What’s Ophelia doing on YouTube?

It is no longer possible to think of Ophelia simply as the restricted tragic girl of Hamlet. Shakespeare’s character has become a recurrent text, image, and even a brand that can be endlessly repurposed and appropriated.

There are several interesting questions to ask about Ophelia on YouTube: What is at stake in the turn — or return — to Ophelia within online culture? To what extent is Ophelia a progressive text? eIf Ophelia productions are indices of the democratic media-making associated with Web 2.0, then to what extent do they signal new, meaningful forms of feminism?

In an essay published in Borrowers and Lenders (http://http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/1281/show), I try to address these and related questions. Building on recent work on Ophelia as a discourse that names and constitutes the contemporary girl, the essay examines a variety of Ophelia productions on YouTube. It identifies particular genres of response and situates them in terms of current debates within girls’ studies, as well as media studies. This essay interprets Ophelia videos in terms of a triptych, “YouTube-Shakespeare-Ophelia.” Each of these terms should be understood as a frame, both enabling and delimiting, through which girls produce and/or perform postfeminist identities online. Ophelia is now a meta-language for a set of negotiations within girls’ culture and the (im)possibility of authentic expression in the contemporary mediascape.

Of course, YouTube is just one among a number of social media platforms where we can find responses to and appropriations of Ophelia. Alan Young’s website Ophelia and Popular Culture (http://www.opheliapopularculture.com/) provides an impressively detailed database of vernacular productions as well as general examples of Ophelia’s citability. Ophelia survives or remains through social media. But in such modes of survival, there is a constant displacement and transformation of the character from Hamlet. Indeed, these new Ophelias alert us to the fundamental indeterminacy of the thing we call Hamlet‘s Ophelia and will invariably come to shape how we regard the character.

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