Something I’d never noticed before.

“I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died…”   – one of Ophelia’s last lines

But then:

Lay her i’ the earth:
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! – Laertes over the grave of Ophelia

That’s actually the only two references to violets in the play (although that’s not terribly surprising, there’s not many references to any flowers). I’m sure that violets have some special significance, I’m just putting it into my “pretend these are real people” way of thinking.  You were there to hear your sister’s last words, so at her funeral so turn them into something more positive and hopeful?  I’m not sure I’d call it a “pun”, as the excerpt below does:

The violet’s scent, said Hamlet, was "Sweet, not lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute, no more" and reinforced the flower’s traditional association with an early death. This tradition arose because the violet blooms early in spring and fades before summer and autumn arrive. This symbolism also explains why Laertes alludes to the violet and puns on "spring" in his speech over Ophelia’s grave…

5 thoughts on “Violets?

  1. There are three references to violets in Hamlet. There are the two you mention, but also the quote in that excerpt, misattributed to Hamlet. Early in the play it's Laertes, not Hamlet, who mentions violets in his parting advice to Ophelia:

    [I, iii]
    "For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favour,
    Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood;
    A violet in the youth of primy nature,
    Forward, not permanent- sweet, not lasting;
    The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
    No more."

    I think that Laertes's initiation of the metaphor lends more weight to her own reference in the fourth act.

  2. I have found many "farmer Will" type references in many of his plays. Another type of Violet is mentioned in Mid Summers Night Dream called "Love In Idleness". Also known as Heartsease this is a wild violet probably seen as Shakespeare rode home to Stratford in the fields.

  3. The most startling lines about a violet are said in the play that lacks all ‘flowery tenderness’, indeed mentions no other flowers at all. In Measure for Measure, Angelo, the play’s severely screwed-up antagonist, greets his sexual awakening with horror rather than wonder:

    “What’s this, what’s this? Is this her fault or mine?
    The tempter or the tempted – who sins most?
    Not she, nor doth she tempt; but it is I
    That lying by the violet in the sun,
    Do as the carrion does, not as the flower,
    Corrupt with virtuous season.

    The juxtaposition of the rotting corpse with the pure violet under the same sun is shocking. The play brings out the etymological link between ‘violet’, ‘violator’ and ‘violation’ rather than anything prettier.

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