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9 of Swords - Ophelia

Dramatis Personae: Ophelia.

Roman à clef : Anne de Vere, née Cecil, Countess of Oxford.

Text & Context: The 9 of swords is the card of despair, insanity, martyrdom. It also suggests violence can be overcome with passive obedience and calculated inaction. From the outset, Ophelia is treated as a commodity, a dumb girl , a tool who, when she isn't otherwise being ignored, must be instructed how to act.

 Ophelia's brother is preoccupied with her honour, thereby his own. Ophelia's father is anxious that his daughter should account for the Prince of Denmark's madness. Ophelia's own madness is parsed by Gertrude and Claudius solely for what it might reveal about their troubled heir. Ophelia obeys everyone else's instructions until her will is submerged altogether. Finally, having gotten herself to a none-ery as per Hamlet's orders, we see she means more to him dead than living. Ophelia's emotional isolation at the start of Hamlet ends in the total ostracism of insanity and death, until even her empty grave is occupied by others. 

 That Hamlet comes to occupy Ophelia's grave is telling. We may be reminded of other told of deaths - Hero, Helena, Imogen, Juliet, Hermione, Thaisa. Similarly, Ophelia comes to occupy Hamlet's grave - the knowledge, in Neitzsche's words, that "Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion". Spiritually speaking, in rejecting Ophelia, symbol of Love, Hamlet not only sealed her fate but everyone else's, including his own.

 Ophelia is likened to a woodcock - a wading bird, a simpleton, an egress [spring] for the male pudenda. Her fall from the willow auguries the special providence of a sparrow's fall - sparrow being a Renaissance term of affection between lovers. spero in Latin means "to hope, to wait, to fear", and cognates to both breath - viz. Ophelia's suffocation - and spirit - Polonius/Burghley's sobriquet. In Ophelia, her asphyxiation of feeling, can be accounted a spare O - the stoic Horatio. Oratio is Latin for "speech", "imperial message", and, as Hamlet inveighs:


 O God, Horatio, what a wounded name, 
Things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me! 
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, 
Absent thee from felicity a while, 
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain 
To tell my story. 


 To air Hamlet's story, down to his dying breath - O, O, O, O. But the question remains: who is this Hamlet, who speaks of a wounded name?

Subtext: Ophelia, in Greek, means both "help" and "a source of gain" - William Cecil was made 1st Lord Burghley in part that the Earl of Oxford could marry his daughter Anne; Burghley rightly saw his family's union with the Oxford earldom as a source of gain. From Latin philia, meaning friendship and affection, Ophelia can be seen to mean "lover of O" [Oxford]. Partly raised in the Burghley household, Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil had been as siblings; this awkward dynamic is underscored in Hamlet, Ophelia, and Claudius' "sometime sister, now our queen" Gertrude.

 It has been speculated that Ophelia was pregnant, in part accounting for her mental distraction and possible suicide. Arguments in its favour include: "Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered"; a nunnery is a place unwed mothers go to have their child; "conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to't"; rue, or herb-o-grace, was a well-known abortifacient; Ophelia's songs of copulation: "Then up he rose and donn'd his clothes and dupp'd the chamber door; let in the maid, that out a maid never departed more." It is well documented that Anne de Vere, Countess of Oxford, consulted the Queen's personal physician about aborting her first child - the child Oxford later denied the siring of.

Intertext: Swords 4 Hamlet Senior; Swords 7 Laertes & Claudius; The Chariot VII Lord Burghley; The Hanged Man XII Hamlet.

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