Ophelia Willow Tree Analysis

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Ophelia was painted with oil on canvas by Sir John Everett Millais (The Story of Ophelia). Millais was known for his great attention to detail when it came to the botanical aspects, so much so that a professor teaching botany would take his students to see Ophelia because the representations of the flowers were so close to nature (The Story of Ophelia). The concept of this painting was born out of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Hamlet, the title character’s love interest, Ophelia tragically commits suicide, and she is discovered floating in a river: here is a willow grows askant the brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal
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There are various botanical aspects in the painting, from the willow tree hanging over Ophelia to the roses on the water’s edge- each symbolic in some way. The willow tree that hangs over Ophelia symbolizes sin and grief (Impelluso). The symbol rooted in the willow tree may have evolved from the fact that the trees fruits fall before they are ripe, much like Ophelia’s untimely death (Impelluso). The other characters believe that she died before her time.The nettles growing around the roots of the willow represent pain (The Story of Ophelia).
Roses often symbolize love, such as the love Ophelia and Hamlet shared. Ophelia’s brother Laertes also called Ophelia the “Rose of May” (Hamlet. IV.v.133) to comment on her beauty and youthfulness. The crow flowers near the front of the painting are synonymous with childishness because of their resemblance to buttercups (The Story of Ophelia). These flowers again remark on Ophelia’s youth and untimely death. Ophelia’s innocence is represented by the daisies near her hand (The Story of Ophelia). The daisies are in the water, drowning like the maiden who once held them. Ophelia also mentions a daisy: ”There's a daisy I would/ give you/ some violets, but they withered all when/ my father died”(Hamlet. IV.v.154-156). The meadowsweet flowers symbolize the
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The flowers all represent different aspects of Ophelia, and they drown with the maiden that once held them. When Ophelia was gathering the flowers, she referred to them as thoughts (Hamlet. IV.v.152). Here, these flowers symbolically represent her inner thoughts. Her love for Hamlet is represented by the pink roses, the posises represent her loving Hamlet in vain, and her resulting sorrow is represented by the pheasant’s eye. The color palette contains lots of green, and it makes the painting feel very natural and real. Even in death Ophelia looks beautiful, like a rose of May.
Overall, Sir John Everett Millais’s painting of Ophelia incorporates many aspects from the literary masterpiece Hamlet utilizing various botanical aspects. Instead of the words that William Shakespeare uses to describe Ophelia’s death, Millais allows his choice of botanicals to speak through the piece for him. Using the roses and posies, he is able to express the love that Ophelia felt in vain. By incorporating the pheasant’s eye, her sorrow is given a place in the painting. Her last thoughts gather around her in the water, thoughts of love, her own innocence, and

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