Often when I see a willow tree, I think of the desperately sad song sung by Ophelia as she prepares for bed in Act 4, scene 3 of ‘Othello’.
‘Willow’ is a folk song that tells of lost love and resulting tragedy, although Ophelia doesn’t quite get that far in the song before she stops to talk with her maid, Emilia. The song was not written by Shakespeare, and it seems to have been widely enough known for the audience to have understood the gravity and foreboding of it being sung by Ophelia.
Shakespeare did, however, make one significant change. The original song was about a man dying as the result of the cruelty of a woman, but when Ophelia sings it, the song is about a woman suffering at the hands of the man she loves.
The poignancy of the song is heightened by Ophelia’s revelation to Emilia that her mother’s maid, from whom she learned the song, died tragically while singing it.
The song takes another tragic twist when Emilia herself sings the song as she, too, dies from injuries inflicted by her own husband.
Shakespeare uses this song to evoke pathos, tragedy and foreboding in abundance.
It seems to me that he willow tree, graceful and mournful at the same time, is a most fitting image for achieving that effect.
#Shakespeare #Othello #willow #tragedy #ShakesepeareNerd #blogpost