The Flowers of Ophelia

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The Flowers of Ophelia

William Shakespeare uses different types of imagery to symbolize major themes and characters in his plays. Garden and flower imagery is a major theme in one of his most famous plays, “Hamlet”. Gardens are used to describe the atmosphere, while flowers help us understand the characters, especially Ophelia. Flowers play such a large role in this play and without this imagery we may not have been able to understand some major points discussed.

When most people hear the word “garden”, they think fields of green surrounded by beautiful flowers where you can sit and enjoy a Sunday afternoon picnic. As described in “Hamlet”, garden has a much different meaning. “ ‘Tis an unweeded garden, / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely.” (1.2.135-37) This quote said by Hamlet in his first soliloquy is explaining how he feels about his surroundings. As Hamlet is upset and angered over his fathers death and his mother remarriage, he feels that the world and people around him are an unweeded garden. In other words, Hamlet feels that he is surrounded by living things that are not being tended to.

Floral imagery comes into the play when Laertes lectures Ophelia on the relationship between her and Hamlet. He compares Hamlet’s love for her as “A violet in the youth of primy nature.” (1.3.7) By stating this, Laertes is explaining to Ophelia that their love is not permanent, but like a violet; a flower that dies as quickly as it blooms. The symbolism of flowers and gardens are used to show the different characteristics of Ophelia. A large aspect is how her brother, Laertes is constantly trying to give her advice.

I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven...
(1.3.45-8)

Ophelia appreciates that Laertes is continuously giving her advice, but feels that he should step back and...
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