Richibi’s Weblog

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Month: May, 2021

Ovid / Shakespeare

Ophelia, 1851 - 1852 - John Everett Millais

               Ophelia(1851 – 1852)


                   John Everett Millais





for a while now, I’ve been feeling the

spirit of Ovid in many of the works of

William Shakespeare, a recent, in

some depth, project of mine, the

nearly pagan perspective in many

of his works, a lust for life, for

instance, that is not at all that of his

contemporary Protestantism, not

to mention an obvious Catholic, and

therefore potentially treacherous, at

the time, prominent bent of his


but that’s another story


many of his plays set scenes in places

right out of Roman mythology, with a

morality to match,and even character

names, Hippolyta, Hero, Polonius,

Titania, Oberon, Greek and Latin

patronyms redolent of Classical



here’s Ovid, for instance, from The

Story of Narcissus


           There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,

           Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud;

           Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,

           Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts;

           High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow,

           And rising grass and chearful greens below.


here’s Shakespeare, from his Hamlet,

Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, gives

the news of Ophelia’s death, in a

particularly Ovidian, I think, manner


           There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
           That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
           There with fantastic garlands did she come
           Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
           That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
           But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
           There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
           Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
           When down her weedy trophies and herself
           Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
           And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
           Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
           As one incapable of her own distress,
           Or like a creature native and indued
           Unto that element: but long it could not be
           Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
           Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
           To muddy death.


see above



there is the influence of Dryden to

consider, it must be noted, Ovid‘s

translator into Englishbut the

similarity in the spirit of the text is

so great, the characteristic voice

so evident, regardless of elapsed

time, the intervening fifteen hundred

years, 8 CE for Ovid, to somewhere

around 1600 CE for Shakespeare,

for the congruence to be coincidental,

Shakespeare had to have been reading 

his Ovid, imbibing it, what, do you think


then again, as Shakespeare would

have said, There are more things in

heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than

are dreamt of in your philosophy



R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” – Ovid


Narcissus, c.1599 - Caravaggio

          Narcissus” (c.1599)







               Thus did the nymphs in vain caress the boy,


the boy, Narcissus


in vain , Narcissus‘ pride, you’ll remember,

was such that love-sick maid[s] uselessly

[their] flame confess’d, Narcissus was

oblivious to their advances

He still was lovely, but he still was coy;
               When one fair virgin of the slighted train


slighted train, row of followers, love-sick

maid[s] who’d been spurned by Narcissus

               Thus pray’d the Gods, provok’d by his disdain,


provok’d by his disdain, angered by his


               “Oh may he love like me, and love like me in vain!”


beseeches the one fair virgin

               Rhamnusia pity’d the neglected fair,


Rhamnusia, goddess of Retribution,

also known as Nemesis

               And with just vengeance answer’d to her pray’r.


just vengeance, justified retribution


               There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,
               Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud;
               Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,
               Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts;
               High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow,
               And rising grass and chearful greens below.


bow’rs, enclosures among trees


greens, lawns, grasslands

               Pleas’d with the form and coolness of the place,
               And over-heated by the morning chace,
               Narcissus on the grassie verdure lyes:


verdure, greenness

               But whilst within the chrystal fount he tries
               To quench his heat, he feels new heats arise.


chrystal fount, glistening fountain,

or spring

               For as his own bright image he survey’d,
               He fell in love with the fantastick shade;


shade, apparition, illusion

               And o’er the fair resemblance hung unmov’d,


see above

               Nor knew, fond youth! it was himself he lov’d.
               The well-turn’d neck and shoulders he descries,


descries, espies, catches sight of

               The spacious forehead, and the sparkling eyes;
               The hands that Bacchus might not scorn to show,


Bacchus, god of Wine and Revelry, also

known as Dionysus

And hair that round Apollo’s head might flow;


Apollo, god of the Sun

               With all the purple youthfulness of face,
               That gently blushes in the wat’ry glass.


wat’ry glass, the chrystal fount

               By his own flames consum’d the lover lyes,
               And gives himself the wound by which he dies.


the wound, the sight of himself


dies, succumbs, is undone

               To the cold water oft he joins his lips,
               Oft catching at the beauteous shade he dips

               His arms,


shade, see above


                     as often from himself he slips.


slips, becomes abstracted, bewildered

               Nor knows he who it is his arms pursue
               With eager clasps, but loves he knows not who.


he cannot give substance to this illusion

What could, fond youth, this helpless passion move?

               What kindled in thee this unpity’d love?

 move, excite, indeed kindle[]

               Thy own warm blush within the water glows,


the poet, here, note, interjects, speaks

directly to Narcissus

               With thee the colour’d shadow comes and goes,


colour’d, because of the water, an exact

replication, even chromatically, but

shimmering, com[ing] and go[ing]


shadow, shade, see above, reflection

               Its empty being on thy self relies;


empty being, fabrication, imagined



on thy self relies, you are yourself

the source of your illusion

               Step thou aside, and the frail charmer dies.


frail charmer, shimmering, insubstantial



stay tuned



R ! chard