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April 14, 2007

Watch Out for Killer Plants!

Kennedy, "Shakespare's King Lear" -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

"All the plants Cordelia lists are noxious, bitter tasting, or contain skin irritants (Dyer 215; Butler 403-5). The interesting textual note here, with concern to the Green Man, is the parasitic nature of the weeds" (61).

One thing I have noticed about Shakespeare's critics is that there is a certain interest in the vegetation so often mentioned in his different works. I remember reading one essay (probably not a peer reviewed one as I found it through good old Google) my senior year about Hamlet that was arguing that Ophelia is actually pregnant and one of the pieces of evidence had to do with the flowers that she gives to the other characters when she's really lost it and how one was used as a method of abortion in Shakespeare's time. I have read other essays that refer to the various plants mentioned and I find it intriguing that anyone even thinks to look that stuff up because I would have never thought about it. It also seems interesting that they are often mentioned in reference to people who seem to be really losing it mentally and that the plants seem to have a destructive nature to the human body (perhaps also signifying the destruction/deterioration of the mind?).

Posted by LorinSchumacher at April 14, 2007 12:47 AM


Lorin I never noticed that before, but that's really interesting. I wouldn't think to look those things up either, but I guess it kind of goes back to putting yourself in the time period of a work and when it was written to find out more through analyzing. That's definately a good idea though and now that you said that I'm going to pay more attention to vegetation in Skakespeare (especially since we'll have LOTS of Shakespeare to look at next semester)!

Posted by: Chera Pupi at April 15, 2007 10:09 AM

I know I've heard about Shakespeare using plants to represent meanings, and big time with Ophelia, so I took a look around. This website http://www.huntingtonbotanical.org/Shakespeare/ophelia.htm
seems to describe everything roughly how I remember it. Oh, and it's key to note that the audience of that time period would have known exactly what she was saying, while we merely see her as a crazy girl. It makes you think about how much gets lost in translation from old to now, even though it's the same language.

Posted by: HallieGeary at April 15, 2007 9:00 PM

Thanks for your comments! And Hallie that link is great! You are right about it tying into the value of the culture and time in history during which the play was written and performed. Actually, since it was a play performed it is perhaps even more important simply because the audience's understanding of a lot of the jokes and references in Shakespeare's plays was somewhat crucial to the effectiveness of the play. If Shakespeare was referencing things that no one had any idea what they were for or why he was referencing them people might not have been very interested in attending his plays anymore.

Posted by: Lorin at April 16, 2007 8:06 AM

I'm always glad to help, and I'm really glad you blogged on this topic. It's been so long since I read Hamlet that I had completely forgotten about Ophelia's flowers. I didn't make the connection again until you mentioned it. Sometimes it's nice to see how powerful the small, little insignificant parts of Shakespeare's plays are. It keeps you on your toes, so to say.

Posted by: HallieGeary at April 16, 2007 9:42 AM

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