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Shakespeare Quotes: Flower Quotes with Shakespeare Translations

Updated on March 15, 2015
Jule Romans profile image

Jule Romans has been writing articles and academic papers since the early 1990s. She teaches English at a small rural high school.

There are vast number of flower quotes by Shakespeare throughout all his works. This article explains just a few of the most popular flower quotes by Shakespeare.

Some flower quotes are passionate declarations of love. Some are more philosophical. Many are short and memorable enough to be common sayings we use even today. Some of the other flower quotes are more complex and specific to a particular play or time period.

In many cases, the flowers in the quotes had special symbolism or meaning in Shakespeare’s time. A few of the more famous flower quotes by Shakespeare come from Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer night’s Dream, Macbeth, and Hamlet.

If you’ve been reading one of these plays, perhaps the quotes and explanations will help you understand them better. Each of the flower quotes on this page has additional interesting facts about the play or time period from which it came.

Once the Shakespearean language is translated, it is easier to understand the deeper meaning of the quotation. Though you might not use any of these flower quotes by Shakespeare to send bouquet, you are sure to sound intelligent and literate anywhere you DO decide to use them—whether it’s on paper or in conversation.

The Most Misunderstood Flower Quote by Shakespeare

Scene from "Romeo and Juliet"
Scene from "Romeo and Juliet" | Source

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

  • Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene ii Lines 45-47

Shakespeare Translation:

“Names are not important. We can change the name of a flower, but it will never change how good that flower smells.”

Shakespeare Translation Meaning:

This quote is spoken by Juliet just after she has met Romeo. Juliet is unhappy because she has just learned that Romeo is a member of the family that is her enemy.

She thinks she is alone on her balcony, but Romeo is actually secretly standing below and listening.

In this quote, she is saying that a name does not really change what a thing is. For example, a rose still gives off the same scent no matter what we call it. If we decide to call a rose a daisy, it will not change the way it smells of looks.

Likewise, Romeo’s last name does not change the fact that he is a wonderful person—even if his name is connected with something bad.

Shakespeare Translation Interesting Fact:

This quote is preceded by a very often misunderstood quote. Just before this, Juliet says “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Most people think this means she is asking “Where are you, Romeo?” This is incorrect.

Juliet is actually saying “Why do you have to be Romeo?” The word “wherefore” means “why.” Juliet is asking why it has to be that Romeo is a Montague. This becomes more obvious when we examine the quote above.

A Highly Unflattering Flower Quote by Shakespeare

Queen Elizabeth I (Not the subject of this poem, but not the most attractive woman, either)
Queen Elizabeth I (Not the subject of this poem, but not the most attractive woman, either) | Source

“I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks…”

  • Sonnet 130

Shakespeare Translation:

“I have seen pretty red and white roses, but my girlfriend’s cheeks are not pretty like that.”

Shakespeare Translation Meaning:

This quote comes from Sonnet 130, which begins “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun.” It’s a funny one, because the entire sonnet actually describes how unattractive this man’s lover is.

Most love sonnets put a lot of emphasis on praising the woman, but this one almost insults her.

In the quote above, Shakespeare is saying that most poems describe the lady as having beautiful white skin and red cheeks that are as lovely as a rose.He says here, though, that his lady’s skin is not that pretty.

It is amusing and also thought provoking with its twist ending.The last two lines of the sonnet say that he loves her exactly the way she is, and that his honest love is better than any fancy phrases or elaborations.

Shakespeare Translation Facts:

No one really knows whether Shakespeare wrote all his sonnets for someone he actually loved, or if he simply produced them because he was a good poet. Some people suggest that he may have written them for a young man with whom he was enamored.

Others think he wrote them for a mysterious “dark lady” who held his affections. In many cases, there are sonnets worked into Shakespeare’s plays—often as the prologue or epilogue.

A Somewhat Sexist Flower Quote by Shakespeare

Scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" | Source

But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness.

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act I Scene I Lines 76-78

Shakespeare Translation: “Any flower that gets picked and used for perfume is much better than one that simply lives on the vine, remaining untouched and all by itself”

Shakespeare Translation Meaning:

Theseus, Duke of Athens says this to Hermia when she insists that she will not marry the man her father has chosen for her. Hermia states that she would be happier as a nun in convent than married to her father’s choice of mate.

Theseus is telling Hermia that she will be happier if she marries than if she remains single. There is some obvious sexual and childbearing symbolism here.

A rose that is plucked and distilled into perfume is like a woman who marries and has children A rose that stays on the vine is like a woman who remains single and does not produce a family. The use of words related to deflowering is probably deliberate innuendo.

Shakespeare Translation Facts:

Later on in the play, fairies use the perfume and distilled juice of a flower to cast a spell on the humans. The juice of that flower changes the whole story.

In the end, Hermia does get married, but not to the person originally intended. Her best friend gets married, too. So does Theseus, the Duke of Athens. They all live happily ever after.

A Flower Quote by Shakespeare’s Most Dangerous Woman

Lady MacBeth after the murder of the King
Lady MacBeth after the murder of the King | Source

Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't

  • Macbeth Act I Scene v Lines 75-75

Shakespeare Translation: “Make yourself appear sweet and harmless, but be as deadly as a snake underneath”

Shakespeare Translation Meaning: Lady MacBeth says this to MacBeth when the king is coming to visit them. She urges him to deceive the king by appearing kind and innocent but keeping a deadly purpose underneath. In fact, they plan to kill the king while he is at their home. The image is of a very pretty flower that draws someone in to smell and admire it . But on the ground underneath that flower is a curled up snake that can strike immediately with fatal consequences. MacBeth will need to pretend to be kind and harmless and never let anyone else know that his intentions are actually evil.

Shakespeare Translation Fact: Shakespeare might have based these lines on a poem by Virgil that describes children picking flowers and a “cold adder lurking in the grass” that threatens them.

Flower Quotes by Shakespeare for a Complicated Relationship

Ophelia, from "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark"
Ophelia, from "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" | Source

There's fennel for you, and columbines.

There's rue for you; and here's some
for me: we may call it herb of grace a' Sundays.
You may wear your rue with a difference. There's
a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they
withered all when my father died.

  • Hamlet, Act IV scene v Lines 180-185

Shakespeare Translation:

“Here are some flowers that symbolize my feelings. The best flowers all withered away and are now useless since my father died”

Lay her i' the earth:
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
A ministering angel shall my sister be,
When thou liest howling.

  • Hamlet Act V Scene I Lines 238-242

Shakespeare Translation:

“When you bury my sister, her innocence and pure soul will create the most delicate and beautiful flowers on the earth above her. She will be an angel when you are suffering in Hell.”

Shakespeare Translation Meaning:

These two quotes go together.

The first one is spoken by Ophelia. She has gone insane and is handing out flowers while muttering and singing songs that don’t make sense. As she gives out the flowers, she mentions her father’s death and says that there are no more violets because he is dead.

Very soon after, Ophelia drowns and her death is considered suspicious. It might have been suicide. For this reason, the priest does not what Ophelia to have a proper burial, since she committed the sin of suicide.

The second quote is spoken by Ophelia’s brother Laertes. He is confronting the priest directly. Laertes says that Ophelia was so pure that the earth above her grave will be covered in violets and that she will become an angel. The priest, on the other hand, should be the one to go to hell.

Shakespeare Translation Facts:

Violets have a symbolic meaning of faithfulness and fidelity—especially in marriage. Hamlet was Ophelia’s love. Hamlet killed Ophelia’s father and showed very little remorse. Ophelia was cautioned by her father not to give in to Hamlet’s romantic overtures.

There is some question about how far the relationship actually went. Hamlet seemed to love Ophelia but then treated her with great disrespect and appeared to betray her.

Laertes defends Ophelia’s honor not only to the priest, but also by engaging in a fight with Hamlet right on top of her grave.

Copyright 2012, Jule Romans


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  • Jule Romans profile image

    Jule Romans 5 years ago from United States

    Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it.

  • profile image

    Vanderleelie 5 years ago

    You have explained fascinating layers of meaning in Shakepeare's garden of verse. Voted up and shared.

  • Jule Romans profile image

    Jule Romans 5 years ago from United States

    Thank you for reading!

  • mirandalabelle profile image

    Miranda La Belle 5 years ago from Dunedin, Florida

    So very wonderful. Votes up all around. :)