In Act 4, Scene 5, Ophelia gives flowers. What flowers does she give to specific characters? Is there a “method in [her] madness”?

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting scene because it shows that Ophelia's madness has its origin in her recent experiences at Elsinore.

Before she hands out the flowers, she is singing songs to herself. This is evidence of her madness, yet the lyrics of the songs reference a man who is "dead and gone" with a "stone at his heal"--lyrics that possibly refer to her relationship with Hamlet. One song in particular makes it clear that she feels that Hamlet used her and threw her away, which is logically how she might feel after the way he spoke to her in the "Get thee to a nunnery" scene.

As for the flowers, she has returned to the king and queen's rooms again and starts to hand out real (or imaginary) flowers to those there. It can be a bit open to interpretation as to who receives which flowers because Shakespeare doesn't write any specific stage directions, but here is one possible way the scene would play out:

1. "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." That is probably given to her brother Laertes so that he will remember her the way she used to be. She also gives him "pansies, that's for thoughts."

2. Next she turns to either the queen or the king. She says, "There's fennel for you, and columbines." Fennel is symbolic of flattery and columbines are representative of disloyalty and ingratitude. It seems logical that those are qualities that could relate to the queen and king for different reasons. She is easily flattered and disloyal to King Hamlet in her quick remarriage. He is disloyal to his brother.

3. Next she hands out "rue" to either the queen or the king, and for herself. Rue represents both sorrow and repentance. This could relate to any or all of them. Whoever receives the rue will "wear it with a difference" because their sorrow is very different from hers.

4. Next she hands out a daisy. Daisies are a symbol of infidelity, which most clearly associates with Gertrude.

5. Lastly she says that she would give out violets, which represent faithfulness, but that they all withered when her father died.

An Elizabethan audience would have quickly understood the significance of each of the flowers and how they all represent some aspect of her life and what she has witnessed at Elsinore in the past days and weeks.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mad Ophelia comes into this scene singing that her true love is dead, "larded" with "sweet flowers." Later, after Laertes bursts in on her while she is with Claudius and Gertrude, she gives out flowers: first, rosemary for remembering and pansies for thought, both of which she most likely hands to Laertes. He responds that this is a "document in madness."

Ophelia then gives fennel and columbines to Gertrude, and rue and daisies to Claudius. She says she would offer Claudius violets to represent faithfulness, but that they died with her father.

There is a method in her madness. She would want Laertes and the others to remember and think about what has happened, the murder of Polonius. Fennel is a symbol of flattery, and of foolishness, because it dies quickly once picked. Both fennel and columbines symbolize adultery, fitting "gifts" to Gertrude, who says early in the scene that she feels the weight of her sin in marrying Claudius. Ophelia suggests that Gertrude has been both foolish and adulterous to marry her late husband's brother. Rue represents regret and repentance, indicating that Ophelia knows Claudius has behaved in ways he should regret and wish to make amends for. Daisies represent sorrow in love.

In her madness, Ophelia tells truths through the flowers she hands out. The "sweet flowers" that "lard" her love are ominous. Through them, Ophelia suggests she holds the sins of Claudius and Gertrude responsible for her father's death.