Listen – I love a good euphemism as much as the next Shakespeare geek and I can totally see how Robin could be a nice bit of slang for penis. That makes nice work of Robin Goodfellow and Robin Starveling and (other Robins in Shakespeare) but in this case I am disinclined to believe that Ophelia is making a dick joke. This is not because I wouldn’t put it there in her “out the maid never departed more” scene – because that’s in there, for sure. But not now.
Not now because Laertes’ response to this line is to say that she’s turning madness and hell itself into prettiness. Laertes is impetuous but he’s not stupid, nor is he someone who would seem able to ignore an obvious dirty joke.
I suspect that Robin is a name like Dick. It can make you giggle in the right context but sometimes it’s just someone’s name in a song. Or a small cherished bird. Which is definitely not a euphemism. Ahem.
He didn’t, really. It was a rather ignominious end, not one most people would choose. He was slain while hiding behind a curtain in an act of domestic espionage. It’s not exactly a death of glory. But – this line makes me think that Ophelia’s been told otherwise. She’s probably had the blow softened a bit by someone. Someone probably told her that her father died bravely or that he was somehow treated to an honorable end. These are the lies we’ll tell to make it better.
It is, though, a good end for him in that it’s memorable and dramatic. Few people forget how Polonius dies. It is a dramatically good end, for sure.
Did they? Really?
I mean. It would add a whole new supernatural element to this play if this were true. As Hamlet stabs Polonius, all the little purple flowers withered and died as well? That’s horses eating each other territory.
And why violets? Why would all the flowers survive Polonius’ death and this one not?
Violets, I think, are associated with love – so love dies when Polonius dies? Hmmm. And again, I’m not sure thinking symbolically is at the top of a madwoman’s list of things to do.
If I were taxed with playing this role and justifying this line – I might make it personal. I might decide that violets were Polonius’ favorite flower and so they wither in solidarity with him because he loved them. Or perhaps they would be Ophelia’s favorite flower and their withering is her own despair.
The note on this line on Genius.com is that this line has baffled scholars. I find this hilarious. Because it’s only baffling if you’re attempting to make symbolic meaning out of all these flowers – if you’re trying to put a double sense of message behind each flower gift. That’s the only reason a daisy is baffling.
To most of us, the daisy is as clear as anything – if not clearer.
Times like these are when it helps to be a theatre maker…because it’s all very simple. Ophelia has collected some flowers and she is giving them away. One of those flowers is a daisy.
Maybe she likes daisies. Maybe she hates them. Maybe she associates them with love or dissembling or maybe they remind her of her mother. But fundamentally, it’s just another flower.
The character, in her state of mind, is not likely to be thinking symbolically – there’s no real reason for the audience to, either.
This line sometimes seems as though Ophelia is giving Claudius (or whomever the rue is for) fashion advice. As in, you must wear your rue a bit angled, a bit off the shoulder, a bit askew. Give that rue a little something extra! Think outside the box – wear your rue on your head instead of in your buttonhole. Pin rue to your knee instead of your chest. Wear it with a difference!
I’m interested in days of the week and how they evolve over time. I mean. Sunday has the word Sun in it. And most days are connected to planets and Greek/Roman Gods – but maybe Christians shifted the meaning from SUN day to SONday. Is that how Sunday came to be treated as a holy day?
I’d have to do a lot more research on this subject – but I’m thinking about it because it’s such an anomalous mention. We don’t get a lot of days of the week in Shakespeare. And certainly no other days from Ophelia…like…here’s suddenly a day of the week showing up and I want to know why she’s mentioning it when she could just say, “We may call it herb of grace.”
(FYI – there seems to be a bit of text difference regarding this herb. Some have it as “herb of grace” which is how I remember it. But there are quite a few “herb-grace” or “Herb Grace” that I’ve seen as well. It’s not clear to me where this distinction comes from. Is it a quarto/folio distinction or an instance of editors adding an “of”?)
Oh Ophelia, if only you’d given yourself something before. If only you’d considered yourself as you considered everyone else. While you were busy obeying all the men in your life, if you’d also heeded your own orders….perhaps you could have avoided this equitable flower distribution in madness.
Rue is one of those words we don’t use nearly enough anymore. There’s the flower, I suppose, but because I don’t hang out with gardeners or florists I don’t hear that a lot. And there’s “rue the day” but I almost never hear rue used without “the day.” I’m not sure how I’d even use it in modern life.
“After the meal, I began to rue my decision to have fries with that.”?
I mean…I’d just use regret. But.
There’s a world of missing overlap if we don’t use rue so much. Let’s try to bring it back.
I’m sure she means the flower of fennel, but I can’t help picturing fennel, the vegetable, since I’m much more familiar with that.
It would be funny if she’s here handing out a whole bunch of flowers but then randomly throws in a big bulbous fennel. Then returns to some sweet delicate columbines.
A blank piece of paper.
An empty theatre.
A deserted stretch of beach, ocean climbing up the shore.
A train journey.
A moment alone.
A rock, to sit on.