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Ophelia's mad scene - from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

5th movement of the La folia variations


. . . . .

O heavens! is't possible, a young maid's wits

Should be as mortal as an old man's life?

Nature is fine in love, and where 'tis fine,

It sends some precious instance of itself

After the thing it loves.



They bore him barefaced on the bier;

Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny;

And in his grave rain'd many a tear:--

Fare you well, my dove!


Hadst thou thy wits, and didst persuade revenge,

It could not move thus.



You must sing a down a down,

An you call him a down a.

O, how the wheel becomes it! It is the false

steward, that stole his master's daughter.


This nothing's more than matter.


There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,

love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts.


A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.


There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue

for you; and here's some for me: we may call it

herb grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue

Ophelia’s  Mad Scene

with a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you

some violets, but they withered all when my father

died: they say he made a good end . . .


For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.


Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,

She turns to favour and to prettiness.



And will he not come again?

And will he not come again?

No, no, he is dead:

Go to thy deathbed:

He never will come again.

His beard was as white as snow,

All flaxen was his poll:

He is gone, he is gone,

And we cast away moan:

God ha' mercy on his soul!

And of all Christian souls, I pray God. God be wi' ye.



Do you see this, O God?

Musical details:

Instrumentation: recorders, bassoon, guitar

The mode sequence starts with Phrygian (D minor but with lowered second).

When her brother Laertes refers to this "document in madness" the mode changes to Khamaj Theta or Lydian (major with lowered seventh) as Ophelia begins temporarily to "lighten" in her mood.

After Ophelia sings "you must wear your rue with a difference" the mode changes to Kalyan Theta or Mixolydian (major with raised fourth) and she becomes even more light headed.

The rhythms venture into dotted and Scotch snaps, which emphasise this temporary lightness.

But then she begins to ruminate on the question "will he not come again?" and the mode changes to Marva Theta (major but with flattened second and raised fourth), but the tonic is now a semitone higher than where she started.

The mode changes finally to the more familiar minor (Aeolian) at the end (D sharp minor) as she resigns herself to her fate.

Score and parts available here

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Instrumental arrangements of this music

Ophelia for flute, string trio and guitar                                Video

Ophelia for clarinet, 2 violins, cello and guitar                    Video

Ophelia for cor anglais, 2 violins, cello and guitar               Video

Ophelia for wind quartet and guitar                                      Video

Ophelia for string quartet and guitar                                    Video

Playlist of all Ophelia videos

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