The Wilting Flowers:
The Loss of Innocence in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Innocence and purity wither away in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the protagonist strives for his revenge, yet wrestles with his past morals and current confusion. However, it is not Hamlet’s angst-ridden struggle that is best examined, but rather the slow downward spiral of the female characters, Hamlet’s mother and his love interest, who are somewhat neglected in the plot. Queen Gertrude and young Ophelia’s loss of female innocence, while alluding to the biblical theory of women’s tainted purity, is complemented with the symbolic use of flowers and weeds. The plants serve to show the feminine Mother Nature of the Earth and also prove the evanescent nature of true female goodness, the frailty of Eve’s original sin.
Much like how Eve birthed the curse upon women, Queen Gertrude began the female descent into corruption in Hamlet. Coupled with her former husband’s death, Gertrude’s quick and incestuous remarriage starts her corruption. In Act I, scene ii, Hamlet says, “Fie on’t, ah, fie, ‘tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed,” (pg. 14). Hamlet’s labeling of the Denmark castle as “an unweeded garden” foreshadows the eventual sin overtaking of the people within. Gertrude can be identified as the initial weed because her weakness, exhibited by immediately submitting to her brother-in-law Claudius, spread to the rest of the castle’s inhabitants, therefore contaminating Hamlet and in turn Ophelia. In addition, the floral reference of “thorns” is used to describe her lose of purity. The Ghost advises Hamlet “Leave her to heaven and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her,” (I.v.31). These “thorns” symbolize the seeds of corruption that have lodged themselves in her, showing her frailty and inability to overcome evil influences. This womanly frailty also relates to the ephemeral nature of flowers once picked. Gertrude marrying crushed her virginal purity,...
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