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|GR: Ophelia, flowers and weeds
Written by Barbara
(5/18/2003 11:55 a.m.)
Laraine and I saw the painting linked below at the Tate Gallery in London last summer, and I bought a print of it which I have hanging in my classroom (my students think it's "freaky")
The painting is obviously based on Gertrude's report of Ophelia's death in Act IV, Scene 7
Millais quite carefully detailed all the flowers mentioned by name in this speech in his painting.
I also think it's interesting that these flowers can all be seen as pretty wild flowers, or they can be considered invasive weeds. I was surprised to see long purples growing wild all over the place by train tracks, etc. in England last summer.
I looked around a bit to see what was the 'grosser name' for the long purples and found several. There are a few nicknames for it that are indeed grosser and which probably shouldn't be mentioned here. It is also nicknamed the 'rampant widow'. It can be a kind of orchid (I think?) which in art is associated both with sexuality and death. (Google Flowers in Art; orchids for something interesting on this)
There is other flower imagery associated with Ophelia and her situation.
In Act I, scene 3, Laertes warns Ophelia that Hamlet's favour (towards her) is:
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Interestingly, in Act V, scene 1, Laertes speaks of the same flower as Ophelia is laid in her grave:
Lay her i' the earth:
Do the violets have another suggested meaning, or is Laertes meaning to suggest of Ophelia that she did not have the chance to live a long time, that she was "sweet, not lasting"? Shakespeare uses violets in this manner elsewhere, such as in Sonnet 12:
...something that is beautiful but ephemeral, that reaches its peak of beauty and perfection early and then must relinquish it or let it give way? Perhaps the imagery is meant to suggest that although it is tragic that someone so young and beautiful as Ophelia has come to an untimely end, in the end all that is young and beautiful is headed in that direction anyhow? And that perhaps that even at such a young age, her life had already attained the peak of its existence?
Okay--now I'm babbling so I had better stop and ask for others to share there thoughts if they can make anything out from what I said!!
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