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The Mediation of Poesie: Ophelia’s Orphic Song


Recent scholarship on Hamlet has highlighted the material practices of textual production and circulation that saturate the play. Yet aural performances and other endeavors that do not find a stable foothold in writing have received less attention, including Ophelia’s “posies” of emblematic flowers, snatches of popular ballads, and mad utterances. This essay draws on media theory in order to argue that Ophelia offers a new way of thinking about Hamlet’s meta-dramatic conflict. By exploiting the disruptive tendencies of theatrical music and alluding to the legend of Orpheus, Ophelia produces an unwieldy form of poesie that does not congeal into stable matter. Her song-speech takes shape within an adaptive process of transmission through recycled quotations, technologies, bodies, music, and other structures that continually shift and adapt. Ophelia demonstrates the ways in which early modern poesie is embedded within a media ecology, a nexus of communication in which meaning does not result from the concrete manifestation of an external source but emerges in relation to the contingencies of its environment.

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