Shakespeare’s Ophelia – Flowers Of A Rebellious Madwoman

by Sherry Riter in Art  

A great play that is packed with revenge, treachery, tragedy, rage, incest, grief and all-in-all moral corruption is only as far as your book store. You can probably even find it wrapped between a very nice hardbound cover. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare is a very dramatic play. In the dramatization, Prince Hamlet seeks revenge against his uncle Claudius because he:

  • Murdered King Hamlet (his brother and Prince Hamlet’s father)
  • Succeeded to the throne in the Kingdom of Denmark
  • Took the widowed King’s wife (Gertrude) as his own wife (Ewwwww!)

Seems like a good reason to be a bit resentful, ya think?!

Why Is Ophelia A Rebellious Madwoman?

Hamlet courts a woman named Ophelia and in a moment of mistaken identity, Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father. It wouldn’t have been a very good in-law relationship judging by what Hamlet said upon finding that he had killed the wrong man – “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool.”

Anyway, after Hamlet goes mad, his former love interest, Ophelia goes a bit mad over the death of her father. During one scene, Ophelia dances and sings songs that are hard to understand although they are full of meaning. There is a lovely break when she begins to speak about flowers.

As a dutiful daughter in that era, Ophelia could not speak openly about many subjects. With the use of flowers and their meanings, she was able to get her point across quite poetically. Ophelia is seen as a powerful woman who rebels against her family and the social order.

Others feel that Ophelia’s flowers are suggestive and rich with sexual double meanings. One meaning is of an innocent blossom and the other as a woman deflowering herself as she passes out herbs and flowers. Did you think that there was such provocative writings in the 1800’s?

In Ophelia’s Words

The original Elizabethan audience of Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, were much more educated in the meanings of flowers than we are today. So let me tell you what Ophelia said about flowers and the proposed hidden meaning behind them.

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray,

love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts.

There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue

for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it

herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with

a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you

some violets, but they withered all when my father

died: they say he made a good end,–“

The Meanings Of Ophelia’s Flowers

We know why Ophelia is mad, what she said and now let’s break down the meanings of her flowers:

    Rosemary is for remembrance especially of the dead at funerals and between lovers. – Ophelia is referring to the loss of her father.

    Pansies represent thought in the sense of being thoughtful, contemplative, togetherness and union. – Ophelia is once again thinking of the death of her father and is reiterating the pain and sorrow while keeping thoughts of him alive.

    Fennel is for marital infidelity or used to cast out evil spirits. – Ophelia used the symbolic nature of fennel to say that she thought Claudius was evil because she held him responsible for the death of her father and Hamlet’s madness.
    Columbines represent insincere flattery or being anxious. – The columbines were offered to Ophelia’s brother who was anxious about his father’s death and wanted to avenge it.
    Rue is to show repentance, regret or sorrow. – Once again, Ophelia is sad for her father’s passing and wants vengeance, but the herb is also very poisonous with abortive properties.
    A Daisy is for an unhappy or forsaken love and innocence. – Ophelia wanted to profess that her father and brother were both innocent.
    Violets represent faithfulness, innocence, faithfulness, humility and chastity. – Ophelia made it know quite publicly that she was no longer innocent because Prince Hamlet had taken her virginity.


A family is a place where minds
come in contact with one another.
If these minds love one another
the home will be as beautiful
as a flower garden.
But if these minds get out of harmony
with one another it is like
a storm that plays havoc with the garden.
~ Buddha ~


What Did We Learn Today Through Flowers?

Obviously, the families in Hamlet were some messed up kind of families, but we have the same kind of people and families today! I’m not sure if that should make us feel good or not, but it is apparent that people are people no matter when or where they were born.

I guess the meaning of this whole post is that if women want to rebel while being among men, we don’t have to yell or cuss. All we have to do is dance like we are crazy and show our protestations by speaking in flowers!

So how am I feeling today? Hmmm…I think I will just enjoy the pansies. 😉

The Redhead Riter

This post was written by...

Sherry Riter is also known as The Redhead Riter. Sherry is witty, intelligent and addictive as she writes about cooking, family, marriage, failures, blogging tips, art, humor, inspiration, travel, PTSD and aging. Her goal is to inspire, motivate, educate and to make her audience laugh. Sherry embraces being a redhead and helps others to see the redhead point of view…"In some eras redheads were worshipped while others thought us witches. Personally, I like the former and think every day is 'Love a redhead day!'" She can also be found on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Linkedin, tweeting as @TheRedheadRiter and you can subscribe to her free blog feed.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Skip_D April 17, 2012 at 1:32 am

I love this post! The references to Hamlet, the herbal lore, the wonderful photos… all of it… especially your interpretations of Ophelia’s words… & yes, above all, the pansies! 🙂


2 The Redhead Riter April 17, 2012 at 1:35 am

😉 Thanks Skip for being a faithful commenter.


3 andy April 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

This time is the other way around. I like what you say about flowers a tad more than the flowers themselves. I like flowers very much and I think whoever says that they don’t either is lying unintentionally, or is mad at onself…

I misread a word here “So how am I feeling today? Hmmm…I think I will just enjoy the pansies.” and started laughing. :)))

You are a funny, funny friend and I want to thank you from the heart for the laughter…



4 The Redhead Riter April 17, 2012 at 10:25 am

LOL Oh my goodness Andy! I know which word you misread! LOL Now I’m laughing out loud!


5 Lesley Peterson April 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm

LOVE this post and the photographs! There is a marvelous painting of Ophelia in the Tate Britain, mentioned in this great blog:


6 The Redhead Riter April 17, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Thanks Lesley!


7 Judy H. April 18, 2012 at 1:53 am

I think I’ll just enjoy the pansies with you. Today I don’t want to think or talk or do anything that requires me to act in any way. I’ve always loved pansies, they look to me like little upturned faces in the garden.


8 The Redhead Riter April 18, 2012 at 1:54 am

Judy! I think they look like little faces too! I think that is why I love them so much because they remind me of children.


9 Jacqueline Diaz May 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm

hi i was wondering how i would cite this website for a research paper i’m doing on Ophelia?


10 Sherry Riter May 5, 2013 at 9:36 am

Go to this website: and look for “C. Sample Citation and Introduction to Citing Blogs” 😀


11 sally w. May 30, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Hi, I sent an email last week asking if I could paint one of your pansy photos. Just wondering if that is O.K.
The pictures are so beautiful and I would just love to do one in acrylics.


12 Sherry Riter May 31, 2014 at 11:45 am

Sure! I sent you an email back and if you didn’t receive it, let me know! 🙂


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