Date of Award

Summer 8-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Committee Chair

Maryann Kyle

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Taylor Hightower

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Edward Hafer

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Joseph Brumbeloe

Committee Member 4 Department


Committee Member 5

Susan Ruggiero-Mezzadri

Committee Member 5 Department



In the nineteenth century the character of Ophelia transformed from a minor role in Hamlet into one of the great muses of the Romantic period. Ophelia’s rise to an archetype of feminine madness was not a result of Shakespeare’s pen alone, but of the accumulation of interpretations of her character from actresses, artists, critics, writers, musicians, and social attitudes toward women. This paper focuses on nineteenth-century interpretations of her death, specifically art song.

A brief survey of the nineteenth-century European cultural and social climate pertaining to Ophelia is included in the paper:

*Shakespeare in France and Germany

*Nineteenth-Century Actresses in the Role of Ophelia

*The Death of Ophelia

*Ophelia in Art

*Ophelia as the Feminine Ideal

*Ophelia: A Pathetic or Tragic Character

The bulk of the paper focuses on four nineteenth-century art songs (three French and one German) that portray Ophelia’s death: “La mort d'Ophélie,” by Hector Berlioz; “Herzeleid,” by Robert Schumann; “La mort d'Ophélie,” by Camille Saint-Saëns; and “Ophélia” from Poèmes d’automne by Gabriel Dupont. In addition to poetic and musical analysis, correlations are drawn between these songs and paintings depicting her passing: Sir John Everett Millais’s Ophelia, 1852; Arthur Hughes’s Ophelia, 1852; and Eugène Delacroix’s La mort d’Ophélia, 1853.

This paper serves as a cultural and interdisciplinary musical character study of Ophelia, exploring the various interpretations of her death as a heroic transcendence, final act of rebellion, unfortunate accident, or conscious surrender to sadness and death. The reader will take away a better understanding of Ophelia and the various interpretations of the enigmatic character, which will aid artists taking on the role.