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What's the evidence for Ophelia

00:00 Mon 28th Jan 2002 |

A.It now seems that the basis for Hamlet's beautiful and tragic lover may be based upon a Warwickshire girl who committed suicide.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q.Explain.

A.Archaeologists have uncovered a well in Stratford-upon-Avon where Margaret Clopton, born 1563, a beautiful young woman who lived in Shakespeare's lifetime and was abandoned by her lover, drowned herself.

Q.And that fits in with the correct dates

A.Yes. Hamlet is believed to have been written in the 1590s, shortly after Margaret's supposed death.

Q.Who was she

A.The Cloptons were a leading Catholic family in Stratford society. The house still bears their name, as dies a nearby housing estate and main bridge over the River Avon. News of Margaret's death would have reached Shakespeare, even when he was living in London, because he was in regular contact with his wife, Anne Hathaway, in Stratford.

Q.And how was this well uncovered

A.The vaulted well - on the 170-acre Welcombe Hills and Clopton House nature reserve - has been inaccessible for years because the grounds are so boggy. Work started in October as a joint flood prevention scheme and historical dig. The next stage will be to remove the silt to find out what lies beneath. Stratford Council, which now owns the land, hopes the site will become a focal point for visitors after work is completed in the spring.

Q.And what is the real evidence for a link to poor Ophelia

A.Dr Bob Bearman, chief archivist at the Stratford-based Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: 'As far as facts are concerned we know there was a well there called Margaret's Well. And we know there was a daughter of William Clopton called Margaret, born in 1563, but we don't know what happened to her. We have no records of her marriage or death which would lead you to suspect she died in infancy or early youth.'

He confirmed the legend of a young woman who drowned herself in the well, one of many deaths on the grounds which have led Clopton House to be called one of the most haunted houses in England.

Q.Haunted

A.Oh yes. The death is recorded in John Jordan's History of Stratford written about 1790, and it was repeated in the 1820s by the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. But the Ophelia link Dr Bearman added: 'That is the difficult part. She may be drawn from earlier versions of Hamlet, but if someone were to say that Mary Clopton was the woman who died in the well and that she did inspire Shakespeare, I could not prove it was not true.'

Paul Walker, who is overseeing the work, said: 'It's not clear that it was the basis for Ophelia, but it can't be disproved either, as there is a fair bit of circumstantial evidence to indicate that it could have happened.'

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Steve Cunningham

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