Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, means to remember and faithfulness
Laertes, the son of Polonius, has been out of the country and returns home to learn the person responsible for the death of his father, The Councilor to King Claudius. While speaking with the new King and Queen, his sister, Ophelia, enters and speaks. First she goes to Laertes, her bother, and says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember.” She wants her brother to help her figure out who killed their father. “Remember Think back on what’s been going on” is what she is telling him.
Pansy, Viola tricolor, is the symbol for thoughts and faithfulness.
Ophelia then says, “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Pansies referred to here are the Viola tricolor (Johnny jump-ups) not the large hybrids we know today.
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, is the symbol of flattery
At this point, Ophelia walks to the King, and while handing him some fennel, says, “There’s fennel for you and columbines.” That’s a jab to the King! The audience in Shakespeare’s time would have understood that to mean flattery and male adultery and foolishness, because once you pick fennel, it would wilt so quickly. She knew that the new King loved flattery. An old saying is “Sow fennel, sow sorrow.”
Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris, is the symbol for male adultery and ingratitude and faithlessness, and Emblem of Deceived lovers
It was also the symbol for foolishness. It was kind of an amusing type of thing for men, which was the old double standard in those days. It was brave of her to first flatter the King and then accuse him of foolish adultery. A very frightening thing, when we remember that the King has the power to take her life.
Rue, Ruta graveolens, means adultery and genuine repentance of all transgressions for women and everlasting suffering
Rue is very bitter. Ophelia then walks over to the Queen and says, “There’s rue for you; and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace a Sunday’s. O, you must wear your rue with a difference.” Note that rue was the major cause of abortion in its day, which is also shy it was tied in with adultery. So she insults both the Queen and King to their faces, in front of witnesses.
English Daisy, Bellis perenis, means Innocence
Ophelia then sees a daisy and says, “There’s a daisy,” and she picks it up, looks sadly, and then puts it back. In effect she is saying, “There is no innocence here.”
Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, is the symbol for faithfulness or fidelity
Then Ophelia says, “I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.” So what is she telling the King and Queen? About their faithfulness and integrity?
[…] Ophelia knew exactly what she was doing when she handed out flowers in this scene.