In his compilation of flower lore, A Contemplation on Flowers, Ward maintains that after
the lily and the rose, the daisy is probably the flower most mentioned by English poets,
although it comes sixth in Woolf’s oeuvre, after roses, carnations, lilies, violets, and
crocuses (Ward 122). In that tradition it consistently represents innocence and modesty,
beginning with Chaucer, who used it as an emblem of female self-sacrifice and fidelity.
The Legend of Good Women begins with a paean of praise dedicating the poem to the daisy,
his “gyde and lady sovereyne” (l. 94) and then mashes up several classical sources to tell
the story of Queen Alceste, who volunteered to replace her husband in Hades and was
turned into a daisy as a model for all the good women honored in the poem (ll. 511-4).
Shakespeare’s use of daisies is a bit more nuanced and complicated. In Hamlet the flower
betokens a betrayal of female innocence, connected with madness and death in the character of
Ophelia, who offers a daisy to her brother Laertes, “There’s a daisy; I would give you violets,
but they all withered when my father died” (Act IV, sc 5), and weaves her own funeral wreath
of “crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples” (Act IV, sc 7). In Cymbeline, the daisy
becomes a full-fledged emblem of death as soldiers planning an honorable burial seek to
“Find out the prettiest dasied plot we can,/ And make him, with our pikes and partizans, a
grave” (Act IV, sc 2).