What is the meaning of the pansy flower, called “love-in-idleness” in Shakespeare?
The pansy of Shakespeare’s day was probably closer to what we call “johnny-jump-ups” than to the large, velvety flowers that grace our gardens, which were developed in the nineteenth century. The small pansy-like bloom, also known as “heartsease” or “love-in-idleness,” was cultivated throughout Europe in the sixteenth century for medicinal purposes. Under the name of Herbal Trinitatis or Trinity Herb, it was used to treat heart ailments as well as a host of other maladies, including pleurisy, skin diseases, convulsions, epilepsy and fits, childhood ague, and falling sickness. Culpeper, a seventeenth-century medical writer, adds, “A strong decoction of syrup of the herb and flower is an excellent cure for the venereal disease.” In Hamlet, Ophelia evokes the French derivation of the name—”pensées” or “thoughts”—when she says, “and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Did gardeners in Shakespeare’s time grow the same kinds of plants we do today and use them in similar ways? Commonly kn