After Ophelia’ death, the reader sees Gertrude emerge as a character for one of the few times in the play and give her opinions of the death and Ophelia (4.7.165-183). She seems to romanticize Ophelia’s death which could be seen as reinforcing the idea that death is a sweet escape from this lifetime and mortal body, an ongoing theme throughout the play. As well, the Queen includes many aspects of nature while describing the scene to Laertes, which is also woven into many soliloquies and passages in the play.
Gertrude begins this passage by mentioning “garlands did she make/ of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples” (4.7.167-168). By beginning this passage with flowers, brings the reader’s attention to the natural beauty of the world and organic products of the Earth. Flowers often depict pure aesthetics and delicate pieces of beauty, living versions of art and are usually related to femininity. Earlier in the play, Ophelia uses flowers as a means to try and reconcile her father’s murder. In this passage, the heaviness and darkness of her death, the sadness of Gertrude having to tell Laertes that his sister has drowned is contradicted by the lightness and beauty of the flowers she describes at first. In the footnotes, the reader is told that long purples are orchids that some call dead men’s fingers. This may be seen as ironic that Ophelia came to her death by stepping out onto a tree branch above the brook trying to maneuver her fingers to hang her garlands when “an envious sliver broke” (4.7.172) and Ophelia tumbled to her death. Envious to describe a tree branch is an interesting personification of the branch and brings to mind a tree that would be jealous of Ophelia nimbility in her body and ability to move as she wishes. Contrary to this freedom, the tree is sedentary and cemented into the ground by it’s roots, having to stay still in the ground in order to live. I saw this as the tree wanting only to be free and flexible like Ophelia, the tree snaps off the branch she is standing on, sacrificing a part of itself to kill her and leave her lifeless in the ground to feel the tree’s pain. In mentioning the flowers and then the tree branch, this passage is very closely tied into the natural world and the beauty as well as functionality of the earth.
Gertrude then goes on to describe Ophelia as “mermaid-like” (4.7.175) and “incapable of her own distress” (4.7.173) which can paint an image of serenity and tranquility in the reader’s mind. Mermaids are very feminine beautiful creatures. As a species, they live in the water which suggests Ophelia seemed comfortable in the water, as if she were “a creature native and indued/ unto that element” (4.7.178-179). This again ties into the natural world and beauty found in nature, emphasizing the significance of flowers and beauty in Ophelia’s life. Ophelia does not appear in many scenes but she bears flowers in the two last scenes she appears in as a means of reconciliation and an attempt to make things right. This passage from Gertrude highlights this detail in Ophelia’s character and shows the role the beauty of the natural world holds in this play.