Skip to main content

The Paradox of Female Agency: Ophelia and East Asian Sensibilities

  • Chapter

Part of the Reproducing Shakespeare: New Studies in Adaptation and Appropriation book series (RESH)

Abstract

There has always been a perceived affinity between Ophelia and East Asian women. In May 1930, Evelyn Waugh entertained the prospect of the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong in the role of Ophelia: “I should like to see Miss Wong playing Shakespeare. Why not a Chinese Ophelia? It seems to me that Miss Wong has exactly those attributes which one most requires of Shakespearean heroines.”2 Ophelia is a paradox in East Asian literature, drama, and film. Even when she appears to depend on others for her thoughts like her Western counterpart, the figure of Ophelia in Asian rewritings signals a strong presence by her absence and even absent-mindedness. The above quotation by Chinese author Bing Xin comments on how surviving in wartime China encouraged her readers to face the dilemma of the modern woman.3 While she did not write about Shakespeare, her works for adults and children aptly capture the Ophelia paradox: a young woman who is vulnerable yet powerful, undermined and empowered by her femininity. While Asian Ophelias may suffer from what S. I. Hayakawa calls “the Ophelia syndrome” (the inability to formulate and express one’s own thoughts), they adopt various rhetorical strategies — balancing between eloquence and silence—to let themselves be seen and heard.4

Keywords

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

I think nothing.

— Ophelia (Hamlet 3.2.117)1

I am weak and therefore I am strong.

— Bing Xin

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD   54.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD   69.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD   99.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. See S. I. Hayakawa, “What Does It Mean to Be Creative?” Through the Communication Barrier, ed. Arthur Chandler (New York: Harper & Row, 1979) 104–05; see also “News and Notes,” British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition) 284.6327 (1982): 1483. This is not to be confused with popular usage of the term that has little to do with Hamlet or Ophelia, such as the pop/rock band Ophelia Syndrome that was formed in 1998.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Kimberly Rhodes, Ophelia and Victorian Visual Culture (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2008) 89.

    Google Scholar 

  3. See Yasunari Takahashi, “Hamlet and the Anxiety of Modern Japan,” Shakespeare Survey 48 (1995): 99–111.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Shihoko Hamada, “Kojin and Hamlet The Madness of Hamlet, Ophelia, and Ichiro,” Comparative Studies 33.1 (1996): 59–68.

    Google Scholar 

  5. David Der-wei Wang, Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China: Mao Dun, Lao She, Shen Congwen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992) 126.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Theodore Huters, Bringing the World Home: Appropriating the West in Late Qing and Early Republican China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005) 2.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Lao She, “Xin Hanmuliede [New Hamlet],” Lao She xiaoshuo quanji [Complete Collection of Lao She’s Novels] (Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 2004) 10:443. Translation. adapted from Wang 126.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Charles and Mary Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare (London: Dent, 1963) 290.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Lin Shu and Wei Yi, Yinguo shiren yinbian yanyu (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1904).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Lin Shu and Wei Yi, “Gui zhao [A Ghost’s Summons],” Wan Qing wenxue congchao xiaoshuo xiqu yanjiu juan [A Compendium of Late Qing Literature] 4 vols., ed. A. Ying (Taipei: Xin wenfeng chuban gongsi, 1989) 2:78.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Kwang-Kuo Hwang, “Two Moralities: Reinterpreting the Findings of Empirical Research on Moral Reasoning in Taiwan,” Asian Journal of Social Psychology 1.3 (1998): 211–38; 223.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. See Tongdong Bai, “Back to Confucius: A Comment on the Debate on the Confucian Idea of Consanguineous Affection” Dao 7.1 (2008): 27–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Pang Bei, ed., Ximalaya wangzi [Prince of the Himalayas] (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publisher, 2006) 54.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Barbara C. L. Webb, Millais and the Hogsmill River ([N.p.: B. Webb, 1997). For studies of Shakespeare in Victorian art, see

    Google Scholar 

  15. John Christian, “Shakespeare in Victorian Art,” Shakespeare in Art, ed. Jane Martineau et al. (London: Merrell, 2003) 217–21

    Google Scholar 

  16. Stuart Sillars, Painting Shakespeare: The Artist as Critic, 1720–1820 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 306.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Stuart Sillars, Shakespeare, Time and the Victorians: A Pictorial Exploration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 77.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Jerome Silbergeld, China into Film: Frames of Reference in Contemporary Chinese Cinema (London: Reaktion, 1999) 175.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Cf. Jason McGrath, Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008) 1–24.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hyon-u Lee, “Shamanism in Korean Hamlets since 1990: Exorcising Han” Special Issue on Shakespeare, ed. Alexander Huang, Asian Theatre Journal 28.1 (Spring 2011): 104–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Janice C. H. Kim, “Processes of Feminine Power: Shamans in Central Korea,” Korean Shamanism: Revivals, Survivals, and Change, ed. Keith Howard (Seoul: Seoul P, 1998) 113–32.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures, trans. Chris Turner (London: Sage, 1998) 25.

    Google Scholar 

  23. The impossibility of the singularity of any category has been examined by Rey Chow’s Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading Between West and East (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991) and by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in an interview, by Mark Sanders, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Live Theory (London: Continuum, 2006) 121.

    Google Scholar 

  24. See Ruth Morse, “Reflections in Shakespeare Translation,” Yearbook of English Studies 36.1 (2006): 79–89.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Elaine Showalter, “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism,” Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Geoffrey H. Hartman and Patricia Parker (New York: Routledge, 1986) 77–94; 92.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Copyright information

© 2012 Kaara L. Peterson and Deanne Williams

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Huang, A. (2012). The Paradox of Female Agency: Ophelia and East Asian Sensibilities. In: Peterson, K.L., Williams, D. (eds) The Afterlife of Ophelia. Reproducing Shakespeare: New Studies in Adaptation and Appropriation. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137016461_6

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics