Marika Hackman singing Ophelia in Shakespeare Country


She who walks alone in life is she of sound mind?
I am only as old as I’ve been told
Now I’m playing for time

Darling take me to the lakeside
Wash my body well
I am holy now the water’s hit me
Broken from your spell

I am on my hands and knees
Bending at the heart of me

We don’t know the weight of all the words we say now
In a few more years, with open ears
Would you still say them aloud?

They who walk alone in life
They are of sound mind
We can only get hurt by things we’ve heard
And lovers are unkind

Did you hear the sun go down?
Silent as a child I found
Hiding in the midnight of my soul
I am ready now to let her go

She who walks alone in life is she by herself
We are only as old as we’ve been told
And I’m not ready for the shelf

Darling take me to the lakeside
Lay my body down
I am holy now our skin is touching
Let the sun go out

I am on my hands and knees
Bending at the heart of me
Hiding in the midnight of my soul
Please don’t break this shell that I call home

-Marika Hackman, Ophelia, 2015

The video is of Marika Hackman singing the song Ophelia in Shakespeare Country — not Stratford-on-Avon but Hackney. If you like your folk music twisted toward the sinister, Hackman is equal parts fair and dark but always brilliant. Ophelia, from her 2015 album We Slept At Last, was inspired by this Sir John Everett Millais painting of the Shakespeare character.


No word on whether the 23 year old singer-songwriter has considered the authorship question, but I was struck by the video of her singing Ophelia at the Hackney City Farm. Laying partway between the the William Shakspere associated Globe Theater and King’s Place where Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford would have penned late revisions to Hamlet, this landscape lies in Shakespeare territory.

HackneyCityFarm2Using Mark Alexander’s Shake-speare Atlas for Google Earth, you can see King’s Place in the upper right and The Globe at bottom left. Halfway up on the right is the present day Hackney City Farm.

Near the Globe in the lower left corner you can see Cecil House where Oxford was raised as a royal ward in the home of the Lord Treasurer William Cecil. Created as the Baron Burghley in the year that Oxford married his daughter Anne, the engagement and marriage proceeded in fits and starts even as the 21 year old earl struggled to save his cousin the Duke of Norfolk from the executioner’s axe over the crime of intending to marry Elizabeth Tudor’s imprisoned cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

Within three months of the de Vere-Cecil marriage Norfolk was beheaded and a grieving and perhaps furious Oxford had set aside his anguished teen bride. While their troubled union would eventually produce three daughters, Oxford’s relationship to his first wife’s family would prove a perilous alliance bound by blood, law and obligation.

From the Globe Theater and other venues in the city, a playwright named Shakespeare later began skewering this powerful family. Oxford’s brother-in-law Robert Cecil was targeted in the hump backed, Machiavellian Richard III and the senior Cecil lampooned as Polonius in the play Hamlet. Originally that character was named Corambis or double hearted, a play on Burghley’s motto “one heart, one way” implying that he was two-faced or duplicitous. Like Polonius, Cecil was the chief administrator and adviser to his monarch. Both figures were known for issuing precepts for a son to live by and tasked spies to report on a wayward son’s activities in Paris. Oxford complained of Cecil using household staff to spy on him in a letter and in the play Polonius eavesdrops on Hamlet from behind the arras or wall hanging. His daughter’s resentful intended groom hears a rustling and cries out, “A rat! A rat!” before running the elderly advisor through with the plunge of his sword into the tapestry. This symbolic assassination of Queen Elizabeth’s top aide is astounding if the playwright was Stratford-on-Avon’s William Shakspere. The more recent argument that he couldn’t have meant Polonius to represent Lord Burghley misses the point in that for hundreds of years scholars believed that Shakespeare, on good evidence, had sacrificed Cecil’s stand-in on stage and the hypersensitive regime he lived under was even more likely to make such a connection. That he was left unmolested, never questioned or arrested is just further evidence that he was never the author. The real author most authorship researchers believe was the Lord Treasurer’s aggrieved son-in-law, lauded for his poetry and play writing though only two dozen early poems and no plays are known to be by his hand.

Shakespearean scholars have traditionally cast Burghley’s daughter Anne Cecil as the inspiration for Ophelia. Though it is unknown how Anne died, her anguish when her husband set her aside soon after their marriage, his doubts about the paternity of their first daughter and scandalous arrest for begetting an illegitimate son on one of the Queen’s maids-in-waiting made a tragedy of Anne’s life from the time of her marriage at age fifteen to her death at 31. Scholars have specifically compared her rejection by her husband to Ophelia being spurned by Hamlet. While Oxford was as distressing to his Ophelia or “O-lover” as Hamlet was to the woman whose heart he tormented, and both the bohemian earl and the madcap prince were set ashore in a state of undress after ships they were traveling on were hijacked by pirates, Shakespearean scholars refuse to equate Oxford and Hamlet. Better to imagine that Shakspere was penning dangerous political attacks on one of the most powerful families in the repressive police state that was Elizabethan England or more recently to try to reverse centuries of scholarship by denying that the play ever referenced Burghley and Anne Cecil in the first place than to allow Oxford anywhere near those plays.

The lovely shots of the Hackney City Farm evoke that country estate known as King’s Place, which was owned by Oxford’s second wife, Elizabeth Trentham. This was where Oxford lived when Hamlet was first published in 1603, a shoddy pirated version thought to be based on the memorial reconstruction of actors. Perhaps as Sabrina Feldman theorizes the actor and businessman from Stratford-on-Avon did have a hand in this version:

To be, or not to be, I there’s the point,
To Die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all:
No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes…

This “bad quarto” was followed by an elegant corrected version, “according to the true and perfect copy”. The author changed Corambis, which more obviously pointed to Lord Burghley, to the name Polonius and saw that his more polished script would be passed to posterity.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come…

Not only does the farm evoke images of that rural Hackney estate where Oxford died in 1604 but Marika Hackman’s song, written for Ophelia, resonates with the tragedy of that disavowed bride and distraught O-lover, Anne Cecil. A letter she wrote leaves us with no doubt that Anne still loved her husband and was in pain over their separation. With Hackman capturing perfectly that submissive, tortured tone it felt to me as if she who was silenced most of all was finally given a voice by this gifted artist.

Here she is singing the song at Hackney Empire in the same area.

As a bonus for poetry lovers here is Marika’s brilliant take on Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.


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