The death of Ophelia is unquestionably one of the most chilling moments in Hamlet. The thought of the prince’s beloved lying in a brook, drowning — perhaps by accident, perhaps a suicide — is heart-wrenching.
The thing is there’s no such scene in the play: The circumstances of her death are merely announced and discussed. Any visuals we have of the poor girl in the water were formed in our own imaginations, prompted by the vividness of both the character and Shakespeare’s language.
This unparalleled ability to conjure images through the use of words was particularly inspiring to Eugène Delacroix, one of the greatest French artists of the 19th century. He lovingly referred to Shakespeare’s Richard III as “a living painting” and depicted key moments from the plays in a number of his works.
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