Of course, I’m by far not the first to make the connection between Hamlet’s Ophelia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Drusilla – this person even called her “our punk Ophelia”. But how many people used “Hey There Ophelia” as a template to break down the similarities? I dunno. If no one has already, I’m sure someone’s doing it right now as I press “publish” on this post. But here I am writing about it anyway, because I have the Blogging Stick.
Before I start, a few words regarding method: every time I quote a lyric from “Hey There Ophelia”, it’ll be bold and in all-caps. Also, excerpts from the lyrics don’t show up in this post in the same order they do in the song. I thought it made less sense to do it that way. So I didn’t (it’s good to have the Blogging Stick). And maybe I should add a spoiler alert.
OPHELIA BURSTS IN THROWING COLUMBINES AND DAISIES
This is one of the more obvious, or at least simple, ones. When TV Tropes lists Drusilla as an “Ophelia” archetype, they cite the line, “Do you like daisies? Hmm? I plant them, but they always die. Everything I put in the ground withers and dies.” Although we do see her flip out over an arrangement of roses before her birthday party, Drusilla isn’t really one for throwing around flowers. But when Ophelia throws flowers, she’s also saying all kinds of seemingly disjointed things with a sort of deranged whimsy. This is something Drusilla does all the time.
SINGING SONGS ABOUT VIRGINITY GONE
Before we talk about Drusilla’s “virginity gone”, let’s touch on some Ophelia scenes that occurred before the parts in the play where she was throwing around flowers, or getting dragged out of the Guggenheim kicking and screaming.** The men in Ophelia’s life – her father Polonius and her brother Laertes – have taken a keen interest in Ophelia’s love life. At this point in her life, it might be the most significant part, seeing as the play was written at a time where women had to get creative if they wanted the gamut of their options to extend farther than marriage-and-babies and nunneries.
The interest Laertes and Polonius have taken in Ophelia’s love life, specifically the part that involved Prince Hamlet (with whom Ophelia had a history with outside of the scope of the play), comes with a bit of micro-managing. The micro-managing ranges from unsolicited advice to staging convoluted plans involving hiding behind tapestries; zealously trying to exert influence like they were Lizzy Bennet’s mom or something… whose name is slipping my mind, possibly because Pride And Prejudice having a place on a survey class’s syllabus doesn’t mean I won’t doodle doodle angst angst right past it.
At one point, Drusilla, too, had a man zealously interested in significant (meaning, all) parts of her life (it’s worth mentioning that there was no history between him and Drusilla like there was Hamlet and Ophelia when the interest was taken). Only this interest was less like Lizzy Bennet’s mom and more like a deranged serial killer. Then again, maybe I missed something while I was doodle-angsting and Lizzy Bennet’s mom really WAS a serial killer. Anyway, the prolifically murderous vampire Angelus made a point to exert influence over Drusilla’s life when he decided to make her his “masterpiece” by means of tormenting her into insanity before siring her into the ranks of the undead.
btw – I KILLED MY GIRLFRIEND’S DAD, HE WAS SPYING NOW HE’S DEAD – one of Angelus’s methods of making mincemeat out of Drusilla’s mental health was killing off her entire family. The chief difference here being intention: Angelus killed Drusilla’s father and everyone else on purpose. For Hamlet, who thought he was about to stab Cladius and not Polonius, it was a total accident. I mean, sometimes you get mistaken for someone you’re not when you cultivate a propensity for hiding behind tapestries.
While we’re at it, Hamlet tells Ophelia to GET THEE TO A NUNNERY because, basically, he was being a dick. No one told Drusilla, “Get thee to a nunnery.” Before Angelus even came on the scene, Drusilla wanted to live a religious life. After driving her insane, Angelus waited until Drusilla went to a nunnery on her own volition. On the day she took her holy orders, Angelus busted in and finished off his “masterpiece” by making her into a vampire.
An important defining moment of Drusilla’s life was a man’s doing. It was an action less subtle and way the fuck more malicious than Polonius trying to be Lizzy Bennett’s mom, and Angelus did have a female accomplice for parts of it… but it was Angelus’s obsession, Angelus’s dirty work, Angelus’s “masterpiece” that made an indelible mark on Drusilla. Mind you, I don’t think we can officially make Ophelia’s death anyone’s fault either. There’s nothing in the way of interpreting that demise as not self-inflicted. She could have just misjudged the weight of a branch while climbing the tree. There are lots of reasons for climbing trees that have no suicidal intent attached to them. Tree climbing is fun.
I’VE GOT NOTHING TO DO BUT HANG AROUND AND GET SCREWED UP ON YOU
The gender dynamic in BtVS is fundamentally different than men, strong; women, helpless. And the gender dynamic is probably complicated in Hamlet if you squint at the text long enough and/or do an extensive search for literary analysis that makes such claims. Or just spend more time thinking about Shakespeare than I do. Nevertheless a popular interpretation of mental health in Hamlet is that Hamlet’s more contemplative, question-probing mode of mental-disturbance next to Ophelia’s nonsensical daisy-throwing is a statement of men being more rational creatures to begin with, and women being overly sentimental slaves to their emotion. More than that: the root of mental health problems in women, more often than not, is because their sexuality has wormed into their brain and corroded whatever sanity was there in the first place.
Angelus’s damage on Drusilla was already done when she met and sired a man who would come to be known as “Spike”. They proceeded with a VERY FUCKING LONG long-term romantic/sexual relationship*** (longer than Hamlet and Ophelia’s entire lifespans), and a relationship, in which, Drusilla is hardly a lovesick tool (not necessarily trying to say Ophelia’s a lovesick tool either).
Drusilla and Spike definitely loved each other, and, frankly, despite all the fuck-uppedness that comes with being undead super villains, their relationship was probably healthier than Hamlet and Ophelia’s. But when Drusilla saw that it wasn’t working anymore, she did break it off. Spike was becoming preoccupied with the Slayer and Drusilla could see that this would only grow overtime (oh, right, did I mention that Drusilla can see the future?). Despite her trademark insanity, Drusilla was calm and rational about it, judging by the flashback of the breakup. While we aren’t shown how Drusilla spent her post-breakup days, I’m pretty sure she didn’t drunk-drive back to Sunnydale and blubber hopelessly on the shoulders of her archenemies.
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MY GIRLFRIEND TOOK HER LIFE, AND I’M LIKE “GOODNESS GRACIOUS”
Suppose we put aside all open contemplation of reasons why (overcome with grief for her dead father/pre-existing unfortunate brain chemistry/fell in love with a dick/tree-climbing hobby gone wrong) Ophelia died and make the assumption that she really did kill herself. Ophelia would be different in that way because Drusilla never says “die”. When still a human and Angelus was systematically pulling the fingers off her grip on reality, he had to work to track her down at that nunnery. Drusilla never laid down and was like, “Fuck it, this is hard, just make me a vampire or kill me, I’m done.” Likewise, after she became a vampire, she didn’t attempt suicide – something we know vampires are capable of. Angel (formerly known as Angelus) almost tried it, as did Spike. And Edward, come to think of it.
Yes. I said Edward. Deal with it.
Therefore, gentle readers, Drusilla and Ophelia are similar, but not interchangeable. The reasons for this are numerous, including but not exclusive to Ophelia not being a vampire and Drusilla refraining from staking herself on the flimsiest branch of a willow tree, let alone stake herself on a branch in Denmark circa the sucky “rights” of women.
* Spike tells Anya sometime in season 5: “Drusilla was always straightforward. Never knowing a single buggerin’ clue about what was going on in front of her, but she was straight about it!”
** In a 2000 film of Hamlet, Julia Stiles plays an Ophelia with cool nail polish who burns Polaroids, and, as previously mentioned, has a fit in the Guggenheim Museum. Speaking of modern depictions of Ophelia, if, when you listened to the MC Lars song, you were like, “wtf is ‘Soft Cell’?”, here’s some context (I wtfed too):
*** Made possible by being around for a VERY FUCKING LONG time. Neither were born or sired in Shakespeare’s day, but it was a century and some change before they arrived in Sunnydale to grace the town with their various evil exploits. Attempted apocalypses and whatnot, ya know, vampire stuff.