The Language of the Flowers was a language that was created as a means of communication between wealthy, educated women of Elizabethan times. There is not a specific date or name of the person that created it. It was/still is a very elegant and discreet means of communication between lovers and lady friends. If one of these bouquets or “messages” fell into the wrong hands it would often be overlooked as a women’s pastimes and was considered to be folly. As our own Modern Technology and our language evolves, the original meanings of the flowers is either lost or it is changed in some way. As these meanings change, so do Ophelia’s words to Laertes and Queen Gertrude’s description or explanation of Ophelia’s death. These changes have a great impact upon the translation or the meaning of the plot of this play.
“There’s rosemary (1), that’s remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies (2), that’s for thoughts…There’s fennel (3) for you, and culumbines (4); there’s rue (5) for you and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays (5). O, you must wear your rue (5) with difference. There’s a daisy (6). I would give you some violets (7), but they wither’d all when my father died” (Act 4, Scene 5, lines 180-181, 183-187).
(1)Rosemary means remembrance. (2) Pansies mean thoughts. (3) Fennel has two meanings, (a) worthy of all praise, and (b) strength. (4) Culumbines means folly. (5) Rue is also known as herb of grace o’ Sundays, but only has one meaning, distain. (6) Daisy has two different meanings, (a) innocence or (b) false promises of love. (7) Violet has several different meanings depending upon the type and its color, (a) blue meaning faithfulness, (b) dame meaning watchfulness (c) Sweet meaning Modesty and (d) yellow meaning rural happiness.
In modern terms, I believe that Ophelia was saying “My thoughts are remembering my strength and I was worthy of all praise, the follies that I had committed and I distain them. I was given a false promise of love and I was innocent of it. My faithfulness to Hamlet died when his watchfulness revealed I that I wasn’t modest and that when my father died, so did my rural happiness.” Ophelia was strong in the sense of “obeying” her father and she received praise for it. Although she probably did have some follies that she committed behind her father’s back. Hamlet probably did love Ophelia but he declared it to be a false love when he told her “get thee to a nunnery”. When her father died, her happiness as well as her way of life did die thus the phrase “rural happiness” or the simple pleasures.
“There is a willow (A) grows aslant a brook, that’s shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. There with fantastic garlands did she come Of Crow-flowers (B), nettles (C), daisies (D), and long purples (E) That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them;…” (Act IV, Scene VII, lines 180-185).
Willows (A) have several...