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Study Ophelia's garland

The San Francisco Chronicle had an interesting article about the meaning of flowers that are used by Shakespeare among the most interesting pieces are:

William Shakespeare mentioned more than 200 species of plants in his plays. Twenty-nine scenes take place in groomed gardens and well-tended orchards. Plants, and plant lore, were important sources of metaphors for Shakespeare. Often, as in Ophelia's "garland speech," plants served as extended metaphors for the human condition. Here's what the plants in Ophelia's garland would have signified for an Elizabethan audience:
Any man who couldn't smell the fragrant shrub was considered incapable of loving a woman. Rosemary in front of an English cottage indicated that the woman was head of the household, a folk belief that caused more than a few uprooted plants. Its special qualities also included the ability to repel plagues and certain types of witches. Sleeping with a sprig beneath your pillow chased away bad dreams. But for Ophelia, distraught and depressed over her father's death and Hamlet's odd behavior, the mention of rosemary indicates to her brother and the Elizabethan audience her brittle self-image and lack of confidence: "Pray you, love, remember."
Pansies, as Ophelia states, are for thoughts. The pansy was also used medicinally to relieve cramps, hysteria and diarrhea in children. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the Fairy King Oberon makes romantic use of the flower's juice: When applied to the eyelids of sleeping people, it was said, they will fall in love with whatever they see first after waking. This is how Titania, Oberon's wife, managed to fall in love with a donkey. Caution: The pansy's aphrodisiacal powers may apply only to fairies, nymphs and wood sprites. Please consult your physician before using in this manner. Results may vary.
Pansies, as Ophelia states, are for thoughts. The pansy was also used medicinally to relieve cramps, hysteria and diarrhea in children.
Fennel appears often in Shakespeare. Although Falstaff mentioned the herb in "Henry IV, Part 2" as a seasoning for conger eels, the plant represented false flattery.
The columbine is symbolic of ingratitude and was known as the "thankless flower." Perhaps this name derives from the fact that columbine seeds consumed with wine brought on labor pains more quickly. A newer, tragic and senseless, association with the word "Columbine" entered our language on April 20, 1999.

(click the post title to get to the whole article by Rob Loughran)

I found it interest that the author mentioned "Columbine" and the association it now has in our collective minds. For a long time I thought it an ugly name for a plant but it wasn't until recently that I realized that I found it disagreeable because of association we now have with the name. Anyway click the post title to read more of this interesting article.


  1. Love the one about Rosemary at the front of the house to indicate that the woman is the head of the household. So, there's Nature giving me what-for....I've lost 3 at the front and now it's way down the garden towards the orchard, it's thriving.....I know my place!!

  2. Anonymous9:35 PM

    You will have to come out to the Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park when you visit SF. It is tiny, but cute. I think they could use a whole lot more interpretation, like is in the article you posted. It would make it infinitely more fascinating.

    I can't wait to put the juice of a pansy on your eyelids while you slumber!



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