Violets and Pansies/1 (Love-in-idleness) 

The pansy, botanically known as viola tricolor, is one of the many plants that William Shakespeare references in his plays.
It is a flower that has inspired a variety of legends, one of which is mentioned in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, a play set in Athens, full of amorous intrigues, a fairy wood and various whimsical characters.

In Act II Oberon, the king of the fairies, instructs his servant, Puck, to go and look for this special flower because its juice, if poured on the eyes of a sleeping person , is able to make them fall madly in love with the first person they see on waking up.
In Roman mythology, the wild pansy changed its colour when Cupid shot one of his arrows at a Vestal Virgin but missed her. The arrow fell on a white flower, causing it to turn purple from that ”love’s wound”.
As Cupid is the god of desire, affection and erotic love, the juice of the flower received the power to act as a love potion.

Oberon:

That very time I saw, but thou couldst not,
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid all arm’d: a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal throned by the west,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
But I might see young Cupid’s fiery shaft
Quench’d in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
And the imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.
Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.”

Modern English Version:

That time I saw but you couldn’t see,
Cupid flying between the icy moon and the earth,
All armed with his bow and arrow: he aimed
At a beautiful vestal sitting on a throne in the west,
And elegantly shot his arrow from the bow,
So fast it could have pieced a hundred thousand hearts;
But instead I saw the fiery arrow of young Cupid
Calm down in the chaste Moonbeams,
And the imperial priestess passed by,
in virginal meditation, with no loving fantasies.
But I saw where Cupid’s arrow landed:
It fell on a small flower of the West,
Which was as white as milk but turned purple from the wound of love,
The maidens call it “love-in-idleness.”
Bring me that flower; I showed it to you once:
If its juice is put laid on the eyelids of a sleeping person,
It will make them infatuated
With the next living thing they see.
Bring me this plant; and be here again

Before a whale can swim three miles.

The tale of Cupid, coupled with the flower’s name, pansy, from the French “pensée,” meaning thought, and its heart-shaped petals, has linked the pansy with romantic ideas of love, lovers, and dreaming.

“There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts” says Ophelia in Hamlet when distributing flowers

The flower plays a key role in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” where Shakespeare uses it as a plot device to introduce the comical disturbance. It will interfere with the lovers’ fates and romances , creating a chaos that highlights the irrationality of romantic love.

Some critics claim that Oberon’s account that Cupid’s arrow did not strike the “ fair vestal, throned by the west “ referred to Queen Elizabeth I, an ” imperial vot’ress ” who will live “ fancy-free”, destined never to fall in love.

But why is it also called love-in-idleness? I found no explanations.
I suppose it may be due to the light-heartedness of youthful loves combining the terms “love” and “idleness” to mean a light and distracted love, or else, with reference to its magical juice, because it can be used for idle, frivolous or or vile acts.
What do you think?

La viola del pensiero, conosciuta botanicamente come viola tricolor, è una delle tante piante a cui William Shakespeare fa riferimento nelle sue opere teatrali. E’ un fiore che ha ispirato una serie di leggende, una delle quali è menzionata nel “Sogno di una notte di mezza estate”, un’opera teatrale ambientata ad Atene, piena di intrighi amorosi, un bosco fatato e vari personaggi stravaganti.

Nell’atto II Oberon, il re delle fate, incarica il suo servitore, Puck, di andare a cercare questo fiore speciale perché il suo succo, se versato sugli occhi di una persona addormentata, è in grado di farla innamorare perdutamente del prima persona che vede al suo risveglio.
Nella mitologia romana, la viola del pensiero selvatico cambiò colore quando Cupido scoccò una delle sue frecce contro una vestale ma la mancò. La freccia cadde su un fiore bianco, facendolo diventare porpora per la sua ‘‘ferita d’amore’‘.
Poiché Cupido è il dio del desiderio, dell’affetto e dell’amore erotico, il succo del fiore ha ricevuto il potere di essere usato come una pozione d’amore.

Ecco cosa narra Oberon:

Quella volta io vidi ma tu non potesti vedere,
Cupido che volava tra la gelida luna e la terra,
Armato di arco e frecce: mirò
A una bella vestale seduta su un trono in occidente,
E scoccò con eleganza il suo dardo d’amore ,
Come se dovesse trafiggere centomila cuori;
Ma invece vidi l’ardente strale del giovane Cupido
Placarsi nei casti raggi della luna, signora delle acque,
E la sacerdotessa imperiale passò oltre,
In meditazione virginale, senz’aver fantasie amorose.
Però osservai dove cadde la freccia di Cupido:
Cadde su un piccolo fiore d’occidente,
Dapprima bianco come il latte, ora porpora per la ferita d’amore,
E le fanciulle lo chiamano viola del pensiero-
Portami quel fiore; una volta te ne mostrai la pianta:
Il suo succo posato su palpebre dormienti
Farà quell’uomo o donna infatuare
Della prima creatura vivente che vede.
Portami quella pianta; e sii di nuovo qui
Prima che il leviatano nuoti una lega.
(Prima che una balena nuoti per tre miglia.)

(trad: L.Z.)

La storia di Cupido, unita al nome del fiore, viola del pensiero, e ai suoi petali a forma di cuore, collega il fiore a idee romantiche di amore, amanti e sogni.

“Ecco le viole del pensiero, sono per la memoria” dice Ofelia (in Amleto) mentre distribuisce i suoi fiori.

Il fiore ha un ruolo chiave nel “Sogno di una notte di mezza estate” dove Shakespeare lo usa
come un espediente della trama per introdurre un fattore comico. Interferirà con i destini e le storie d’amore delle coppie, creando un caos che mette in evidenza l’irrazionalità dell’amore romantico.

Alcuni critici affermano che il racconto di Oberon secondo cui la freccia di Cupido non colpì la “bella vestale seduta su un trono in occidente” si riferisse alla regina Elisabetta I, una ” sacerdotessa imperiale” che vivrà “senza fantasie amorose”, destinata a non innamorarsi mai .

Ma perché in Inghilterra il fiore si chiama anche “amore nell’ozio”? Non ho trovato spiegazioni.
Suppongo che possa essere dovuto alla spensieratezza degli amori giovanili che combinano i termini “amore” e “ozio” per indicare un amore leggero e distratto, oppure, con riferimento al suo succo magico, perché può essere usato per atti frivoli o vili.
Cosa ne pensate?

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78 thoughts on “Violets and Pansies/1 (Love-in-idleness) 

  1. All I can say is wow! This is an awesome, super fabulous post and I wish I could meet you in person and congratulate you for sharing some very interesting and valuable information from the fields of art and literature. Keep up the good work. ♥️♥️♥️♥️

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great insight as usual Luisa. I love pansies, they are bright, cheerful and always appear to be smiling at us. Mayhap that is what love-in-idleness means. More a type of adoration without really getting to know someone or something. Worshipping from afar, as it were. Either way, I may have to go out and plant some pansies. Happy Thursday. Allan

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  3. Palsy flower appears to be used as tools for plunging in intensive love as such so far as Roman mythology is considered . As per Roman mythology , the wild pansy changed its colour when cupid shot one of his arrows at a vestal virgin but missed her . And when the arrow fell on the white flower it became purple due to Love’s wound . Moreover , the juice of the palsy flower , thus , was used in the ancient Rome as a love potion . Perhaps Shakespeare , following the Roman tradition , had used palsy flower juice in his one of the plays ‘ A Midsummer Night’s Dream ‘ because if it is poured on the eyes of a sleeping person , on his wake up he would fall in love with the person whom he would see first . In the India mythology when the God of Love called Kamdev shot with his powerful arrow of love on anybody , he immediately becomes mad in love without judging its consequences whether it is right or wrong . Anyway such mythological tradition goes everywhere and in every society the world over . But credit goes to Luisa who makes us aware through her blogs about them and for that she deserve thanks .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a well explained information Luisa, you’ve always made sure to put out all the details so we could have a better understanding and it gets so simpler to read. I think love-in-idleness probably refers to the first reason you mentioned “the light-heartedness of youthful loves”. 🌸

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  5. Ciao, Luisa. Forse il nome love-in-idleness/amore-nell’ozio è dovuto proprio al Dream, cioè al fatto che, secondo Shakespeare, il filtro d’amore che si ricava dal fiore fa effetto su persone addormentate. Questo è quanto mi suggerisce Guglielmo di Occam con un ben assestato colpo di rasoio 😉

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  6. Hey ~ you researched it! How cool!

    Pansies appear to be flowers of such delicate beauty that we use it here to nickname gentle men ~ but they’re actually incredibly hardy. Beauty and Strength!

    Thanks again for the post… 😊👌

    Like

  7. Shakespeare’s connection with a pansy and Midsummer Night’s Dream is completely new to me. I’ve never followed Shakespeare’s works very much to be honest, although I’ve had an interest in his life. To put an Easymalc slant on the meaning of ‘pansy’ if I may: Where I come from, it’s a derogatory remark aimed at effeminate men. Shakespeare it isn’t, but it’s really ‘much ado about nothing’ these days isn’t it? 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Also in Italy one of its equivalents is used as a derogatory remark addressed to effeminate men.
      Little is known about Shakespeare, but, just to gossip a bit, I’ll tell you that he dedicated most of his sonnets to a “fair youth”, a handsome gentleman 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  8. What amazing details, dear Luisa. I have already supposed that he meant a poppy. Anyway, a pansy allegory sounds even more interesting. Thank you! I adore the Midsummer Night’s Dream! 🌹🌹🌹💖💖💖

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Adoro le Viole del,pensiero, ma di tutta questa meravigliosa storia j9n n3 sapevo niente 3 neppure conoscevo questo meraviglioso sonetto di Shakespeare❣❣❣ Come sempre n9n faccio wltro che 8mpa4wre da te, grazie Luisa 🥀🥀🥀 e bu9n proseguimento di serata 😘

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Preso dalla curiosità, sono andato a sbirciare in Wiki inglese, trovando che la “Viola Tricolor” in inglese ha tantissimi nomignoli, che qui ti elenco:
    wild pansy, Johnny Jump up, heartsease, heart’s ease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, love-in-idleness, pink of my john.

    Very funny, indeed.

    Ciao.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wonderful! I’ve missed your rich posts these past months Luisa. As for the answer, I think you’ve covered it well in your post. I can only add that pansies speak the secret language of flowers. Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Beautiful post. Shakespeare is just marvellous and mysterious since not all too much is known about his life. Viola, what a beautiful name for a beautiful flower. In German it’s called “Stiefmütterchen” which would translate to something like “stepmother”. I have no idea how this name came about.

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