“Ophelia“ is a song written by Robbie Robertson of The Band….which was first released by the group on their 1975 album Northern Lights – Southern Cross…..as it was the lead single from the album. It has also appeared on several of the group’s live and compilation albums….and has been covered by such artists as Vince Gill and My Morning Jacket.
The lyrics tell of the singer’s attempt to find the heroine Ophelia. The relationship between the singer and Ophelia is never made explicit….of which Author Craig Harris refers to her as the singer’s old friend…. while music critic Nick DeRiso considers her his lover…..but he finds out that Ophelia has left town, apparently in a hurry….and according to Band biographer Barney Hoskyns….the name Ophelia for the song did not come from Shakespeare’s Hamlet….but rather from Minnie Pearl’s (of Grand Ole Opry fame) real name….however, Shakespeare scholar Stephen M. Buhler sees some Shakespearean echoes in “Ophelia”….particularly related to Othello. In particular, Buhler sees hints that perhaps Ophelia is a black woman in a Southern town who was forced to flee because of Southern attitudes at the time towards interracial relationships with the white singer…..whereby lyrics that Buhler uses to support this view include the following….which suggests that the relationship between Ophelia and the singer was illegal as follows:
Honey, you know we broke the rule
Was somebody up against the law?