SCENE III. A room in Polonius' house.
Enter LAERTES and OPHELIA
My necessaries are embark'd: farewell:
And, sister, as the winds give benefit
And convoy is assistant, do not sleep,
But let me hear from you.
Do you doubt that?
For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute;
No more but so?
Think it no more;
For nature, crescent, does not grow alone
In thews and bulk, but, as this temple waxes,
The inward service of the mind and soul
Grows wide withal. Perhaps he loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will: but you must fear,
His greatness weigh'd, his will is not his own;
For he himself is subject to his birth:
He may not, as unvalued persons do,
Carve for himself; for on his choice depends
The safety and health of this whole state;
Although Shakespeare was decried as having "small Latin, and less Greek" there is plenty of reason to believe that he was well-versed in classical mythology and literature from both civilisations. Whether he could read ancient Greek is up for debate, but certainly his astonishing breadth of reference is never in doubt. Laertes gets his name from Homer. As discussed in this episode, there are perhaps echoes of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (one of the wonders of the Ancient World) and the letters of St. Paul to the Corinthians - also written in Greek.
These pretty flowers appear very often in Shakespeare as flowers that bloom early in Spring, smell very sweetly, but fade quickly. In Sonnet No. 12, they are mentioned in manner reminiscent of this scene - "violets past prime". In King John, in the speech from Act IV.ii that gives us the phrase 'to gild the lily' (in fact a misquote!) the perfume is so synonymous with the flower that to add any would be to likewise overdo it. Shakespeare packs an incredible depth into Laertes' comments on Hamlet - not only is his love as intoxicating and as pretty as the lovely flower, but also as untrustworthy and as likely to fade early.