HAMLET research paper

Submitted By Harley-Craft
Words: 1076
Pages: 5

Harley Craft
Virginia Grant
ENG 131
April 2014
The Language of Flowers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Throughout many works written by William Shakespeare including Hamlet, the use of flowers as symbolism can be seen numerous times. His love of flowers began as child and found its way into his works as an adult. (Kerr, 1-2) The use of flowers in Hamlet have a great impact on the entire play when looking at the underlying meanings of the specific flowers mentioned. Floriography, the coin termed for the language of flowers in the Victorian era, had long been used before it’s official use. (Seaton.) Giving meaning to flowers and herbs was another form of communication. By sending or recieving an arrangement of flowers, one could decipher the message by the use of flowers. This language of flowers is seen clearly by Ophelia in Hamlet. During Ophelia’s mad scene in 4.5 she hands out a variety of flowers, “There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you. . .” (4.5.148) As she is doing so, even in her state of distress, Ophelia is well aware of the messages she is sending to those around her. Although Shakespeare did not provide the stage directions as to whom Ophelia’s flowers were meant for, based on the symbolism of the flowers, it is not hard to decipher what she was trying to say. The first person whom Ophelia hands out flowers to is her brother, Laertes. Returning home to avenge his fathers death, he is talking to the King and Queen as Ophelia hands him her first of gifts. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember. And there is pansies; that’s for thoughts.” (4.5.145-46) Ophelia doesn’t state what each of her flowers are for, but to her brother she specifically tells him the meaning behind the rosemary and pansies. The rosemary, she gives to him a reminder of the injustice that just fell upon their family. As Laertes is trying to find who is responsible for the death of their father, Polonius, Ophelia even within her crazed state of mind, steps in to give her brother a message: to not forget, to remember. Rosemary is also the flower of faithfulness, with that symbolism she reminds Laertes to stay faithful in his search. The pansies Ophelia gives to her brother are for thought, as she specifically tells him. Again, she reminds him to keep their father close within his thoughts. The next person Ophelia gives out flowers to is the King, Claudius. “There’s fennel for you, and columbines.” (4.5.148) The Greek word for fennels was marathon stemming from maraino, meaning “to grow thin.” As soon as you pick fennel, it will wilt quickly. As Ophelia cannot directly express her feelings, she hands the fennel to the king as a way of pointing out his adultery but because fennels are also symbolic of flattery, she is also playing on Claudius’s desire for flattery and attention. The columbines she hands to the King are symbols of adultery and foolishness. Ophelia is very possibly outright accusing the King that if not for his foolish adultery with Gertrude then her father may have not even died at the hands of Hamlet. Knowing her place within the noble household, she dare not say these things directly to her King, instead she allows the language of the flowers to speak for her. After insulting the King, Ophelia turns to his wife, Gertrude saying to her, “There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. You must wear your rue with a difference.”(4.5.148-49) Here, Ophelia is giving rue, a bitter herb that would have signified regret. When she tells Gertrude that she must wear her rue in a different way, she is using a double entendre, as that the word rue itself can mean pity or sadness. She is telling Gertrude that they both must wear their heart on their sleeves, but in different ways. Looking at her flowers, Ophelia then spots the daisies. The daisies are symbolic of innocence. Ophelia knows that she has robbed herself of her own innocence and purity, qualities she