Index of passages about

Weeds and Flowers

"Ophelia" by Odilon Redon

Mariah Gale as Ophelia

In his first soliloquy, Hamlet says of the world, "'tis an unweeded garden, / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely" (1.2.134-136). A little later in the speech, it becomes clear that Hamlet's disgust at the world arises from his disgust at the fact that his mother is now sleeping with his uncle. [Scene Summary]
"A violet in the youth of primy nature" (1.3.7). This, says Laertes, is how Ophelia should think of Hamlet's feelings for her. Laertes is willing to concede that Hamlet may be sincere, but his "favor" is like the violet--quick to bloom, quick to die. [Scene Summary]
"The canker galls the infants of the spring / Too oft before their buttons be disclosed" (1.3.39-40), says Laertes to his Ophelia, as he is warning her away from her relationship with Hamlet. The "canker" is a worm, and to "gall" is to break the skin. "Infants of the spring" is metaphorical for early spring flowers, and their "buttons" are their unopened buds. Put it all together, and what Laertes is saying something like this: Ophelia could be ruined by the worm of temptation, which would hollow out her heart before it broke the surface. This image of a disease working its way from inside to outside will be repeated when the Ghost describes how Claudius' poison worked on his brother's living body. [Scene Summary]
"I find thee apt; / And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed / That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, / Wouldst thou not stir in this. (1.5.31-34). The Ghost tells Hamlet that if he does not take revenge on Claudius, Hamlet will be "duller" (more stupid, more lacking in feeling) than the disgusting weed that grows on the banks of the river of forgetfulness. [Scene Summary]
"'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, / A serpent stung me" (1.5.35-36) says the Ghost to Hamlet. An orchard would have fruit trees in it, but the word "orchard" also means "garden." Thus we have a scene that echoes events in the garden of Eden: As the serpent seduced Eve and brought death to Adam, so Claudius seduces Gertrude and brings death to King Hamlet. [Scene Summary]
"O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven" (3.3.36), says the King as he begins his effort to pray. Here the word "rank" means "having a strong and offensive odor," and it strongly implies that the King is morally diseased. This implication is supported by the play's other uses of the word "rank." The word also means "growing excessively"; for example, weeds would be "rank" if they choked out a farmer's wheat. In the play's first use of the word, it has both meanings. Hamlet, in a state of deep depression, describes the world as "an unweeded garden, / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely" (1.2.134-136) The second use of "rank" occurs in the performance of The Murder of Gonzago, when Lucianus, the poisoner, talks to his poison as "Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected" (3.2.257). Later in the play, during Hamlet's confrontation with his mother in her closet, "rank" is used in all of its meanings. Hamlet, in the fury of his rage against his mother, tells her that she is living "In the rank sweat of an enseamed [greasy] bed, / Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty" (3.4.92-94). Later in the same scene, Hamlet tells her mother that if she doesn't come clean, her guilt will be "rank corruption, mining all within" (3.4.148), and so he advises her, "do not spread the compost on the weeds, / To make them ranker (3.4.151-152). Thus the word "rank" carries much weight throughout the play, and we can understand the strength of the King's fear that he is offending the nostrils of heaven. [Scene Summary]
What she has done "takes off the rose / From the fair forehead of an innocent love / And sets a blister there" (3.4.42-44), Hamlet tells his mother, in the closet scene. [Scene Summary]
"Larded with sweet flowers" (4.5.38), sings mad Ophelia of the dead body of a "true love." Shortly thereafter Ophelia leaves the stage, only to come back a little later, when her brother is there. He calls her "rose of May" (4.5.158), and she gives away flowers. Just who she gives them to, and just what they mean has been the subject of many long footnotes. [Scene Summary]
"There is a willow grows aslant a brook" (4.7.166), says the Queen, as she begins her description of how Ophelia gathered weeds and flowers to make garlands, then drowned when a branch of the willow broke and dropped her into the brook. [Scene Summary]
"Yet here she is allow'd her virgin crants, / Her maiden strewments and the bringing home / Of bell and burial" (5.1.232-234), the priest complains of Ophelia's funeral. "Her virgin crants" is a wreath of flowers, and "strewments" are flowers to be scattered over her grave. If the priest had had his way, rocks would have been thrown on Ophelia's grave, because he thinks she committed suicide. But Laertes tells the "churlish priest" that she will have flowers even after her death. He says, "Lay her i' the earth: / And from her fair and unpolluted flesh / May violets spring!" (5.1.238-240). Moment later, the Queen, saying "Sweets to the sweet" (5.1.243), scatters flowers on Ophelia's grave. [Scene Summary]
Hamlet tells Horatio that when he wrote out the command for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he put in it many "as's," which would convince the King of England that it was important to carry out the execution at once. Among those "as's" were "As England was his faithful tributary, / As love between them like the palm might flourish, / As peace should still her wheaten garland wear" (5.2.39-41). Hamlet seems rather proud of his misuse of the traditional vegetative symbols of peace and plenty. [Scene Summary]