Friday, December 30, 2011

III.i. The Nunnery Scene - French Rock Opera

On the album, the song "Ophélie! Oh, folie!" comes rather early, and admittedly, it refers to the "kissing carrion" line during Hamlet and Polonius' encounter. However, the song also seems to reference the breeding of sinners, and in its title and ending, Ophelia's impending madness. I have therefore chosen to discuss it here, where all those ideas intersect. Here's the the original text in French, and a rough translation.

Ophélie! Oh, folie!
Le soleil, sans vergogne
Fait d’une peau vermeille
Une infecte charogne
Fuit devant le soleil
Ophélie, Ophélie, Ophélie
Puis le vent, le soleil
Pourrir est sa besogne
Fuit devant le soleil
Il te fera charogne
Ophélie, Ophélie, Ophélie

Ophelia! Oh Madness!
The sun, without shame
Turns a vermilion skin
Into a loathsome carrion
Flee before the sun
Ophelia, Ophelia, Ophelia
Then the wind, the sun
Rot is its work
Flee before the sun
It will make you carrion
Ophelia, Ophelia, Ophelia

What the translation cannot reproduce, of course, is how "Ophélie" and "Oh Folie" sound alike, a trait or fate built into the character in the French version. In English, one might equate her name with "Oh Feel-ia" and even if Shakespeare wasn't making a point with the name, its sonority might have a subliminal impact on the audience. Word play is a major part of the Bard's style, so we can't completely dismiss it.

The song, played as an almost dirge-like lamentation for the character, begins with the image of women as carrion, and their children maggots, fathered by the sun, a common symbol for the male principle. He tells her to run away from the sun (in English, we might be tempted to play on sun/son, but no such relationship exists in French), which ties it to the Nunnery Scene in that way. The second movement of the song uses an angelic choir where the title is used to confuse the two terms ("Ophélie" and "Oh folie") together, making them undifferentiated. As the tempo accelerates, we can feel Ophelia's mind spinning and careening as she dives into madness. Her whole story is here. On the album, we won't hear of her again until her death.

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