April is coming to an end, which means Month of Shakespeare is as well. For the last part of this series, the plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works will be highlighted.
Personally, I had not realized the extent of plants mentioned in the Bard of Avon’s writings. Of course, many pieces of literature often do mention a flower or some type of plant to make a metaphor in the story. However, the amount of plants and their meanings in his works are really spectacular. People have been inspired to create gardens based off of the plants named in his works. Probably one of the most famous examples is in Central Park. This garden was created in 1916 and even says it probably has a descendant from a tree that was planted by Shakespeare himself.
It’s easy to just look and think of these plants being mentioned as “pretty”, but actually their being mentioned in a certain work is very symbolic. During this time the language of flowers was very important. If you were given a specific flower, that had a certain meaning. For instance, if someone gave you a hydrangea, that would symbolize perseverance. Colors also played a major part in the meanings. A pink carnation meant “gratitude” while a yellow carnation meant “cheerful”.
Here are some plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works and their hidden meanings.
Chamomile King Henry the Fourth, Part One (Act 2, Scene 4)
“For though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.”
This herb symbolizes patience, which perhaps in this work shows that one should have that.
Lavender, Mint, Savory, and Marjoram The Winter’s Tale (Act 4, Scene 4)
Pomegranate Romeo and Juliet (Act 3, Scene 5)
Often this fruit is symbolized as “life”. As Romeo and Juliet goes, they end up giving up their lives for each other.
Strawberry Othello (Act 3, Scene 3)
Strawberries symbolize love. The symbolism of the strawberries on the handkerchief has many different meanings in Othello, but they all revolve around the theme of love in some way.
Fennel Hamlet (Act 4, Scene 5)
“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.”
Fennel meant strength. The fennel (and other flowers given by Ophelia) in Hamlet had major hidden meanings. Ophelia handed flowers to certain people, and the flower they received tells a lot.
Lily Sonnet XCIV
“For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.”
The meaning of the lily received means something different depending on the type. Often a white lily symbolizes sympathy, so as this sonnet seems to mention death and dying, it could be another hidden meaning of that in the sonnet.