Hamlet Garden Motif

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Garden Motif in Hamlet

The garden motif in Hamlet contributes to characterization and theme. The character Ophelia finds characterization within the motif, and the theme of corruption is depicted through the garden motif.
Flowers and weeds, the most common representations of the garden motif, are intimately intertwined with Ophelia’s characterization. Initially, the flowers speak to Ophelia’s innocence and purity. In Act I, scene iii, Laertes seeks to give her advice upon his departure for France. “The canker galls the infants of the spring, / Too oft before their buttons be disclosed, / And, in the morn and liquid dew of youth, / Contagious blastments are most imminent” (lines 42-45). In this conversation, he is comparing Ophelia to a budding
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Both roses and the month of May have historical connections to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so may be references to Ophelia’s innocence and virginity in the eyes of her brother (Thurston).
However, Ophelia’s connection to the flower motif morphs throughout Hamlet. In the conclusion of Act IV, Gertrude enters and recounts Ophelia’s death. Gertrude’s tale is laced with references to various flowers and weeds, which exemplify the garden motif. Gertrude reveals that Ophelia drowned while climbing in a willow tree above a brook, where she subsequently fell. Gertrude observed Ophelia crafting garlands “of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples” (scene vii, line 187). The tree Ophelia scaled and the flowers she plucked have symbolic meanings that characterize Ophelia. Willow trees’ drooping branches symbolize depression and mourning, which is befitting of Ophelia’s character as she fails to cope with the murder of her father and Hamlet’s rejection of her. Each of the flowers also has a meaning attached. Crow flowers, more commonly known as buttercups, are representative of maidenhood and poisonous beauty. These continue the characterization of
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Hamlet first discusses the state of Denmark in relation to gardens in Act I, scene ii after speaking to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude: “‘Tis an unweeded garden / That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely. (lines 137-139). Hamlet speaks of how Denmark is an unkempt garden full of weeds that will only produce from its seeds “things rank and gross in nature.” Based on the conversation immediately prior, Hamlet believes this corruption to derive from the incestuous marriage of his mother and uncle, and the fratricide committed by his uncle upon his father. This idea of the corruption due to incest as is exemplified through the garden motif is reiterated in scene iv of Act III, when Hamlet speaks to his mother of her relationship with Claudius. “Confess yourself to heaven, / Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come, / And do not spread the compost on the weeds / to make them ranker” (lines 168-171). By this, Hamlet is asking his mother to confess to her sins, or her weeds, instead of covering them in compost and making them worse. Hamlet thus compares his mother’s incest to an unweeded garden, and believes this to be a major source of corruption within
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