What Do Ophelia’s Flowers Symbolize? Decoding the Floral Language in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Ophelia’s flowers have been a topic of discussion for centuries. Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” has long fascinated and puzzled scholars and audiences alike. One of the most intriguing aspects of the play is the role of Ophelia, a young woman who is driven to madness and ultimately takes her own life. Through her character, Shakespeare imbued his work with rich symbolism, particularly in the form of the flowers Ophelia carries and sings about.

So, what do Ophelia’s flowers symbolize? For those not familiar with the play, Ophelia is often shown carrying and scattering flowers throughout her scenes. These flowers are significant because each one represents a different aspect of Ophelia’s character and emotional state. Some of the flowers she carries include violets, daisies, and rue, each with its own symbolic meaning. In examining the flowers and their significance, we can gain a deeper understanding of Ophelia’s character and the themes of the play as a whole.

With so much meaning and interpretation surrounding these flowers, it’s no wonder that Ophelia’s flowers continue to captivate audiences to this day. Whether you’re a literary scholar or simply appreciate the beauty and power of symbolic imagery, understanding the significance of Ophelia’s flowers is a must. Stay tuned as we explore each flower in detail and unravel the mysteries of this literary masterpiece.

Ophelia’s Flowers Symbolism Overview

In William Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet,” Ophelia’s flowers symbolize a variety of meanings. As a character, Ophelia is seen as innocent and pure, making the flowers she gives and receives an important way to reveal her true emotions and state of mind. The use of flowers as symbols is a literary device that adds depth and complexity to Ophelia’s character and the overall themes of the play. There are several types of flowers associated with Ophelia, each with their own symbolic meaning that sheds light on her inner turmoil and mental state.

Types of Flowers Associated with Ophelia

  • Chamomile: Chamomile represents patience and peace, which is ironic given the fact that Ophelia is not at peace with her emotions or situation.
  • Daisies: Daisies symbolize innocence and purity, which aligns with Ophelia’s character and her perceived lack of malice.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary represents remembrance and loyalty, which is significant as Ophelia is forgotten by the men in her life who have betrayed and abandoned her.

The Symbolic Importance of Ophelia’s Flowers

The use of flowers in “Hamlet” is not just a way to add poetic beauty to the script but also to convey deeper meaning. As Ophelia loses her grip on reality, her flower references become increasingly erratic, reflecting her mental state. For example, when she gives Hamlet a bouquet of rue, she is symbolically wishing him repentance for his actions towards her. Later, she gives Gertrude a bouquet of weeds and rue to show her disapproval of Gertrude’s actions. The weeds represent Gertrude’s past actions and rue symbolizes regret.

Furthermore, the flowers used in Ophelia’s grave scene have significant meaning. The inclusion of rosemary suggests that Ophelia’s memory will never be forgotten. In contrast, the presence of pansies symbolizes thoughts of remembrance and mourning. Therefore, it can be concluded that the flowers in the grave scene represent a farewell to Ophelia’s life and a reminder that she will never be forgotten.


The use of flowers as symbols in “Hamlet” is a deeply layered and complex literary device, particularly in the case of Ophelia. The symbolism behind the flowers she gives and receives reveals her true emotions and her progress towards mental instability. Shakespeare uses the flowers to highlight the intricacies of the human psyche and emotional turmoil, establishing “Hamlet” as a timeless masterpiece.

Rosemary Symbolism

Rosemary is a herb that has been used for centuries in cooking and for medicinal purposes. However, in the context of Ophelia’s flowers, rosemary represents remembrance and memory. This is because rosemary was believed to enhance memory and was often used in funerals and other commemorative ceremonies.

  • One of the reasons rosemary symbolizes memory is due to its strong scent. The strong smell of rosemary can evoke memories and create a sense of familiarity in individuals.
  • Additionally, rosemary has been used in ancient Greek and Roman cultures to signify remembrance of the dead. This is why Shakespeare may have chosen to include rosemary in Ophelia’s bouquet.
  • Rosemary also has religious significance and has been associated with the Virgin Mary. It was believed that the flowers of the rosemary plant turned from white to blue when Mary passed by, hence the term “Mary’s mantle” which refers to the blue flowers.

In Ophelia’s context, rosemary symbolizes the remembrance of the deceased, particularly her father Polonius. By including rosemary in her bouquet, she is paying tribute to her father and commemorating his memory. Thus, rosemary represents the importance of preserving memories and remembering loved ones even after they’re gone.

RosemaryRemembrance and memory

Overall, the inclusion of rosemary in Ophelia’s flowers adds a deeper layer of symbolism to her character and her storyline. The herb represents the importance of memory and commemorating those who have passed away. It serves as a reminder that even in death, the memories and legacies of loved ones live on.

Daisy Symbolism

The daisy is one of the most prominent flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s play, Ophelia distributing them among the characters in the play. The flower carries a significant meaning, reflecting the themes of innocence, purity, and love in the play. The daisy has been revered in various cultures over the past centuries, featuring in folklores, mythologies, and legends.

  • The daisy is commonly associated with innocence and purity. It is often used to depict the youthfulness and innocence of a person, especially in literature and art. This symbolic use of daisy traces back to the ancient Roman and Greek cultures, where the flower was considered sacred to the goddess of love and fertility.
  • The daisy also serves as a symbol of unrequited love. In the context of the play, Ophelia gives the flower to Hamlet, which can represent her unrequited love for him. The daisy petals can be plucked one by one while reciting, “He loves me, he loves me not.” The last petal determines the answer, signifying the uncertainty of love.
  • The daisy has also been associated with childbirth, serving as a talisman for good luck and protection during labor. It is believed that the daisy flower would ease the pain of childbirth and ensure a safe delivery. Daisies were also used as an incantation against evil spirits in the medieval times, further reinforcing its protective symbolism.

The symbolism of the daisy in Ophelia’s flower distribution is significant, depicting her purity and innocence while representing her unrequited love for Hamlet. The flower’s use in the play is a testament to the immersive symbolism that flowers carry, even in modern times. This symbolism is imbibed in our culture, art, literature, and language, becoming a universal language that everyone can understand.

Daisy SymbolismMeaning
Innocence and purityAssociated with the youthfulness and purity of a person, symbolizing innocence and naivety.
Unrequited loveDepicts the uncertainty and pain of love, often used in poems, songs, and literature to signify unrequited love and hopelessness.
Childbirth and protectionBelieved to ease childbirth pains and provide protection from evil spirits, also used to represent good luck and fortune.

In conclusion, the daisy holds significant meanings, representing purity, innocence, unrequited love, childbirth, and protection. As these symbols are explored in the context of Shakespeare’s play, they help to illustrate the complex character of Ophelia and her story. The use of flowers in literature, art, and culture, in general, highlights how these symbols can convey messages and emotions without words, becoming a language of their own.

Nettle Symbolism

Nettles are a prickly plant that often symbolize pain and irritation, but they also have positive connotations. In the case of Ophelia’s flowers, nettle symbolism relates to protection and healing.

  • Protection: Nettles are a natural source of protection, as the prickly leaves act as a defense mechanism against predators. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia gives nettles to her father Polonius, saying “I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died: they say he made a good end,” meaning that she can’t give him violets, which symbolize faithfulness, because her father has passed away. Instead, she offers him nettles, which can be seen as a way of protecting him or guarding him from harm.
  • Healing: Despite their prickly nature, nettles have powerful healing properties. They are rich in vitamins and minerals and have been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. In the context of Ophelia’s flowers, nettle symbolism can represent healing and restoration. Ophelia is grieving the loss of her father and the rejection of Hamlet, and she may be trying to find comfort and healing in the act of gathering and giving these flowers.
  • Renewal: Nettles are also associated with renewal and regeneration. They are a hardy plant that can grow in almost any conditions, and they have a tendency to spread quickly and take over an area. This can be seen as a symbol of resilience and new beginnings. For Ophelia, the act of gathering nettles may be a way of finding hope and renewal in the midst of her pain and suffering.

Overall, nettle symbolism in Ophelia’s flowers is complex and multifaceted. It represents both protection and healing, as well as renewal and regeneration. By giving her father nettles, Ophelia may be trying to protect him and herself from the pain of their respective losses, while also seeking comfort and renewal in the midst of grief.

Nettle Symbolism
ProtectionAct of guarding or defending from harm
HealingAct of restoration and recovery from illness or emotional pain
RenewalAct of regenerating or beginning anew

The table above summarizes the different meanings associated with nettle symbolism in Ophelia’s flowers. It highlights how nettles can represent both negative and positive concepts, and how they can have multiple layers of meaning depending on the context in which they are used.

Violet Symbolism

In Shakespeare’s play, Ophelia presents violets to Queen Gertrude and King Claudius, and the flowers are often associated with the character’s death. The color violet itself is often used to represent royalty, nobility, and luxury. However, beyond the general symbolism of the color, there are also specific meanings associated with violets.

  • Modesty: In Victorian flower language, the violet symbolizes modesty and humility. This interpretation could represent Ophelia’s own modesty in her life and death.
  • Remembrance: Violets are also used as symbols of remembrance. Given that Ophelia’s tragedy was a result of her mental illness, this could also be a fitting interpretation as she may have been forgotten by those who should have remembered her.
  • Loyalty: Another interpretation is that violets represent loyalty, perhaps reflecting Ophelia’s unwavering loyalty to Hamlet despite his treatment towards her.

In addition to these interpretations, the number of violets presented also holds significance. A single violet could represent that the giver’s thoughts were occupied with love, while a bouquet of violets could be a symbol of devotion. In Ophelia’s case, the five violets she presents to the Queen are a significant number, representing a plea for loyalty.

Number of Violets PresentedSymbolic Meaning

Overall, the symbolism of violets in Ophelia’s flowers and in general can hold a variety of interpretations, all of which may contribute to a deeper understanding of the character and the play as a whole.

Fennel Symbolism

Fennel is one of the flowers mentioned in Ophelia’s garland in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The plant has long been recognized for its medicinal properties and was regarded as a symbol of strength, as well as courage. It was also associated with longevity and prosperity.

  • In ancient Greece, fennel was believed to provide courage in the face of adversity.
  • During the medieval period, it was thought to protect against witchcraft.
  • In Christian tradition, fennel was associated with St. John the Baptist and was thought to have healing powers.

It is interesting to note that fennel was also used as an herbal remedy for various ailments, including indigestion and snake bites. In Shakespeare’s time, it was commonly used as a digestive aid and is still used today as a natural remedy for gastrointestinal issues.

As a flower symbol, fennel represents strength, courage, protection, and healing. It was likely included in Ophelia’s garland to convey these qualities and to suggest that Ophelia herself possessed them.

StrengthFennel was believed to provide strength and stamina.
CourageFennel was associated with bravery and the ability to face challenges.
ProtectionMedieval people believed that fennel could ward off evil and protect against witchcraft.
HealingFennel has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy for various ailments.

Fennel symbolism is complex and varied, reflecting the many different cultural meanings attached to this versatile plant. As a flower, it conveys strength, courage, protection, and healing, making it an ideal choice for Ophelia’s garland.

Columbine Symbolism

Ophelia’s flowers are not only beautiful but also carry a deeper meaning in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. The columbine symbolizes adultery, ingratitude, or faithlessness in love. It is most likely the latter as the flower represents forsaken love in the context of the play. This is further emphasized by the color of the petals, which are believed to resemble the bonnet of a jester, signifying a sense of foolishness or jesting in love.

The Number 7

There are multiple instances in the play where the number 7 appears in the context of Ophelia’s flowers. The first is in Act IV, Scene V, when Ophelia delivers a speech that describes various flowers and their corresponding symbolic meanings. In this speech, she mentions that the columbine is “a pale primrose, that there is maids that wear, in their bonnets, all, sweet, yet saucy, withal. Some call it ‘Mary’s colors’ of heaven’s blue, bright gold.” She then goes on to say that there are “seven” of them, possibly referring to the petals of the flower.

The second instance where the number 7 appears is in Act V, Scene I, when Hamlet and Horatio come across Ophelia’s grave. Hamlet remarks, “Sweets to the sweet. Farewell! / I hop’d thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife: / I thought thy bride-bed to have deck’d, sweet maid, / And not have strew’d thy grave” (lines 69-72). Following this, Ophelia’s brother Laertes jumps into the grave and says, “Hold off the earth awhile, / Till I have caught her once more in mine arms” (lines 80-81). This makes a total of 7 people in or around Ophelia’s grave: Ophelia, Hamlet, Horatio, the Priest, the Gravedigger, and two servants.

  • The columbine flower is believed to have 7 petals, which may have influenced Ophelia’s speech in Act IV, Scene V.
  • The presence of 7 people in or around Ophelia’s grave in Act V, Scene I may also be symbolic, although the significance of this is unclear.

The symbolism of the number 7 is open to interpretation and may mean different things to different readers. Some believe that it represents completeness or perfection, while others associate it with luck or spirituality. Whatever its meaning, the repeated appearance of the number 7 in relation to Ophelia’s flowers adds another layer of complexity to the symbolism of the play.


The columbine flower holds a symbolic meaning of forsaken love, which reflects the tragic fate of Ophelia in the play. The number 7, which appears multiple times in relation to the flowers, adds another element to the complex symbolism of Shakespeare’s work. Through the use of flowers and their meanings, Shakespeare reveals the inner thoughts and feelings of his characters and creates a deeply moving and poignant tale of love, revenge, and tragedy.

ColumbineForsaken love
PrimroseYoung love or early youth
FennelFlattery or false flattery
RueRegret or sorrow
DaisyInnocence or purity

The use of flowers and their meanings in Hamlet is a testament to Shakespeare’s genius and his ability to weave complex themes and symbolism into his plays. The columbine’s symbolism of forsaken love and the repeated appearance of the number 7 add depth and complexity to the play, making it a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate audiences to this day.

Pansy Symbolism

As one of the flowers present in Ophelia’s garland in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, pansies hold significant symbolism. These small, vibrant flowers have been associated with a variety of meanings throughout history, including love, remembrance, and thoughtfulness. However, when it comes to Ophelia’s garland, the pansies take on a unique symbolism related to death and mourning.

  • The color purple: Pansies are often purple, which is traditionally associated with mourning. This color choice is likely intentional in Ophelia’s garland, as she is preparing for her own death.
  • The number 8: In the garland, Ophelia includes eight pansies. This number has several potential meanings in relation to death and mourning. In numerology, the number 8 is associated with endings and new beginnings – in this case, the end of Ophelia’s life. Additionally, in some cultures, the number 8 represents infinity or the cyclical nature of life and death.
  • The pansy’s symbolic meanings: While the pansy as a whole has a variety of symbolic meanings, there are a few that stand out in relation to Ophelia’s situation. For example, pansies have been associated with “remembrance” and “thoughts of love,” both of which may be relevant to Ophelia’s mindset as she faces her own death.

Overall, the presence of pansies in Ophelia’s garland adds a layer of symbolism to the already complex situation. By including eight of these flowers, Shakespeare may have been intentionally highlighting the themes of death and mourning present in the play.

Purple colorMourning
Number 8Endings, new beginnings, infinity, cyclical nature of life and death
Pansy symbolic meaningsRemembrance, thoughts of love

Overall, the pansies in Ophelia’s garland represent not only death and mourning, but also remembrance and love. These intricate layers of symbolism add depth to the already complex character of Ophelia and the themes explored in Hamlet.

Rue Symbolism

One of the flowers mentioned in Ophelia’s speech in Act IV, Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is rue. Rue is a herb known for its bitter taste and strong scent, and it has been traditionally associated with symbolism related to regret, sorrow, and repentance.

  • In Christianity, rue has been linked to the phrase “rue the day,” suggesting feelings of remorse and regret.
  • In the European medieval tradition, rue represented sorrow and grief.
  • In the language of flowers, rue symbolizes repentance and regret.

Moreover, in Ophelia’s speech, nine different plants are mentioned, including rue. The number nine has been associated with symbolism related to completeness and perfection in various cultures and religions.

Symbolism of the number nine:
In Christianity, nine represents the fruits of the Holy Spirit.In Chinese culture, nine is a lucky number associated with longevity and eternity.
In Norse mythology, nine is the number of worlds connected by Yggdrasil, the great world tree.In Hinduism, nine is associated with the nine planets and the Navagrahas.

Therefore, the use of nine plants in Ophelia’s speech, including the rue, may suggest the completeness and perfection in the tragedy of her character and the regret and sorrow associated with her demise.

Poppy Symbolism

The poppy flower has a rich and diverse symbolism, ranging from remembrance and sleep to death and the afterlife. Here, we explore its meaning in the context of Ophelia’s flowers.

  • Remembrance: The poppy is perhaps most commonly associated with remembrance, especially in the context of war. This can be traced back to the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, which references the poppies that grew on the battlefield in World War I. In the context of Ophelia’s flowers, the poppy may symbolize the idea of remembering what has been lost.
  • Sleep: In addition to its association with death and the afterlife, the poppy is often associated with sleep and dreams. This may stem from the use of opium (derived from poppies) as a sedative. In the context of Ophelia’s flowers, the poppy may symbolize the idea of escaping from reality or entering a dreamlike state.
  • Death: The poppy’s association with death likely stems from its use in funerary rites in ancient cultures. In the context of Ophelia’s flowers, the poppy may symbolize the idea of acceptance and surrender to death.

Interestingly, Ophelia’s bouquet contains specifically red poppies, which carry their own unique symbolism:

RedSymbolizes pleasure, sacrifice, and most commonly, remembrance for soldiers who died in World War I.

Given the association of red poppies with remembrance, it’s possible that Ophelia’s flowers are meant to symbolize her memories of a lost loved one, perhaps her father.

What Do Ophelia’s Flowers Symbolize?

1. What flowers did Ophelia give to the queen?

Ophelia gives the queen rosemary, pansies, and fennel, which each symbolize different things. Rosemary symbolizes remembrance, pansies symbolize thoughtfulness and love, and fennel symbolizes flattery.

2. What do the daisy flowers that Ophelia gives to Hamlet symbolize?

Ophelia gives Hamlet daisies, which symbolize innocence and purity. This shows Ophelia’s desire to remain pure and innocent in Hamlet’s eyes, despite everything that is happening.

3. What do the violets symbolize?

Violets symbolize loyalty and devotion. When Ophelia gives violets to her father, it shows her loyalty to him and her dedication to being obedient.

4. What does the rue plant symbolize?

The rue plant symbolizes regret and sorrow. When Ophelia gives rue to her brother, it is a symbol of her sorrow for what has happened and her regret for any actions that may have caused it.

5. What do the daffodils symbolize?

Daffodils symbolize new beginnings and rebirth. When Ophelia sings about them, it is a symbol of her hope for a fresh start and a new beginning after all the tragedy that has occurred.

6. What do the lilies symbolize?

Lilies symbolize purity and innocence. When Ophelia sings about them, it is a reminder of her wish to remain pure and innocent in a world filled with corruption and chaos.

7. What does the willow tree symbolize?

The willow tree symbolizes sadness and mourning. It is often associated with death and is a reminder of the tragedy that has befallen Ophelia and those around her.

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, Ophelia’s flowers symbolize a range of emotions and ideas, from innocence and purity to regret and sorrow. Each flower that she gives to someone represents a different sentiment and helps to tell the story of her character and the tragedy that befalls her. Thank you for reading, and please visit again soon for more interesting articles on literature and symbolism.