Thursday, January 6, 2011

A rose is a rose is a rose

“What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

(Romeo & Juliet Act II, Scene II)

For most the rose is a symbol of romantic love, however to the designers of these modern day posters for various Shakespeare plays, more than romance is implied.

During Shakespeare’s time the rose took on a number of other associations, representative of both the divine and the profane. The image of the rose was used in both religious and secular contexts to represent a multiplicity of different images and settings, to invoke a variety of intellectual and emotional responses from those who encountered it, and ultimately, to mediate between the human and the divine.

The images below illustrate this perfectly. The roses depicted here are charged with emotion and passion. Some fearfully laden with doom and violence, they hint at the unknown.

Of course it could be a given for illustrating Romeo and Juliet with the image, but Hamlet? This is a masterstroke! To me not only death is implied but the long lost friendship which has been cruelly taken away from our young prince.

Henry IV clutching a rose in place of a crown! Symbolism is high here, with the play taking place during the War of the Roses. The rose takes on the symbol of victory in place of a crown. However, the victory is not all sweet, but painful as well with the blood trickling down the palm of the hand.

The Polish poster for Love’s Labour’s lost hints at the bitter twist at the end of the play which was unusual for Shakespeare. The rose again is prominent again symbolising both love and death

So shall we believe Gertrude Stein when she so candidly writes “A rose is a rose is a rose”?


  1. never knew rose can be so hauntingly beautiful!
    Love & death symbolism indeed~

  2. Hi David...Very interesting post. Strangely enough, I've always been a bit iffy about red roses in particular, which feel sinister or slightly lurid to me. It's amazing that you were able to find all of these Shakespearean play posters with a different rose theme. There seems to be some bizarre collective consciousness going on! I quite like the design of the 2nd Hamlet poster.


  3. This is a lovely & stimulating posting, David, and one which I am sure will engage many more readers than might come forward in reply to your direct query: No, I never bother to contend with the gnomic GS. For me, it's the Henry VI posters which best capture the ambidextrous aspects of the petals under discussion. What a downhill slide from Agincourt.

  4. Fantastic post :) Japan was wonderful..much different as a tourist. I did forget though, just how extreme the fashion is over there!!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin