Theatre & Dance ETDs

Publication Date



The character Ophelia, from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, is an iconographic symbol and cultural emblem of beauty, death and madness. For over four hundred years, her vividly described and picturesque death has inspired the works of countless visual artists and theatrical performers. However, her presence in the larger cultural consciousness of society is not limited only to the realms of fine art, theatre, and literature. Throughout history, her influence has also spilled over into everyday perceptions and beliefs regarding the nature of women and madness. Particularly within Victorian England, Ophelia's character came to influence the recognition and diagnosis of madness in real women at that time. Therefore, in addressing Ophelia's literary character, I necessarily adopted the larger topics of women and madness as the subject of study for this written dissertation and also within my final MFA Choreographic Project, OPHELIA. The final Choreographic Project is the presentation of a full evening's work of original choreography and demonstrates the degree candidate's highest achievement of artistry and craft. Addressing these interrelated topics within my dissertation, I explore the social and political concerns surrounding the lives of women in the age of Shakespeare, the issues of misogyny and gender as it relates to mental illness and the rise of the asylum in England, and the challenges specifically related to Ophelia regarding the representation of madness and death in concert dance. In terms of the final Choreographic Project, Ophelia became the vehicle with which to investigate the abstract choreographic problem of representing fragmentation of the mind, body, space and time. Relating these two parallel streams of research, this document addresses Ophelia's ever-evolving representation across artistic mediums and the ways in which the larger cultural consciousness of society has been influenced by her presence as an iconographic symbol of beauty, death, and women's madness.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Jewell, Donna

First Committee Member (Chair)

Conde Reche, Vladimir

Second Committee Member

Biesele Hall, Linda

Third Committee Member

Encinias-Sandoval, Eva

Fourth Committee Member

Jewell, Donna

Fifth Committee Member

Predock-Linnell, Jennifer

Sixth Committee Member

Santos Newhall, Mary Anne




dance theatre, Shakespeare, Ophelia, women, madness, Women's Studies, choreographic process

Document Type