Ophelia's flowersWithout Shakespeare's use of stage directions, it is up to the director to determine who Ophelia gives her flowers to.  Based on flower symbolism, what might be your thoughts? ...

Ophelia's flowers

Without Shakespeare's use of stage directions, it is up to the director to determine who Ophelia gives her flowers to.  Based on flower symbolism, what might be your thoughts?  The director of the Mel Gibson version (not sure if it was Mel or not) used chicken bones and a nail instead of flowers... the nail went to Claudius.  In the Olivier version, Ophelia puts pansies on Hamlet's empty chair.  If you were the director, who would you have Ophelia give the specific flowers to and why?

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amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Ophelia's flowers

Without Shakespeare's use of stage directions, it is up to the director to determine who Ophelia gives her flowers to.  Based on flower symbolism, what might be your thoughts?  The director of the Mel Gibson version (not sure if it was Mel or not) used chicken bones and a nail instead of flowers... the nail went to Claudius.  In the Olivier version, Ophelia puts pansies on Hamlet's empty chair.  If you were the director, who would you have Ophelia give the specific flowers to and why?

I must say that I disagree with the premise that the flowers can be given to anyone.  While stage directions are lacking, the named flowers in Ophelia's lines would do the direction themselves.   (Amy, I'm sure you meant Elizabethan and not Victorians! :)

The first, rosemary and pansies, are surely handed to her brother.  Rosemary was particularly used in both funeral and bridal wreaths.  One can't help but feel the sentiment exuded in such a selection:  a plea for remembrance for the bride of death.  These were given along with pansies, the symbol of thought and contemplation.   

The majority of Ophelia’s bouquet, however, certainly went to Hamlet. 

 “There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you, and here’s some for me…O, you must wear your rue with a difference...There’s a daisy.  I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.”

Fennel symbolized cuckoldry; columbines, falseness. The rue, I expect, also went to Hamlet.  Note the clever play on words, as “rue” is a flower as well as another name for sorrow. 

Daisies stood for unhappiness in love; violets, faithfulness.  The violets are an especially good barb for Hamlet given his lack of the quality, and when paired together, the unfaithfulness, Hamlet’s responsibility for Polonius’ death, there can be no other recipient. 

I realize Hamlet was written and performed in the Elizabethan and Jacobean time periods, but the Victorians are more widely known for their use of flowers and names...all the lace and pansies and roses and a general foo-foo air of perfection...that is Victorian.  I'm sure it didn't stem with these prudish individuals, but for me the flower symbols stand out more in the Victorian era.

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

Who could possibly top post 2? I'm glad you asked a question about staging. I have not been able to enjoy Hamlet ever since I tried to watch the awful Kenneth Branagh version--and I LOVE Kenneth Branagh. That version was just too bizarre.

I think I would use baby's breath--for the babies not to be--and I would have her throw them off the castle wall.

I love your idea about baby's breath, but do think a director should stick to the flowers listed by the author.  And I absolutely LOVE the Branagh version of Hamlet...EXCEPT for the madness scene of Ophelia.  I thought Kate Winslet was outstanding in that role until we had to see her in a strait-jacket, etc.  Not that she did it poorly - she was great - I just disagree with how Branagh portrayed Ophelia at that point in the film.


I agree, it was a gripping scene but I wasn't quite sure which direction he was going with it. Was Ophelia going insane from bewilderment and not knowing what was going on around her? Or was she crushed knowing too much. Perhaps she saw all that was around her was false. She certainly was raised by a father who mastered the art od the deal. She should know she was being used to tease out out Hamlet things that would cause him harm. But where does that blame fall for her? One more sneering look at Gertrude or Claudius would have told us that.

I think she needs more resolution to her end.

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Who could possibly top post 2? I'm glad you asked a question about staging. I have not been able to enjoy Hamlet ever since I tried to watch the awful Kenneth Branagh version--and I LOVE Kenneth Branagh. That version was just too bizarre.

I think I would use baby's breath--for the babies not to be--and I would have her throw them off the castle wall.

I love your idea about baby's breath, but do think a director should stick to the flowers listed by the author.  And I absolutely LOVE the Branagh version of Hamlet...EXCEPT for the madness scene of Ophelia.  I thought Kate Winslet was outstanding in that role until we had to see her in a strait-jacket, etc.  Not that she did it poorly - she was great - I just disagree with how Branagh portrayed Ophelia at that point in the film.

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

It is certainly pivotal. If, for instance Ophelia gives the columbine to Claudius, that would betray her knowledge about much more than the audience would have imagined. If she gives it to Gertrude, she is making a statement about marital fidelity. If she is giving it to a hallucinated Hamlet figure, she is lost in her broken heart. This is the part of Shakespeare where interpretation turns into the fascination with the Kennedy Assassination. Theories abound and we all are all the most enriched for sharing.

Personally, with limited knowledge of the symbols, I think I sense a sort of rivalry between Ophelia and Gertrude. Ophelia has no mother figure and Gertrude certainly isn’t up to the task. The detail Gertrude gives next regarding the scene of Ophelia’s death leaves one wondering. How did she know so much about it? By the way CSI is on tonight.

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Ophelia's flowers

Without Shakespeare's use of stage directions, it is up to the director to determine who Ophelia gives her flowers to.  Based on flower symbolism, what might be your thoughts?  The director of the Mel Gibson version (not sure if it was Mel or not) used chicken bones and a nail instead of flowers... the nail went to Claudius.  In the Olivier version, Ophelia puts pansies on Hamlet's empty chair.  If you were the director, who would you have Ophelia give the specific flowers to and why?

I must say that I disagree with the premise that the flowers can be given to anyone.  While stage directions are lacking, the named flowers in Ophelia's lines would do the direction themselves.   (Amy, I'm sure you meant Elizabethan and not Victorians! :)

The first, rosemary and pansies, are surely handed to her brother.  Rosemary was particularly used in both funeral and bridal wreaths.  One can't help but feel the sentiment exuded in such a selection:  a plea for remembrance for the bride of death.  These were given along with pansies, the symbol of thought and contemplation.   

The majority of Ophelia’s bouquet, however, certainly went to Hamlet. 

 “There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you, and here’s some for me…O, you must wear your rue with a difference...There’s a daisy.  I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.”

Fennel symbolized cuckoldry; columbines, falseness. The rue, I expect, also went to Hamlet.  Note the clever play on words, as “rue” is a flower as well as another name for sorrow. 

Daisies stood for unhappiness in love; violets, faithfulness.  The violets are an especially good barb for Hamlet given his lack of the quality, and when paired together, the unfaithfulness, Hamlet’s responsibility for Polonius’ death, there can be no other recipient. 

Rosemary for remembrance could have been given to her brother, Laertes.  As mentioned, Olivier's Ophelia had her place the pansies "for thoughts" on Hamlet's empty chair.  Hamlet is not present in Ophelia's mad scene, so she would not have given him any flowers directly.  Those present are Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius.  Columbines signify falseness, so they could have been handed to Claudius or to Gertrude, depending on your character interpretation.  Rue is for sadness, but also for unfaithfulness... possible to give these to Gertrude.  Opheila would wear her rue "with a difference" from Gertrude because Opehlia is sad, but Gertrude may be seen as unfaithful to her husband Hamlet's memory.  Then again, Claudius certainly fits that description as well.  Ophelia could be intending to give violets to her brother, Laertes, as a sign of faithfulness to her father's memory and to the family, "but they all withered when [her] father died".  

Depending on the director and his/her interpretation of the characters, there are many ways to stage the giving of the flowers.  I brought it up because I use this scene whenever I teach Hamet, and I use three film versions (Mel Gibson, Olivier, Derek Jacobi) which have different recipients for the flowers.  It's always interesting to hear how my students would stage the scene and why.

I did say that the rosemary was for Laertes.  However, I still argue that the rest of the bouquet was intended for Hamlet, despite the fact that he was not actually present.  Remember that Ophelia was in a state of madness, and that whomever the flowers were physically given to, the intended recipient could be no one other than Hamlet.  However, I can see your point that any number of actors might have acted as "stand ins" for her untrue lover. 

amethystrose's profile pic

Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Ophelia's flowers

Without Shakespeare's use of stage directions, it is up to the director to determine who Ophelia gives her flowers to.  Based on flower symbolism, what might be your thoughts?  The director of the Mel Gibson version (not sure if it was Mel or not) used chicken bones and a nail instead of flowers... the nail went to Claudius.  In the Olivier version, Ophelia puts pansies on Hamlet's empty chair.  If you were the director, who would you have Ophelia give the specific flowers to and why?

I must say that I disagree with the premise that the flowers can be given to anyone.  While stage directions are lacking, the named flowers in Ophelia's lines would do the direction themselves.   (Amy, I'm sure you meant Elizabethan and not Victorians! :)

The first, rosemary and pansies, are surely handed to her brother.  Rosemary was particularly used in both funeral and bridal wreaths.  One can't help but feel the sentiment exuded in such a selection:  a plea for remembrance for the bride of death.  These were given along with pansies, the symbol of thought and contemplation.   

The majority of Ophelia’s bouquet, however, certainly went to Hamlet. 

 “There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you, and here’s some for me…O, you must wear your rue with a difference...There’s a daisy.  I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.”

Fennel symbolized cuckoldry; columbines, falseness. The rue, I expect, also went to Hamlet.  Note the clever play on words, as “rue” is a flower as well as another name for sorrow. 

Daisies stood for unhappiness in love; violets, faithfulness.  The violets are an especially good barb for Hamlet given his lack of the quality, and when paired together, the unfaithfulness, Hamlet’s responsibility for Polonius’ death, there can be no other recipient. 

Rosemary for remembrance could have been given to her brother, Laertes.  As mentioned, Olivier's Ophelia had her place the pansies "for thoughts" on Hamlet's empty chair.  Hamlet is not present in Ophelia's mad scene, so she would not have given him any flowers directly.  Those present are Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius.  Columbines signify falseness, so they could have been handed to Claudius or to Gertrude, depending on your character interpretation.  Rue is for sadness, but also for unfaithfulness... possible to give these to Gertrude.  Opheila would wear her rue "with a difference" from Gertrude because Opehlia is sad, but Gertrude may be seen as unfaithful to her husband Hamlet's memory.  Then again, Claudius certainly fits that description as well.  Ophelia could be intending to give violets to her brother, Laertes, as a sign of faithfulness to her father's memory and to the family, "but they all withered when [her] father died".  

Depending on the director and his/her interpretation of the characters, there are many ways to stage the giving of the flowers.  I brought it up because I use this scene whenever I teach Hamet, and I use three film versions (Mel Gibson, Olivier, Derek Jacobi) which have different recipients for the flowers.  It's always interesting to hear how my students would stage the scene and why.

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Ophelia's flowers

Without Shakespeare's use of stage directions, it is up to the director to determine who Ophelia gives her flowers to.  Based on flower symbolism, what might be your thoughts?  The director of the Mel Gibson version (not sure if it was Mel or not) used chicken bones and a nail instead of flowers... the nail went to Claudius.  In the Olivier version, Ophelia puts pansies on Hamlet's empty chair.  If you were the director, who would you have Ophelia give the specific flowers to and why?

I must say that I disagree with the premise that the flowers can be given to anyone.  While stage directions are lacking, the named flowers in Ophelia's lines would do the direction themselves.   (Amy, I'm sure you meant Elizabethan and not Victorians! :)

The first, rosemary and pansies, are surely handed to her brother.  Rosemary was particularly used in both funeral and bridal wreaths.  One can't help but feel the sentiment exuded in such a selection:  a plea for remembrance for the bride of death.  These were given along with pansies, the symbol of thought and contemplation.   

The majority of Ophelia’s bouquet, however, certainly went to Hamlet. 

 “There’s fennel for you, and columbines; there’s rue for you, and here’s some for me…O, you must wear your rue with a difference...There’s a daisy.  I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.”

Fennel symbolized cuckoldry; columbines, falseness. The rue, I expect, also went to Hamlet.  Note the clever play on words, as “rue” is a flower as well as another name for sorrow. 

Daisies stood for unhappiness in love; violets, faithfulness.  The violets are an especially good barb for Hamlet given his lack of the quality, and when paired together, the unfaithfulness, Hamlet’s responsibility for Polonius’ death, there can be no other recipient. 

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Who could possibly top post 2? I'm glad you asked a question about staging. I have not been able to enjoy Hamlet ever since I tried to watch the awful Kenneth Branagh version--and I LOVE Kenneth Branagh. That version was just too bizarre.

I think I would use baby's breath--for the babies not to be--and I would have her throw them off the castle wall.

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

What a great question!  I have always been intrigued by the Victorians and their use of flower symbology to put together hidden messages in the bouquets they sent. 

How about this:

King Claudius--MONKSHOOD: Beware, a deadly foe is near,  danger.  This indicates both the danger permeating Claudius' personality but also the danger to him since Hamlet is Claudius' deadly foe.

Queen Gertrude--OLEANDER: Caution.  Ophelia obviously loves Gertrude and welcomes her affection.  As Gertrude is like a mother and likely may have been Ophelia's mother-in-law, Ophelia warns her about the danger she is in by the company she is keeping.

Hamlet--ROSE, WHITE: Innocence, purity, secrecy, I am worthy of you, silence, friendship, truth, virtue, girlhood, humility spiritual love, but of the soul, reverence, charm, happy love. Ophelia desperately wants Hamlet to realize that she is worthy of his attentions and love and that she would make a good match.

Laertes--QUEEN ANNE'S LACE: Haven.  Ophelia adores her brother and father to the point of physical pain when she follows the advice they give her.  Laertes is her haven, her protector--especially after her father's death.

The Meaning of Flowers http://marriage.about.com/od/flowers/a/flowermean.htm

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risue | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I am a student in High School and our assignment is to do a paper over our choice of subject in Hamlet. I chose Ophelia and I was wondering if anyone knows who the "flowers" were given to in the Mel Gibson version of the film?

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