This is a painting of the young drowned Ophelia who fell to her death from a willow tree. Ophelia is a character in Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s play: she is a young noblewoman from Denmark, sister of Laertes, daughter of Polonius and potential wife of Hamlet. However, the young Ophelia appears to go mad, talking in riddles and rhymes. In Act 4 of the play, Queen Gertrude announces poetically that Ophelia had climbed a willow tree and fell from a broken branch into a brook where she drowned. The romantic image of the drowned Ophelia was the inspiration for this painting. At her funeral, Queen Gertrude sprinkles flowers on Ophelia’s grave (“sweets to the sweet”). She was created to be a visual representation of madness for the Elizabethan audience - wild hair, white dress, flowers strewn about. She is dragged down by the symbols of her femininity. Her drowning is mocked and derided by many, from the gravediggers to the royal court. But in this painting, Ophelia is not dragged down by the black brook that surrounds her. She seems to float against the background. The abstraction of her setting implies a more universal background than that of a single body of water. The flowers change from naturalistic petals to simple daubs of paint. She floats among stars, no longer among earthly confines. She has been transformed from a victim to a goddess.