The meaning of Ophelia's flowers

Written by melissa sherrard
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The meaning of Ophelia's flowers
Ophelia drowned herself in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." (By Sir John Everett Millais, via Putenias; Flickr.)

Shakespeare often used flowers to symbolise emotions of characters. In "Hamlet," Ophelia -- the love interest of the title character -- hands out a series of flowers that are rich with meaning when she learns her father, Polonius, has been killed.

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Rosemary

When Ophelia gives her brother, Laertes a flower and says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember," Shakespeare is citing rosemary as a symbol of faithfulness and remembrance. Ophelia is urging her audience to "remember what's been happening" and encouraging her brother, Laertes, to "examine where true loyalties seem to lie."

Pansy

When Ophelia says, "And there is pansies, that's for thoughts," she's calling attention to the notion of faithfulness and thoughtful recollection. The pansies Ophelia is referring to are the viola tri-colour variety.

Fennel and columbine

When Ophelia presents fennel and columbine to the king, a Shakespearean audience would have recognised the pairing of flattery and foolishness. She knew the king loved flattery, so she first presented fennel and then columbine. The latter, known as the "emblem of deceived lovers," is a symbol of ingratitude, male adultery and faithlessness.

Rue

Continuing with her insults and insinuations, Ophelia presents the bitter herb rue to the queen saying, "There's rue for you; and here's some for me. We may call it herb of grace a Sunday's. O, you must wear your rue with a difference." Rue was the major cause of abortion in its day, which is also why it was linked with adultery.

Daisy

Ophelia then sees a daisy, which represents a gentleness, innocence and righteousness she feels has been lost in the court. When she picks up and admires a daisy, only to sadly put it down, she is making a statement about a loss of innocence and loyal love.

Violet

Ophelia closes by saying, "I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died." This openly questions the faithfulness, modesty and integrity of the king and queen.

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