The Meaning of Ophelia Flowers

Shakespeare often used flowers to symbolize 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.

Young woman holding bouquet of flowers
Young woman holding bouquet of flowers (Image: Lite Productions/Lite Productions/Getty Images)

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According to an article written by Katarina Eriksson, the former head gardener of the Huntington Library, Museum and Botanical Garden in San Marino, California, 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, Eriksson says, is urging her audience to "remember what's been happening" and encouraging her brother, Laertes, to "examine where true loyalties seem to lie."

Rosemary flowers
Rosemary flowers (Image: Amy Hisaoka/iStock/Getty Images)


When Ophelia says, "And there is pansies, that's for thoughts," she's calling attention to the notion of faithfulness and thoughtful recollection. Eriksson tells us that the pansies Ophelia is referring to are the viola tricolor variety.

Viola tricolors, the traditional Victorian-era pansy, are also known as Johnny Jump-Ups.
Viola tricolors, the traditional Victorian-era pansy, are also known as Johnny Jump-Ups. (Image: lizcen/iStock/Getty Images)

Fennel & Columbine

When Ophelia presents fennel and columbine to the king, a Shakespearean audience would have recognized 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.

Flowering fennel
Flowering fennel (Image: Jelena Popic/iStock/Getty Images)


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." Eriksson explains that "rue was the major cause of abortion in its day, which is also why it was tied in with adultery."

Field of blooming rue
Field of blooming rue (Image: HITOSHI KAWAKAMI/amanaimagesRF/amana images/Getty Images)

English Daisy

Ophelia then sees an English 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 of a loss of innocence and loyal love.

English daisies growing in field
English daisies growing in field (Image: John Pavel/iStock/Getty Images)


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, Eriksson asserts.

Violets (Image: VukasS/iStock/Getty Images)


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