The Lord Chamberlain’s Daughter
by Ron Fritsch
Asymmetric Worlds

"That was the story people told about me. I’m glad, of course, it wasn’t true."

Lord Chamberlain’s daughter, better known as Ophelia, has a new story to tell. In this satisfying remake, Ophelia’s fate is markedly different from the one Shakespeare assigned her. In this story, she is alive and well and ready to talk about her childhood friendship with Hamlet and Horatio, palace intrigue, and the warmongering of men in power. Shakespeare’s setting remains, and the time and place of the original play are intact, but the plot has gone astray, reimagined and rebranded with a powerful female protagonist driving the action of the familiar story’s milestones: the murders and resulting power shifts. The story is structured as a confessional of sorts by Ophelia to Fortinbras, who visits her after he learns that she is alive and living in the countryside. Ophelia begins her story by filling in the details of her adolescence at Elsinore castle, roaming freely with her brother Laertes and pals Hamlet and Horatio, while her father, Polonius, advises Hamlet’s father and strategizes a war with Norway. She continues through her own awakening to the suffering of the common people in the war effort, the corruption of the castle, and her own heart’s desire. With her motives revealed and her secrets shared, Shakespeare’s heartsick, mad Ophelia is transformed into a savvy woman of power and rebellion.

For readers unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this story of Ophelia is still compelling and clearly developed as the story of a woman recounting the past in a time of war. Instead of sitting idly by to let men make decisions about her fate and the fate of the common people, she takes action in furtive ways. She stays one step ahead of the powerful men in the castle and wreaks havoc in the process, which leads to her own freedom and ultimately also leads to peace for the kingdom. Fritsch fully develops the character of Ophelia so that her story feels believable and authentic. Her mind and motives are made clear, and her actions fit comfortably into Shakespeare’s plot which Fritsch expounds with clarity and vibrancy. Ophelia captivates as her story unfolds, and she moves from the innocence of childhood to the cruel realities of adolescence when the world shows itself to be corrupt and merciless. Without lament, she takes on the mantle of the protagonist and drives the action quite literally as she bends the plot to her will.

There have been many updates and rewrites of Shakespeare’s plays in books and in movies. Hogarth’s Shakespeare series has published several well-known novelists’ modern updates of Shakespeare’s old stories. There is no shortage of material as the characters and plots he contrived are timeless and endlessly relatable and updateable. For those that know Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character of Ophelia is endlessly fascinating, and she has been memorialized in art, in song, in poetry, and in cinema. Readers do not need to know that iconic Ophelia to understand this new rendition, for Fritsch has created an original Ophelia that lives and breathes in power outside of Hamlet’s castle and outside the limits of Hamlet’s story.

This is fan fiction at its finest, taking a beloved character and placing him or her into a new scenario. The result for Fritsch is a fresh rendering of Ophelia for a new generation of readers to enjoy. This Ophelia comes with power and poise, pulling all the strings while the men destroy each other.

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