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Claiming the body: the Ophelia myth in the GDR

Owen, Ruth J. 2007. Claiming the body: the Ophelia myth in the GDR. Germanic Review 82 (3) , pp. 251-267.

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Abstract

In the German Democratic Republic (GDR) Ophelia is a "found object," inherited from Shakespeare's Hamlet and from countless European poets and painters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Originally, Ophelia was the young girl in love who lost her mind and drowned in an overhung brook. Her recurrence in Müller's Hamletmaschine and in poems by Bobrowksi, Huchel, Hilbig, Bartsch, Pietraß, and Köhler signals an interaction between the GDR present and earlier reception of Ophelia. The texts discussed make the drowned girl a warning sign of unacknowledged catastrophe; she embodies female suffering caused not by love, but by larger sociopolitical forces. The author argues that GDR writers reinterpret the immobility of the Wasserleiche: in GDR poetry, Ophelia's corpse becomes part of a rhetoric of social death. Rather than the highly gendered contemplation of beauty and decay, postwar paradigms instate Ophelia's drowning as an outrage indicating the destructiveness of modern political organization.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Modern Languages
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
Uncontrolled Keywords: Corpse ; Death ; Drowned ; German Democratic Republic (GDR) ; Hamlet ; Hamletmaschine ; Ophelia ; Poetry ; Postwar ; Shakespeare ; Wasserleiche
Publisher: Routledge
ISSN: 0016-8890
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 22:07
URI: http://orca-mwe.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/3568

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