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The Language of Flowers

Shakespeare for Kids

In Elizabethan times, garlands made of flowers were worn on special occasions such as weddings or celebrations, and Queen Elizabeth I was given bouquets of flowers from her admiring subjects. Just as red roses symbolize love, four-leaf clovers mean good luck, and mistletoe suggests holiday romance today, flowers also had meanings in the sixteenth century.


In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Ophelia mentions several kinds of flowers and herbs and their meanings:

  • Pansies represent "thoughts." The English name "pansy" comes from the French word, "pensées," meanings "thoughts."
  • Rosemary is for "remembrance."
  • Rue, a bitter-tasting herb, may symbolize disdain; Ophelia pretends to give rue to herself and her imaginary guests. Rue was also thought to protect against spells and was used to sprinkle holy water during church services. For this reason, it is also called "herb-of-grace."  

Shakespeare's plays and poetry are filled with references to flowers. In The Winter's Tale, the princess Perdita wishes that she had violets, daffodils, and primroses to make garlands for her friends. The fairy queen Titania, who has fallen in love with Bottom, gives him a wreath of flowers to wear in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In fact, Shakespeare uses the word "flower" over 100 times! 


M. Munk. Shakespeare-kalendar. Vienna, 1914.

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