Ophelia In The Water

Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais

There’s a certain painting of Ophelia, by  Sir John Everett Millais, that you’ve almost certainly seen.  It’s that gorgeous green one that shows Ophelia in the water (and not much else). I’ve seen it on all kinds of merchandise, in fact. It was seeing it on a t-shirt today that inspired this question.

Here’s a link to the biggest version I could find.

When I saw the smaller merch version I thought, “Wait, who is that near the right edge of the painting? Is somebody there?  That can’t be a fairy, that’s the wrong play!”  So I went in search of a higher resolution image. Turns out it’s just flowers.

But that made me think.  What flowers are they, exactly? When you see the picture in its colorful glory you see just how many flowers there are – the red, yellow and blue with Ophelia in the water, the white in the center, the purple that I thought was a lurking fairy.

Can somebody identify all of these flowers for us? Are they representations of the flowers that Ophelia hands out in Hamlet IV.v?

Ophelia. 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.
O, you must wear your rue with a difference! There’s a daisy. I
would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father
died. They say he made a good end.

I am assuming that they are, but then again, maybe not. After all, she’s already gone flower picking and already given them away – so has she gone back out to the river to pick more of the same?  Or something different? Or did the painter even get into that level of detail?

I’d love to appreciate this painting on a whole different level.  Somebody tell me that the different flowers are what I hope they are.



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