia lies drifting in a stream, encircled by tangles of vegetation. Vibrant flowers chute over her dress with lacey silvery embroidery. Surrounded by green foliage, she opens her mouth in song as life starts to leave her already rigid body (Frisch, 2013). The painting of Ophelia can be related to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia is driven to madness after being rejected by Hamlet, and the slaying of her father (Frisch, 2013). While picking wildflowers, the branch of the willow she sits upon snaps, and she falls to her death.

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While explaining the death of Ophelia, Millais worked to reinvigorate the picture of the heroine who was extensively painted in the nineteenth century. Millais associates his work with emotional intensity by portraying a real woman, detected from life, floating in the water (Marsh & Women, 1987). The image of Ophelia challenges many of the Victorian perceptions of Shakespeare and academic painting. Millais' meticulous presence of natural detail positions his work as a meditation on brevity in death (Marshall, 2009). Moreover, Ophelia's painting enforces many Victorian notions of womanhood, and madness disturbing to a modern audience. Regardless of the undeniable beauty of Ophelia and the striking orient of natural details, the works still predict a portentous warning to young women who do not follow their traditional concepts of womanhood (Frisch, 2013).

The Pre-Raphaelites often included Shakespeare's plays in their topic. Millais was one example of a Pre-Raphaelite who painted several episodes from Shakespeare's Hamlet (Marsh & Women, 1987). Most of their modern portraits of Shakespearean topics waned on the side of absurdity, portraying the mystical plays of The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night's Dream with keen imagination (Frisch, 2013). It is evident that Millais' obligation to the text of Hamlet and Ophelia is places within the subject. Within the play, Ophelia loves Hamlet, however, her brother Laertes and father Polonius are opposed to the two getting married. Witnessing his harsh, and unkind words, Ophelia despairs at the lost chance of not marrying Hamlet. Hamlet kills Polonius's father, and Ophelia later appears having also gone insane due to the grief of not being able to get married to Hamlet (Frisch, 2013).


Frisch, E. (2013). Pre-Raphaelite Painting and the Medieval Woman. Retrieved from:

Marsh, J., & Women, P. R. (1987). Images of Femininity in Pre-Raphaelite Art. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 93.

Marshall, G. (2009). Shakespeare and Victorian Women (Vol. 64). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from:

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