Remembrances of Yours

By Kelcie Brown

Sep 9 2022

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, 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 of grace o’ Sundays. 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.

— HAMLET, Act IV, Scene V —

In her final appearance in Hamlet, Ophelia presents six flowers to the court. To whom she gives each flower and why depends on your interpretation. The first flower she delivers is rosemary, “for remembrance.” In Shakespeare’s time, the plant was often used at weddings and funerals. It is generally agreed she gives these to her brother, Laertes. The second flower, also sometimes given to Laertes, or in some interpretations an imagined Hamlet, is pansies. This has a straightforward meaning, as the name comes from the French “pensées”, which means “thoughts.” While we are used to the large, round-faced, cultivated pansies of today, Shakespeare would more likely have been picturing Viola tricolor.

Fennel and columbines, often interpreted as being given to King Claudius or Queen Gertrude, mark the start of Ophelia’s more sharp-edged flowers. Fennel has been a symbol of flattery, marital infidelity, and deceit. Likewise, columbines are associated with cuckoldry, apparently because of the flower’s horned nectaria. Claudius killed his brother, King Hamlet, in order to marry Queen Gertrude and usurp the throne. As such, these are fitting flowers for him.

The fifth flower, rue, is often interpreted as being given to Queen Gertrude, and Ophelia gives some to herself as well. What’s interesting is her instruction to the recipient to “wear your rue with a difference.” Here she is referring to how a coat of arms would be distinguished among different branches of the same family (Kerr, 1969). It is unclear whether she hands the rue to Gertrude or Claudius, but the insult is clear: I wear my rue because I’ve been misfortunate, you wear yours because of remorse for your actions (Allyn & Bacon, 1922).

Lastly, Ophelia delivers a daisy. This is also interpreted as being given to either Gertrude or Claudius. It often means concealing one’s true thoughts, or, in other interpretations, deceit, faithlessness, infidelity, and even, sometimes, love.

A seventh flower is mentioned, about which Ophelia remarks “I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” Violets were often a symbol of faithfulness. Occasionally, if there is a footnote suggesting a recipient, it may be interpreted that Ophelia spoke this line to Horatio, Hamlet’s faithful friend. Later, continuing the symbol, Laertes wishes for violets to sprout from Ophelia’s grave.

Continue the story and learn about the flowers Ophelia gathered for herself after leaving the court.

More about: Seed plants

Works cited:

Kerr, J. (1969). Shakespeare's Flowers. Thomas Y. Crowell Company.
Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. [Various editions, including Choi 2012, Hubler 1987, Magnum 1968, Wright and LaMar 1966, Allyn and Bacon 1922, Hudson, Gollancz, and Herford 1909, Rolfe 1906, and Rolfe 1878]
Willes, M. (2015). A Shakespearean Botanical. Bodleian Library.