These are the reviews for The Lord Chamberlain’s Daughter from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Reader Views and The US Review of Books. Clicking on the reviewer will take you to the review on the reviewer’s website.
Ophelia offers the true story behind what caused things to turn rotten in the state of Denmark in this postmodern take on Hamlet.
Fritsch’s (Cordelia Lionheart, 2018, etc.) work opens with an event labeled The Visit, which turns out to be King Fortinbras’ meeting with Ophelia, who had long been believed to be dead, at her cottage. Over the course of their conversation, which moves back and forth through time to follow the primary characters of Shakespeare’s play—Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Polonius, Horatio, and Ophelia herself, the eponymous daughter—the duplicitous nature of court life under the senior Hamlet and then Claudius is laid out. While Denmark starts a calamitous war with Norway, which is how Fortinbras enters the story, Ophelia and Horatio take note of the castle’s intrigues, discovering many secrets along the way and putting their free time to good use. It isn’t necessary to be familiar with Hamlet to enjoy Fritsch’s tale, but readers who know the Bard’s work will have a greater appreciation for the changes. Rather than a pitiable character driven mad by unrealized longing, this Ophelia is a strong, intelligent force who moves to improve her fate, as befitting the title character of the narrative. Purists may view these characterizations with distaste—no royal except for Fortinbras is portrayed in any way close to positive, for example, although Gertrude is given more agency here than in the play—but Fritsch deploys his changes with a sure hand, setting their behavior in a context that makes sense for the time. The narrative’s structure precludes suspense, but the story unfolds in a clear, straightforward fashion, with a solid grasp of where all the plot pieces are at any time. Much of the dialogue is rendered in an anachronistic fashion, with profanity that reads more 21st century than the period when the original play was written, which will occasionally jar readers. But the language gives the characters an immediacy and relatability that more classical portrayals sometimes lack, and largely fits into the author’s feminist revamping.
Despite anachronistic language, this inventive retelling of Hamlet resonates through clear plotting and strong characterization.
Ophelia lives in Fritsch’s imaginative recasting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a murder mystery. Ten years after the events in the play’s last act, Fortinbras, now king of Denmark, learns Ophelia is alive, and visits her at the cottage she shares with her initially nameless husband and their four children. After Fortinbras expresses doubt about the accepted explanation for the death of Hamlet’s father—that he was poisoned by his brother, Claudius—the narrative flashes back to the past, starting 17 years earlier with Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia, and Horatio playing as children in Elsinore Castle. When Ophelia is 12, people at court begin to talk about her one day marrying Hamlet. Years later, Hamlet’s father dies after drinking some wine Claudius offers him, and Hamlet loses interest in Ophelia. Fritsch (Cordelia Lionheart) keeps readers guessing the culprit responsible for the fatal beverage and the identity of Ophelia’s husband. Fans of alternate takes on classic characters will be intrigued.
Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views:
The Lord Chamberlain’s Daughter by Ron Fritsch is a seductive tale of power and greed, love and sacrifice, murder and betrayal, and the senseless war that caused it all. The tale is a distinctive rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet, and it is as compelling as it is bewitching. The best part? No former knowledge of Shakespeare’s original tale is necessary to appreciate The Lord Chamberlain’s Daughter.
The story occurs in Denmark, and the murder of Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, sets a circuitous stage for the story. Hamlet suspects his uncle Claudius is the killer as he was next in line to the throne. But the death toll mounts as numerous other high-ranking officials in the kingdom fall prey to a murderous predator. Is the Prince of Norway responsible? He did lead the Norwegian charge in the war with Denmark. Or, was it the local villagers? Their resistance to the royal family was widely recognized. What does Ophelia, the Lord Chamberlain’s daughter, know about the murders? And, could she be next?
The tone for the story is set from the very first page. Told from Ophelia’s perspective, readers are in for a treat – Ophelia is a fierce heroine with her own agenda. The story begins with a conversation between Fortinbras of Norway and Ophelia, as they recount the events of that fateful time. The plot reveals itself through their current conversation with recollections of the past providing the substance and details. It’s a brilliant way to give the reader an insightful glimpse into the drama – an “insider’s view,” so to speak. The writing drives the story forward with an enticing pace and attention to detail that keeps the reader captivated and guessing.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Daughter is also full of delightful characters for the character-driven reader. That’s not to say they are all delightful in nature, far from it, but rather they are all well-rounded with distinctive tendencies that elicit strong emotional reactions. My personal favorite is Ophelia, she is definitely a woman ahead of her time, knows what she wants, and has a plan to achieve her goals. Love her! Most intriguing is that many of the characters teeter the lines of moral ambiguity, leaving the reader guessing as to what they will do next!
Overall, I highly recommend The Lord Chamberlain’s Daughter by Ron Fritsch as an impressive, exhilarating take on a classic. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Michelle Jacobs for The US Review of Books:
“That was the story people told about me. I’m glad, of course, it wasn’t true.”
The lord chamberlain’s daughter, better known as Ophelia, has a new story to tell. In this satisfying remake, Ophelia’s fate is markedly different from the one Shakespeare assigned her. In this story, she is alive and well and ready to talk about her childhood friendship with Hamlet and Horatio, palace intrigue, and the warmongering of men in power. Shakespeare’s setting remains, and the time and place of the original play are intact, but the plot has gone astray, reimagined and rebranded with a powerful female protagonist driving the action of the familiar story’s milestones: the murders and resulting power shifts. The story is structured as a confessional of sorts by Ophelia to Fortinbras, who visits her after he learns that she is alive and living in the countryside. Ophelia begins her story by filling in the details of her adolescence at Elsinore castle, roaming freely with her brother Laertes and pals Hamlet and Horatio, while her father, Polonius, advises Hamlet’s father and strategizes a war with Norway. She continues through her own awakening to the suffering of the common people in the war effort, the corruption of the castle, and her own heart’s desire. With her motives revealed and her secrets shared, Shakespeare’s heartsick, mad Ophelia is transformed into a savvy woman of power and rebellion.
For readers unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this story of Ophelia is still compelling and clearly developed as the story of a woman recounting the past in a time of war. Instead of sitting idly by to let men make decisions about her fate and the fate of the common people, she takes action in furtive ways. She stays one step ahead of the powerful men in the castle and wreaks havoc in the process, which leads to her own freedom and ultimately also leads to peace for the kingdom. Fritsch fully develops the character of Ophelia so that her story feels believable and authentic. Her mind and motives are made clear, and her actions fit comfortably into Shakespeare’s plot which Fritsch expounds with clarity and vibrancy. Ophelia captivates as her story unfolds, and she moves from the innocence of childhood to the cruel realities of adolescence when the world shows itself to be corrupt and merciless. Without lament, she takes on the mantle of the protagonist and drives the action quite literally as she bends the plot to her will.
There have been many updates and rewrites of Shakespeare’s plays in books and in movies. Hogarth’s Shakespeare series has published several well-known novelists’ modern updates of Shakespeare’s old stories. There is no shortage of material as the characters and plots he contrived are timeless and endlessly relatable and updateable. For those that know Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character of Ophelia is endlessly fascinating, and she has been memorialized in art, in song, in poetry, and in cinema. Readers do not need to know that iconic Ophelia to understand this new rendition, for Fritsch has created an original Ophelia that lives and breathes in power outside of Hamlet’s castle and outside the limits of Hamlet’s story.
This is fan fiction at its finest, taking a beloved character and placing him or her into a new scenario. The result for Fritsch is a fresh rendering of Ophelia for a new generation of readers to enjoy. This Ophelia comes with power and poise, pulling all the strings while the men destroy each other.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review