Lisa Klein on Ophelia

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 124

Have you ever wanted to know more about Ophelia? What does she think about the events at Elsinore? What is her relationship to Hamlet? Whose account of her death should we believe? Shakespeare’s Hamlet leaves lots of questions about Ophelia unanswered. That’s where Lisa Klein’s Ophelia comes in.

Klein’s 2007 YA novel approaches the events of Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view, suggesting what might happen to her between and beyond the lines of Shakespeare’s play. Now, Ophelia is a major motion picture starring Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley as Ophelia and Naomi Watts as Gertrude. On the eve of the film’s theatrical release, we talk to Lisa Klein about her book and its heroine. Klein is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, Spotify, NPR One, or your favorite podcast platform.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published June 25, 2019. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “You Speak Like A Green Girl,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Eric French at WOSU public radio in Columbus, Ohio.

Previous: Casey Wilder Mott and Fran Kranz on their LA Midsummer | Next: Andrew McConnell Stott on the Shakespeare Jubilee


MICHAEL WITMORE: If all there was to know about her was: she was betrayed, she went crazy, then she drowned… Would you want to know more? I would.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. When it comes to Hamlet’s Ophelia, those really are the headlines: She’s female. She knows Hamlet. They might be close. He kills her father. She goes mad, she hands out flowers, she dies.

That was enough for Shakespeare, but left Lisa Klein with questions. The author of the young adult novel Ophelia was inspired to flesh out the character of Hamlet’s maybe-girlfriend and give readers something more. Actually, a lot more: a childhood for Ophelia, nuanced relationships with her father, her brother, the Prince of Denmark and his best friend, Horatio. There’s much more than that… but you’ll have to read the book.

Lisa Klein came into the studio recently to tell us about writing the novel, which, as of June 2019, is also a Hollywood film with Daisy Ridley in the title role and Naomi Watts as both Gertrude and an herbalist who… well, we won’t give it away.

We call this podcast episode: “You Speak Like A Green Girl.” Lisa Klein is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: I am always so frustrated watching Hamlet, because I'm afraid they're going to present Ophelia as this virginal pawn, who's a bit dim to boot. You know? I've seen enough of that and I feel like it's as if they're short changing Ophelia and Shakespeare and young women all at the same time. What were your first impressions of Ophelia when you encountered the play and did they inspire or shape your version of her in your novel?

LISA KLEIN: Well, my first impressions of Ophelia were from reading Hamlet, and they were the impressions that Shakespeare intended you to have, that is, that she was, you know, sort of naive and that she was very frail, emotionally and mentally frail, that she would go mad and possibly commit suicide. The biggest question was, did a she commit suicide or was this an accident?

I didn't really think about Ophelia as my own character until I decided to write a novel asking the question, what would Hamlet look like if Ophelia told the story? Or if Shakespeare had written a female character as the heroine, what would that look like?   

BOGAEV: I think I agree with you. When I first read Hamlet that was about my impression. Then as I got older it really hit me just what a murky cipher Ophelia is, and I asked whether that was intentional, you know? Everyone around her projects their own ideas of womanhood onto her. She is so objectified, her father, her brother, and Hamlet, and that really interested me.

KLEIN: She's really meant to be a foil to Hamlet, you know? Her genuine madness is a foil to Hamlet's “antic disposition.” And I thought, “Well, what would it look like if her madness was also feigned?” If she was as canny as Hamlet?

And, what would her childhood look like if we gave her a past before she came to Elsinore? And if she survived the tragedy at Elsinore, what would her future look like?

BOGAEV: You were trying to imagine this whole story from Ophelia's point of view and asking all of these questions and, as you say, you fill in this backstory for Ophelia, which must have been so much fun. What clues did you go on to build this backstory and tell us about it?

KLEIN: Well, I tried to think about what would be plausible for a young woman of her time and, of course, since all of Shakespeare's characters are generally motherless, I made her motherless and I tried to imagine what kind of a childhood she would have had. If she was going to be educated, how would she get that education? I imagined her tagging around with her brother, Laertes, and listening in on his lessons and learning that way, and she could pretty much do what she wanted. I thought, “She's going to learn how to swim, because if she's not going to drown, she has to know how to swim,” and so I made that an essential part of her childhood, that she could swim.

BOGAEV: Oh interesting. It sounds like one thing or one idea built on another. You also get write in scenes like the one featuring Yorick, while he's still alive—so fun. It's a little bit of an Easter egg hunt, reading the book. Why don't you read that passage?

KLEIN: I will. This is Ophelia, is eight years old, and she's newly arrived at Elsinore with her father and brother, and she is at her first banquet:

“Prince Hamlet, who was then about 14, sprang about the hall with much silliness and some grace, his dark hair flying wildly about his head. I was so delighted that I too began to dance. Queen Gertrude came up to me, and laughing, chucked me under the chin. I smile back at her. Then I saw a clown in bright fantastical garb cavorting about the room.

“He wore a peaked cap with jingling bells and a suit of motley. It seemed that he and Hamlet were imitating each other's antics. Overcome with sudden shyness, I retreated to my father's side. 'That's my pretty girl.' My father said. 'The queen noted you. Go, dance some more.' 

“But I would not move. I watch the clown, who reminded me of a firework sizzling and sparking. Though I could not hear his jokes, I heard the King roar with laughter and cough until his face turned purple and he began to choke. He half rose from his seat and a guard pounded the King's back until ale spewed from his mouth.

“Then the Jester seized his own throat and fell to the ground, his limbs twitching in a pantomime of death. Prince Hamlet joined the charade, tugging upon the Jester until he rebounded like a tennis ball and jumped on to the King's table, where he commenced singing.

“'Who is he? Why does he act so strangely?' I asked my father.

“'His name is Yorick and he is the King's own Jester. Like an idiot or a madman, he can mock the King without fear of punishment. His antics are nothing,' he said, with an idle wave of his hand. I watched as Yorick helped Hamlet turn a somersault before the queen, who clapped to see him tumble head over heels.”        

BOGAEV: That's great, it fills in so many questions. You see that relationship between Hamlet and the clown and also you get a little sense of Polonius as all about how, you know, “How can I turn this situation into something good for me at the court?”

KLEIN: Right, right. It also shows Hamlet play acting, you know, his “antic disposition” is there and there's also somewhat of a foreshadowing of the King's death.

BOGAEV: There are so many big questions in Hamlet, obviously. What the relationship is between Hamlet and Ophelia. Are they truly in love? Were they betrothed? Had they had sex? In your story, she and Hamlet fall in love and they marry in secret, not unlike Romeo and Juliet. Tell me about that decision. What informed it and what from the text informed it?

KLEIN: Well when I originally wrote the book, Hamlet and Ophelia were not married. I had them making love on the battlements after the banquet celebrating the funeral and the hasty remarriage of Gertrude, but the editors decided this was going to be a young adult novel. They wanted Hamlet and Ophelia to be married. At first, I thought, “No, no, that's not going to work,” but when I did, I thought, it's the perfect solution, because it raises the stakes for everyone involved.

Hamlet has made a vow to Ophelia to love her and he's married her and the very night of the wedding, the very night that they're first married, is the night that Hamlet sees the ghost on the battlements and is vowed to revenge his father's death. So, immediately you have conflicting vows. You have Hamlet's vow to love Ophelia conflicting with his vow to revenge his father's death. Then, of course, when Ophelia gets pregnant, that child is the heir of Denmark, and that ups the stakes for Claudius, because the man whose rightful position he's usurped now has an heir.

BOGAEV: And you said, “Okay, all of this is good for fiction. All of this will keep you turning those pages.”

KLEIN: You take an idea, somebody suggests something that might work, and you just sort of spin it forth—what if? what if?—and you just work out the implications and the consequences and you say, yes, yes. So, really, a story can go in any direction.   

BOGAEV: Maybe this is obvious, but going even further back, why did you want them to have had sex?

KLEIN: To seal their love. Because Hamlet says in play, you know, “I never loved you, I never gave you anything,” and Ophelia says, “You did, yes you did.” Later on in the play, Shakespeare gives us this in the songs that Ophelia sings in her supposed madness. She sings about a young man coming in her window, sleeping with her, and leaving the next morning. It's clear that she and Hamlet have had a very intimate relationship.

BOGAEV: Well it could have been symbolic, but yes, I mean, there is a strong case. I did go back and read all of Ophelia's lines, which is not hard because she didn't have that many in Hamlet and—again, this is a little embarrassing—but the very last time she is ever mentioned in the play is Hamlet saying I loved Ophelia. Just simply straight out.

KLEIN: You know what hit me too—when you read about Ophelia and her drowning has become this synecdoche for her whole existence. The visual images we have of that, and the paintings, all portray Ophelia, you know, floating in the pond with flowers all about her. So, this drowning is imposed on our imaginations, but in the play we never see her drown. Even when Hamlet jumps in the grave and embraces her body, presumably she's wound in a sheet, so how do we know that was actually Ophelia's body? That's just sort of what I do as an author, is take the facts of the play, as far as you can call a work of fiction “factual,” and just rework them.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and I'm glad you brought up all those images of Ophelia. So many people, especially young women, identify with Ophelia. I Google-imaged “Ophelia” and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people’s avatars are Ophelia. That idea—that women have been so bound by tradition and so crushed, that the only choices they might have would be self-harm. Did you know that when you started this book?

KLEIN: Well I'd known about the book Reviving Ophelia at the time, but I did want to give young readers a view of how a woman could, a young woman, in Shakespeare's time, might be able to negotiate the constraints of her society. I strove to create an Ophelia that was realistic for the time. I'm not going to make her a proto-feminist teen icon.

The learning she has is learning that she could reasonably expect to pick up in her environment. Her knowledge of herbs and flowers is an acceptable sort of knowledge for a young woman of her time to have, you know. She could have had access to this 1598 herbal, with the general history of plants, or to be a lady-in-waiting to a queen, and to be able to read French romances to the queen. This is something that Ophelia could have done that would have given her a taste of a different world.

BOGAEV: It's really interesting how you use her knowledge about medicinal uses for herbs and flowers in the book. I'd love for you to read a passage that you have about Ophelia, just in a moment. But first, I just want to ask you: so, that was really so common in the 16th century, that a young lady’s maid at the court would have access to a book about medicinal uses for plants?

KLEIN: I think she would have in a court setting. You know, Hamlet's very educated. Presumably the court of Elsinore would be a fairly liberal place and she's hungry for knowledge and that's another factor where she would have access to and search out texts that she might be able to read. Plus, you know the character Mechtild, the wise woman who also shares her knowledge of plants with Ophelia. That role of the sort of wise woman, herbalist, witch, if you will, is a kind of knowledge women could have and use.

BOGAEV: And you know a lot about this right? Because you study poetry, and needlework, and the relationship to the pen, and women's literacy, that was your area of research as a professor of English.

KLEIN: Yes, yes. Yeah, women embroidered these elaborate works with different flowers and all the flowers had a meaning, had some symbolism. I think that the needle was like the pen for a woman, and she could express her subjectivity. Or she could embroider these elaborate biblical scenes and scenes of exotic creatures as a way of expressing and sparking her own imagination and expressing a subjectivity with needlework, again, with a knowledge of flowers and plants which was an acceptable area for women.

BOGAEV: So they would also learn—you’re saying even learn through their needlework? Learn mythology, for instance?

KLEIN: Possibly. Well, biblical stories most likely, those were most common subjects. Biblical heroines like the Queen of Sheba, Deborah, kings and queens. Scenes involving biblical heroines primarily.

BOGAEV: Great. Let's read that passage in the book, because Ophelia's knowledge of the flowers and of herbs, it just informs so much in your story. It informs her mad scene, in which she is only pretending to be mad, while she's giving these very specific messages through her choice of what flowers to present to Hamlet and Gertrude and Claudius.

KLEIN: Yes. So, this is my revision of the scene in Hamlet where Ophelia, just before she drowns, where she is mad and she's giving out flowers. In my version, it's the scene before her feigned death and there is a method in her madness, like you say, and there's courage as she makes these veiled accusations.

“‘Here is rosemary, that's for remembrance.’ I said, tucking a sprig into Laertes doublet. I wished for him to remember me as I used to be. Remember how we used to study and play together.

“‘And here is pansies, you know that's French for thoughts.’  Laertes cupped the delicate purple and white flowers in his palm and sobbed. I turned to Gertrude. Around her neck I placed a garland of aromatic fennel stalks with their flat, golden blooms woven drooping columbines. I did not expect her to know that the flowers were symbols of faithlessness and that with my gift I rebuked her for being disloyal. My heart pounding, I stepped up to Claudius. His face twitched with the effort of repressing his anger. From my basket I drew out a handful of leaves, which I crushed in my fist to release their strong odor. I pressed them into the flesh of his hot, moist palm. ‘There's rue for you, it's called the herb of grace.’ I said, meaning that he should repent his evil deeds. He could not know that the juice of rue healed the ache of the ear or that it was the antidote to the bite of venomous snakes. Thus, I boldly told him I that I knew of his crime, pouring poison into King Hamlet's ears. With my gift I accused him as the serpent in the garden of Denmark. His face showed no comprehension of this, only hatred.

“‘And there's a daisy.’ I said, throwing a circlet of the white flowers with their sun-like centers. It caught on a point of his crown and hung there. With their bright innocence I mocked his evil and called him usurper. I knew that the daisy, a remedy for every ache, pain, and wound of the body, was powerless to cure the disease of his rank soul. Claudius's eyes blazed with angry humiliation, but he dared not seize me or abuse me and thus inflame my brother more.

“Judging my play to be at its end, I withdrew. Laertes ground his fist into his forehead, shaking with grief while Gertrude made an effort to console him. Only Claudius watched me, his pitiless and hate-filled eyes locked with mine as he threw the daisy garland to the floor and crushed it with his foot.

“As I approached the door, which I knew to be locked and guarded, I feared that the castle would remain my prison forever, but to my surprise the latch of the vast door lifted to release me. But then I saw Claudius shift his gaze, nod deliberately to the guard, and jerk his head sideways. Follow her, the gesture said. I had tempted my good fortune too far.”

BOGAEV: Right, and she's in danger and then she uses her knowledge of herbs to create the potion that will fake her death and we're often running to the next part of the book.

We kind of skipped over the real crux of things, which is, how does Ophelia come up with this plan, and how do Hamlet—what is their relationship, how do Ophelia and Hamlet work together to get her towards safety? How again did you draw that out of the text? I keep coming back to the “get thee to a nunnery” line. When I was reading, I was waiting, because you seed your book with all of these lines from the play in sometimes expected places, like the scene you just read, and sometimes unexpected places and there is a “get thee to the nunnery” conversation and in your version Ophelia doesn't at first understand what Hamlet means by it at all, but she does realize she's in danger and she does ultimately decide to seek shelter in a convent. So, what was your understanding of the relationship in that scene in the play and how did it lead to this story line in your novel where she gets away?

KLEIN: Yes, well the Hamlet/Ophelia is fairly complex. For quite a while in the play they have this “antic disposition” that they share between them. The madness, the feigned madness of Hamlet's, is sort of a ploy that they both employ to mislead Claudius, but then Ophelia continually tries to turn Hamlet from his revenge when she sees that it's absorbing him and she sees where it going to lead, into another murder. She tries to dissuade him from that, but Hamlet, of course, continually attempts to vainly pursue revenge that he can't quite make himself do.

In the scene where Hamlet confronts Ophelia and says “get thee to a nunnery,” she at first—I'm not sure she knows what he means, but she realizes, I think, what he is giving her a coded message. “Go to a nunnery, go to a place of safety.” Of course, we know that a nunnery also signifies a brothel and that as Claudius overhears Hamlet telling this to Ophelia, he thinks he's accusing Ophelia of being unworthy of Hamlet's love, but, I think, that Hamlet is really telling Ophelia go somewhere safe. So that's what Ophelia does, because Ophelia knows that Claudius is guilty of killing King Hamlet and because if Hamlet knows about Claudius's crime and Ophelia and Hamlet are close, then surely Ophelia knows as well.

BOGAEV: So, it works on many levels. There is some documentation about a nunnery being slang for a brothel, but you don't even necessarily have to go with that interpretation. You're saying it's all about the danger, that they would know, being members of a court, they would know what danger they're in with a guy like Claudius.

KLEIN: And for a young woman, where else do you go? If you're pregnant and you've been spurned by your husband and the king of Denmark is trying to kill you, you flee the country and you go to a convent where you're out of the reach of his power.

BOGAEV: Now, I imagine, you seed your text with lines from Shakespeare, how did you think about how much of Shakespeare's actual language to use?

KLEIN: Well I did put pieces of Shakespeare in, because originally this was sort of a game for me, an intellectual exercise. I wanted to rewrite Hamlet, but not change Hamlet, so I kept Shakespeare's play intact, but I would try to weave my scenes in and out of Shakespeare's language and the scenes that Shakespeare gives us. Like, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, in Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have, you know, things that happen to them outside of the scenes of Hamlet and I imagined Ophelia in the same way.

I did not want to change anything about the play of Hamlet, I just wanted to make my story augment Hamlet. Like, for instance, Hamlet's second soliloquy, “What a piece of work is man,” I took that apart and I gave some of those words to Ophelia, that she uses to console Hamlet after his father's death. She says, you know, “what a piece of work is man, you're a prince of Denmark, you're noble, and glorious,” and so then you can imagine later on Hamlet taking those words that Ophelia has said to him and working them into his own soliloquy where he debates his manhood and his inability to act.

BOGAEV: Right, and it's really fun for the Shakespeare geeks to notice this. How did you think about the dialogue you were making up? As well as Ophelia and her dialogue, how to make it appear authentic to 16th-century speech?

KLEIN: Right, her voice and the dialogue were intentionally strange. That is, I did not want to make them familiar. I did not want to make her sound like a 20th-century heroine. But I also did not want to use the "thees" and "thous" of Shakespeare and defamiliarize it so much that readers could not identify.

I also was very careful to use words that were contemporary to Shakespeare, so that if I was searching about for a word, or if a word came to my mind, and I thought, let me look that up, I had my OED, the old one with the two volumes and the magnifying glass. That was on my desk constantly, and I spent hours and hours paging through and picking out words and reading their histories. So that when it came that I wanted Ophelia to put a shawl around her shoulders and I thought, “Shawl, that word does not sound—that's not—" I looked it up and sure enough it was, you know, 19th-century, borrowed from India. So what word am I going to use? And I came up with “kerchief.” So just, things like that played into my word choices on every level. In the passage I read, when I referred to the jester being “fantastical.” Well, we use the word “fantastic” just to mean, oh, great, marvelous. But in Shakespeare's time, fantastical meant “of the fantasy,” you know? Not real.

So that's Ophelia's voice. Again, with the dialogue, I did borrow from Shakespeare and, you know, it does make kind of a treasure hunt for Shakespeareans. But it was also important for me—and my editor would say to me, you know, that you cannot assume that your reader knows Hamlet because this a teen book and most teens, of course, don't read Hamlet until late high school or college. The story has to stand on its own.

BOGAEV: Young adult starts at what, 12?

KLEIN: Well, 12, 13 to 18. Okay.

BOGAEV: So, it was kind of all after the fact, because you didn't start out, as you said, writing a young adult novel. So, they would come back to you with these kind of provisions?

KLEIN: Right, right. I thought of it as the novel that I always wanted to teach alongside Hamlet with my college students. Then, when my agent said, “This is young adult because Ophelia is only 15,” I started thinking, “Huh.” Then my editor said, the story has to stand on, it cannot depend on Hamlet—which did not entail me making a lot of changes—but it was sort of delightful in a subversive way when I considered that young women would be reading Ophelia before they ever encountered Hamlet. So that when they got to high school or college and were learning Hamlet, they would raise their hands and say to their teacher, “Well. I read this book, I read this story about Ophelia and this is how it was different.”

BOGAEV: This is a real professor fantasy.

KLEIN: It was delightful. In fact, I've had young women come to me and say, “I loved Ophelia and now I want to go read Hamlet,” or “I loved Ophelia so much I want to read your other book Lady Macbeth's Daughter,” or “I'm not afraid of Shakespeare anymore, now I can't wait to read Shakespeare.” So, to me that's a win-win.

BOGAEV: I wish you all those things. I'm sure you've gotten that. Is that what you've gotten in your reader mail?

KLEIN: Oh, yes. Yeah, yeah.

BOGAEV: That's the thing, right, and I mean this in the most respectful way, is so similar to fan fiction, where you just want to imagine what happened offstage. You want to know want happens after the story, or if the story, you know—what if?

You always run the risk of disappointing people, too, who do know the play. Have you gotten any of that?

KLEIN: I didn't know what fan fiction was when I was writing Ophelia and, you know, when somebody said later, “You know, you're writing Shakespeare fan fiction,” I was a little bit taken aback and I thought, “That's great,” you know. That's what I'm doing.

BOGAEV: That's what you are, right? A Shakespeare fan.

KLEIN: Yeah, and anybody—Shakespeare took his sources and changed them and we can all do that. There's nothing sacrosanct about Shakespeare, and I think everybody should have the freedom to have a dialogue with Shakespeare in that way, where I imagine myself sitting down and talking to Will Shakespeare and saying, “Can I do this? Is this okay with you? Do you like this or what do you think of this? What think’st thou of what I've done with your character Ophelia?”

BOGAEV: Oh, that's hilarious. Did he ever say, “No, don't you dare?”

KLEIN: I like to think this is the kind of book he would have written if he had been given the mandate to, you know, write a play with the female character as, you know, the heroine.

BOGAEV: Yeah, that's funny. We had Harriet Walter, the actress, on recently, talking about playing Brutus. She said she started off feeling something similar to what you're describing, this kind of relationship with Shakespeare, that he saw, looking down, saw this, that he'd feel great about what she was doing. She said that she felt like Shakespeare was her friend—but then, she said but the reality is he'd probably go, “What the hell are you doing on stage, you old woman?”

KLEIN: Right, right, right.

BOGAEV: “Why are you playing Brutus,” you know, “Get off.”

KLEIN: Yeah, yeah.

BOGAEV: Did you have any readers say to you, “Oh, I don't think Ophelia was like that, or Hamlet was like that?”

KLEIN: Well, you always have the readers who object to anybody taking liberties with Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: So, you got that? Can you remember anything specific about the letters?

KLEIN: I'm mostly thinking about a few Amazon reviews, mostly, and I just stopped reading.

BOGAEV: I am so sorry you read any of those.

Well, now you have a movie coming out of your book. Those contracts between writers and Hollywood go all sorts of different ways. Did you have any say in the script?

KLEIN: No, I didn't. I was just so amazed and excited to have my book optioned for a movie that I didn't, like, try to retain any rights over anything. It was like, “Okay, it's all yours, you can do with it what you want.” I was so excited. It was like winning a lottery to have your book, you know, being made into a movie.

But then it took so long that my excitement kind of waned into resignation. And then when suddenly all the pieces fell into place two summers ago. I went out to watch the filming in Prague and meet the actors and the director and it was very, very exciting. Daisy Ridley and George Mackay, the young actors who play Ophelia and Hamlet, were just beautiful and radiant and so sweet. They felt like my children, because they were acting out these characters that I had written. It was really wonderful.

BOGAEV: So, how do you feel about the movie? You've seen it?

KLEIN: I've seen it, like, six times and I really like it. It's different, it's its own thing. It's not the book.

BOGAEV: How's it different?

KLEIN: How's it different. Well, I don't want to ruin the ending, but I will say that in my novel Hamlet does not come off so well, because once he has dedicated himself to revenge and Ophelia can't turn him away from it, Ophelia basically says, “Goodbye Hamlet, I'm on my own, I'm going to get out of here.” In the movie, they wanted to maintain the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia as long as possible to satisfy a movie audience. Which is very romantically gratifying, but I also think it makes Ophelia a little bit of a weaker character, but whatever. They also made some changes to the script and to my story, of course, in that Naomi Watts plays two characters. It's kind of fun to watch that dynamic between those two characters that she is both playing.

BOGAEV: Right, she plays Gertrude and the herbalist Mechtild.

KLEIN: The wise woman, yeah. It's really kind of a strained plot point, but I think it works. And a big change too—and this isn't giving too much away—is that at the end it's not Hamlet who kills Claudius. And it's very, very gratifying.

BOGAEV: Whoa, wait. I fell out of my chair.

KLEIN: Yeah, yeah. I won't tell you who kills Claudius, because you need to watch carefully, but it's very gratifying in that—I don't know if this is intentional, but this movie is like a revenge movie for the #MeToo moment. It's over the top, it's very Hollywood, but it's also very, very satisfying.

BOGAEV: Well, that must be weird, to see something that you created out there in the world and changed so much.

KLEIN: Yeah, but it's just an example of somebody else saying, “Well, what if this happened, instead of that,” and then, you know, running with it and coming up with a very different ending… but preserving, of course, the spirit of the original play and the spirit of my book.

BOGAEV: Oh, which is what you did to Shakespeare. Now you're Shakespeare.

KLEIN: Yes, yes, right. Well, that's the thing, when people were thanking me for writing this book and saying, Oh, look at you,” you know, “this book you wrote. Look at all this trouble, people making it into this movie, these hundreds of people, all these sets, all this work!” And I'm like, “Don't thank me, thank Shakespeare,” you know? We all owe it to Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: That could be the tagline for the podcast.

KLEIN: Sure, sure, go ahead.

BOGAEV: Thank you so much for this. I wish you the best with the movie and I can't wait to see it. And I so enjoyed the book.

KLEIN: Enjoy the movie as well!

BOGAEV: And I enjoyed talking with you.

KLEIN: Thank you, I enjoyed it as well. All right, bye bye!


WITMORE: Lisa Klein is the author of the young adult novel Ophelia. It was first published by Bloomsbury in 2007. The book is now a movie starring Daisy Ridley as Ophelia, Naomi Watts as Gertrude, George MacKay as Hamlet, and Clive Owen as Claudius. Lisa Klein was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Our podcast episode, “You Speak Like A Green Girl,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Eric French at WOSU public radio in Columbus, Ohio.

There’s an easy way to tell people how much you’re enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited and to let people who haven’t heard about the podcast know what we’re doing. Just leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts. Thank you.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, And, if you find yourself in Washington, DC, please come and visit us on Capitol Hill. Take in a performance in our Elizabethan Theatre and come face to face with a First Folio—the first printed edition of Shakespeare's plays. We hope to see you here.

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.