Here’s the thing – we can’t completely ignore the hoar/whore leaves in the line before, alongside these long purples. I mean, why on earth is Gertrude bringing up a flower that looks like a cock? I mean, sure, maybe there were some long purples AKA Dead Men’s Fingers AKA some word for cock used by shepherds in these fantastic garlands. But Gertrude doesn’t need to reference them and if she does need to mention them, she doesn’t need to reference their more “liberal” name. It’s like she’s asking us to picture purple dicks and then asking us to imagine dead men with fingers like purple dicks. It’s WEIRD. Gertrude doesn’t make any other sexual allusions the whole play and here in her recounting of Ophelia’s death, she’s gone with two, in the first two lines of the speech. It is really mysterious.
Every Gertrude I’ve ever seen (including myself) just rides through these references, just puts her shoulder to the wheel of her most dignified Queen face and leans on the rest of the poetry.
But I’m long past an era of wanting to do things correctly and appropriately. Now, I’d like to lean into this weirdness, to make it as odd and out of joint as it seems, to not smooth over the strange choice to make a dick joke in the middle of a poetic death speech.
Or what if Gertrude came in all muddy and covered in flowers herself? What if she witnessed this and tried to save Ophelia and she has one of these garlands in her hand and just looking sat those long purples makes her laugh? I’d be interested in a production that made that choice – to watch her almost lose it – and then pull it together for the rest of the play.