Poison plays a big role in Hamlet. It is a symbol of betrayal, corruption, deceit, revenge and death. In Act 1 Scene 5, Hamlet follows the ghost of his father, King Hamlet and learns the entire story of how Claudius kills him. King Hamlet says,
“…Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour…” (I.v.61-63).
When Claudius pours the poison into Hamlet’s ear and murders him, it demonstrates how much the need for power can corrupt someone. In this case, the need for power motivated Claudius to poison his own brother.
Later, when Laertes and Claudius are planning to kill Hamlet for revenge, they also decide to use poison. When the poison actually comes into play, it ends up killing Queen Gertrude (thus betrayal), and eventually leads to the death of Laertes, King Claudius, and Hamlet.
Yorick’s (Jester’s) Skull
The skull represents death and the afterlife. When Hamlet picks up the skull of Yorick and begins to talk to it, he questions death, and what happens after. Hamlet eventually realizes that no matter what kind of a life someone may lead, everybody dies and ends up in the same place after death – as mere dust.
He questions the importance of being important while alive, and the importance of being alive in general. He talks about how someone like Yorick could end up in the same position and place as someone such as Alexander the Great when he says,
“as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel” (V.i.209-213)?
In Act 4, Scene 5, Ophelia has gone mad because of her father, Polonius’ death. She enters the scene, carrying many different types of flowers (however some editors believe that the flowers were just imaginary), and begins to give different flowers to different people. Each of the flowers represents something, and there is a reason why Ophelia gives certain flowers to certain people.
First, she gives the rosemary to Laertes, which is a symbol of remembrance. She also gives pansies to Laertes, as they represent a symbol of thoughts – particularly thoughts of love. Although she gives both to Laertes, Ophelia most likely has Hamlet in her mind when she says,
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember; and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts” (IV.v.173-175).
She then gives fennel and columbines to King Claudius. Fennel represents flattery, and columbines represent having no faith in marriage. They were both given to Claudius because of his incestuous marriage and betrayal. Next, Ophelia gives daisies to both King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, which represent deceit and lies, because they both lied to the public and betrayed King Hamlet.
Finally, violets are a symbol of faith and many people believe Ophelia gives these to Horatio because, at this point, he is the only one that she still has faith in. Also, although Ophelia does not realize it, Horatio is the only person Hamlet still trusts and has faith in as well.
“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 o’ Sundays: O, you must wear your rue with a difference, there’s a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died, they say a’made a good end” (IV.v.178-183).