Visual Representations of Hamlet, 1709-1900

Alan R. Young

Harold Copping - Hamlet


The format of the New Variorum editions of Shakespeare’s works primarily facilitates two aspects of Shakespeare studies: the history of textual transmission and the history of critical analysis. As such, the New Variorum editions offer an invaluable insight into the critical reception of Shakespeare. But the history of the evolving cultural construct that we know as “Shakespeare” long ago left the carefully charted harbor of bibliographic and critical studies. “Shakespeare” is a cultural phenomenon, we increasingly understand, that has become familiar since the latter part of the seventeenth century through media that often have a self-sustaining life of their own. The works produced in these other media may sometimes be only remotely related to the specifics of Shakespeare’s texts and the huge body of critical writings that have commented upon those texts. Prominent among these other media of cultural transmission are music, dance, film, and the visual arts. What follows here is an attempt to provide a brief account of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visual representations related to Hamlet and their place within the Shakespeare construct. As will be seen, some visual artifacts, illustrations for printed editions being the obvious example, may have a very close relationship to specific printed texts. Thus, for the student of textual transmission, a pictorial illustration is (or should be) considered as playing an irrefutable role within the totality of an edition, its existence being part of the final editorial artifact. This holds true even if the editor of the text being studied had no control, as was often the case, over the choice of illustration and of its location within the text, those responsibilities having been assumed by publisher or printer. On the other hand, just as valid as records of the Shakespeare construct are visual representations that exist independently of any specific edition and that may at the same time have only a tenuous link to the specifics of Shakespeare’s words.
In what follows rests the assumption that visual representations of Shakespeare’s works need to be seen as integral to the study of Shakespeare and the transmission of his texts. This is because the visual representations help reveal how Shakespeare and his works were perceived within the culture at large. Of key significance here are not just those members of the public who owned copies of Shakespeare’s works or attended performances of his plays, but that much broader spectrum of the literate and not-so-literate who absorbed and responded to Shakespeare in their homes, when browsing in print shops, when reading in coffee houses, or (a rarer experience) when visiting an art gallery or exhibition. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the dissemination of images of the plays in part took place through costly illustrated editions and large and expensive works of art. Many of those artifacts, however familiar to us today through reproduction, may have had an impact upon only a small segment of society. However, at the same time, there occurred an ever-accelerating proliferation of mass-produced works of art, made available, particularly as the nineteenth century unfolded, through new reproductive processes, and made affordable because of new industrial and marketing methods and new developments in transportation. An account of the history of the visual representations of any Shakespeare play must therefore take account of not just the illustrated editions of that play but of the much wider range of images concerning it that were available within the culture at large. (For an account of a number of images that burlesque Hamlet topics, see Young 2007, passim.)

The Earliest Hamlet Images: Tonson’s 1709 Edition

The first ever Hamlet image appeared in Jacob Tonson’s 1709 six-volume edition of Shakespeare, edited by a well-known playwright of the time, Nicholas Rowe. Tonson, an astute businessman, had obtained the copyright for Shakespeare’s plays (Geduld 1969, 198-200). Having already published illustrated editions of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dryden’s translation of Virgil, Tonson clearly felt that an edition of Shakespeare “Adorn’d with Cuts,” as its title-page stated, would sell. Along with the services of Rowe, he therefore engaged the services of designers and engravers to provide a frontispiece portrait of Shakespeare to be used in each volume and a prefatory engraving for each play that would depict a specific scene from that play. Just who designed and who engraved what, however, remains conjectural in the case of many of the illustrations. Various features of Tonson’s edition – its “modern” orthography, its consistent act and scene divisions, its frequent scene locations, its inclusion of a biography of Shakespeare, and its six-volume octavo format – suggest that Tonson aimed to make Shakespeare more accessible and intelligible to a wider range of potential purchasers than would have been the case for yet another single-volume folio edition. Copies of the new edition printed on normal paper sold for thirty shillings a set, and there appears to have been enough demand that Tonson was forced to reset his type and produce a further edition in 1709. Even so, although Tonson’s work must have been more accessible in size and ease of use than its Fourth Folio predecessor, it was still an expensive affair, affordable only to relatively monied readers. Familiar as its Hamlet engraving may be to us from its many modern reproductions and analyses, it cannot have been familiar to many readers in the eighteenth century.

The engraving in question appeared in Volume Five. It depicted the Closet Scene at the moment when the Ghost made his dramatic appearance. Now generally assumed to have been designed by François Boitard and engraved by one of Tonson’s team of engravers, Elisha Kirkall (Hammelmann 1968, 1-4), the engraving has engendered a great deal of speculation. Is the bewigged figure of Hamlet, with his “down gyved” stocking, his contemporary mourning dress, and his “start” in reaction to the Ghost intended as a likeness of Thomas Betterton, who had last performed the role in 1706? Is the engraving intended to reflect the contemporary staging of the Closet Scene? If so, the appearance of the Ghost in full armor, complete with truncheon, is significant, as are the two portraits on the wall at the rear, suggestive of how Hamlet would have made his mother compare the features of her two husbands. The heavy drape at top left, hanging as though from a proscenium, the bare floor, the general lack of furniture, Hamlet’s overturned chair (a familiar piece of stage business), and the two wall sconces that provide illumination in a fashion common in theaters at the time are all further features suggesting that Boitard is recording what he may have observed in the theater. And yet, as with so many images of Shakespeare’s plays, the temptation to use such a picture as evidence for performance history requires an extremely cautious response.

The Earliest Hamlet Images: Tonson’s 1714 Edition

Tonson’s endeavors to sell Shakespeare’s works to a broader readership took a further small step forward in 1714 when he published a new eight-volume (with the poems, nine-volume) edition in a smaller format, duodecimo. However, at £1 7s., the advertised price in 1715 (Ford 1935, 15), the new version of Rowe’s edition (Tonson may actually have engaged someone else as editor while keeping Rowe’s name on the title-page) was only marginally cheaper than its predecessor. It therefore remained a somewhat expensive item, though, one should note, very much more affordable than Tonson’s first issue of Pope’s Shakespeare that appeared in six large unillustrated quarto volumes in 1723-5 and cost £6 6s. One should note, too, that the usual price of quarto texts of individual plays by the beginning of the eighteenth century appears to have been one shilling and sixpence (McKerrow 1927, 134-5), while a duodecimo Hamlet printed by Darby and Wellington in 1718 was priced on the title page at one shilling. Tonson’s price for the collected plays was arguably, then, a bargain. To illustrate his edition, Tonson hired Louis du Guernier to work with Kirkall to produce a mix of new and revised engravings for the new duodecimo format. The engraving for Hamlet was both designed and engraved by Du Guernier. It depicted the arrival of the Ghost in the Closet Scene and kept fairly close to the composition of its 1709 predecessor. However, it included the intriguing addition of a bed and dispensed with the overturned chair (Young 1998, 339-41). Four years later appeared the single-volume duodecimo Hamlet printed by Darby and Wellington just mentioned above. It contained a reversed reworking of Du Guernier’s work by an anonymous artist who included the two wall portraits that Du Guernier had had but made one of them represent a woman. Like Du Guernier’s inclusion of a bed, such details suggest that we have drifted very far from theatrical reality, even supposing, that is, that Boitard’s Closet Scene had some relation to theater practice.

The Earliest Hamlet Images: Some Further Eighteenth-Century Editions

Tonson reused Du Guernier’s design, reworked by F. Foudrinier, in his second edition of Pope’s Shakespeare in 1728 and again in a duodecimo players’ edition of Hamlet in 1734 (Franklin 1991, 202). This latter was issued as part of an ongoing price war between Tonson and a rival printer, Robert Walker. Prices dropped to as low as a penny per play (Ford 1935, 42; TLS 30 Nov 1922, 788; TLS 28 Dec 1922, 876), theoretically permitting the purchase of the entire Shakespeare canon for thirty-seven pence, surely a sign that there existed a potentially far broader market for Shakespeare’s texts if the price was right. Walker’s rival Hamlet text included its own version of the Closet Scene designed by Bartholomew Dandridge and engraved by J. (probably Jacob) Smith. Dandridge’s design is far more successful than those of Boitard and Du Guernier in capturing the shock and drama of the Ghost’s entrance. Hamlet holds Gertrude’s wrist as he stares at the Ghost, while Gertrude has risen from her chair (in the earlier pictures she remains seated) and stares perplexed into Hamlet’s face. For his part, the Ghost extends his truncheon towards Hamlet. By contrast, in the earlier engravings he remained a rather stiff figure, with the truncheon either raised in a gesture of surprise (1709) or pointing slightly downwards towards Hamlet (1714), though in a manner that also seems to call attention to Gertrude’s genital area (see Kliman 1993, 9). The situation is now much more dynamic and we see something of the responses of the three characters to each other. As is the case with Boitard’s design, there is a strong temptation to speculate that the engraving reflects contemporary theater performance practice, perhaps even offering us a glimpse of the performers named in the list of dramatis personae, in this instance Robert Wilks (Hamlet), Mrs Porter (Gertrude), and Barton Booth (the Ghost).
The three earliest images of Hamlet were thus all of the Closet Scene, its initial popularity as a subject deriving, one assumes, from the frisson that readers and audiences experienced in response to the Ghost. Renditions of other moments in the Closet Scene were later to appear, and the scene remained popular among artists throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, versions of it rivaled in number only by depictions of Ophelia’s madness and death and the Graveyard Scene in Act Five. However, shortly after the publication of Dandridge’s Closet Scene, other Hamlet subjects began to appear. In 1740, Tonson commissioned an engraved Hamlet image on a completely new subject for his second edition of Theobald’s Shakespeare, an eight-volume duodecimo production. Designed by Hubert Gravelot and engraved by Gerard van der Gucht, the engraving depicted the earlier appearance of the Ghost before Hamlet in 1.4, a subject that, like the Closet Scene, was to be a particular favorite among artists, reflecting presumably popular fascination with this all-important moment in the play (Young 1998, 337-9). Gravelot’s design was repeated prior to 1773 in at least five subsequent editions of Theobald and in at least four other separately printed texts. It depicted a drawbridge and gate leading to the Castle. The Ghost at left, in armor and plumed helmet, gestures with both arms for Hamlet to follow him off to the left. Hamlet in contemporary eighteenth-century dress stands upon the bridge as if torn between two worlds. He is restrained from following the Ghost by Horatio, who gestures with his arms in front of Hamlet. Marcellus, barely visible, stands behind Hamlet.

Some New Subjects and Media for Hamlet Images: the Play Scene

The special privileging accorded to scenes involving the Ghost continued through the eighteenth century, but during the next few decades after 1740 much was to change, and artists began to explore other topics.
The first notable change was one involving subject matter. When Sir Thomas Hanmer’s handsome and expensive (£3 3s.) six-volume quarto edition of Shakespeare appeared in 1744 (the Hamlet volume was dated 1743), it was “Adorned with Sculptures designed and executed by the best hands.” Ignoring the Tonson family copyright, and ignoring all previous illustrated editions in its prefatory matter, Hanmer’s edition, which was published at Oxford, included thirty-six engraved plates, five designed by Hubert Gravelot and the remainder by the important English artist Francis Hayman. For Hamlet, Hayman designed a picture of the Play Scene. Hayman appears to have worked closely with Hanmer regarding many of the designs in the edition (Merchant 1958, 141-7; Allentuck 1976, 288-315; Hodnett 1982, 54-69; Allen 1987, 153). He may have been guided by Hanmer when working on the Hamlet design, although in this particular instance no supporting documentary evidence has survived to confirm this. It may have been Hanmer, then, rather than Hayman who was responsible for the imaginative decision to introduce a new subject that, like the Play Scene, was to become a favorite subject among artists during the next 160 years.
Like the earlier Boitard design for the Closet Scene, Hayman’s work may possibly reflect theater performance, especially given Hayman’s own interest in the theater. The engraving (by Gravelot) depicts the moment in the Play Scene (2136) when Claudius rises from his seat that is upon a small dais in the left foreground (down stage right). The chair is placed directly facing the viewer, an odd position since it suggests that Claudius was sitting with his back to the play. Behind him and still seated is Gertrude. Her chair is more logically situated, side on to the viewer. In the right foreground (down stage left) are three figures: Hamlet in black contemporary eighteenth-century dress (dark coat and breeches) sitting on the floor at the feet of Ophelia, who is seated on a chair, behind which stands Horatio. At the rear, the play is being performed. It has reached the moment when the poison is being poured into the sleeping Gonzago's ear (2131). The sleeping man sits in a chair which squarely faces the viewer and is thus a parallel to the way Claudius's chair is arranged. Behind and above in a gallery are the theater musicians. They continue to play at the moment depicted. Above is what looks like a suspended proscenium curtain.
Not long after designing his engraving for Hanmer, Hayman provided four large paintings of Shakespearean scenes for the decoration of the Prince of Wales Pavilion at Vauxhall Gardens. Where access to the image in Hanmer’s edition was probably somewhat limited on account of the cost, the painting at Vauxhall, which was on display for a number of years, was a different matter. Under the proprietorship of Jonathan Tyers, Vauxhall Gardens became an immensely popular pleasure ground that catered to the upper classes and an ever-broadening middle-class market, the same as that which frequented the playhouses north of the river. There is good reason to suppose that Hayman’s paintings were not hidden in some secluded inner chamber, but open to public view beneath a portico. One of the paintings depicted the Play Scene from Hamlet. Unfortunately, this work, which dates from 1745 or just before, is now lost although a photograph of it appears to have survived (Merchant 1959, Plate 8a). According to the photograph, Hayman placed Claudius at center rear and the enactment of the play-within-the-play in the left foreground. The Hamlet, Ophelia, and Horatio figures are omitted, perhaps for political reasons, since placing a work in the Prince of Wales’s accommodations might, if a prince was depicted, raise awkward questions. The effect of this omission is to place the viewer of the picture in the precise position of Hamlet, arguably, of course, an even more questionable arrangement since when the prince was actually present he would be placed in the position of Hamlet. Whatever the reason for the omission, it would seem that Hayman could rely upon viewers having sufficient familiarity with the play to supply in their imaginations the presence of the three missing characters. Curiously, in what may have been the modello or smaller initial version of the Vauxhall painting (the modello now hangs in the Folger Shakespeare Library), the three missing figures are present, placed in almost the exact positions they occupy in the earlier engraving (Allen 1987, 114; Pressly 1993, 78; Martineau 2003, 48). Hayman’s painting for Vauxhall Gardens marks the first time, so far as one knows, that an artist produced a representation of Hamlet that was not a design for an engraving in an illustrated book. In this, Hayman’s contribution parallels the work of his contemporary William Hogarth. This latter shares much of the credit with Hayman for beginning a long tradition of English theatrical painting. Coincidentally, Hogarth completed his well-known (to us) painting Garrick as Richard III (1745) virtually at the same time as Hayman finished his Hamlet work for the Prince of Wales Pavilion.

Some New Subjects and Media for Hamlet Images: Other Eighteenth-Century Examples

In 1762 Hayman’s four paintings for the Prince of Wales Pavilion were described by the anonymous author of A Description of Vaux-Hall Gardens as “universally admired for the design, colouring and expression” (p. 11). However, other Hamlet paintings completed by various artists during the next two decades probably had far less public exposure: James Gwin’s now lost portrait of Spranger Barry as Hamlet encountering the Ghost for the first time (c. 1752), Benjamin Wilson’s (now lost) painting of Garrick as Hamlet (c. 1754), Hayman’s oil of the Closet Scene with Spranger Barry as Hamlet (Martineau 2003, 122-3), Mrs Mary Elmy as Gertrude and Lacy Ryan as the Ghost (c. 1755-60), Johan Zoffany’s oil portrait of David Ross as Hamlet (1757), Wilson’s William Powell as Hamlet Encountering the Ghost (c. 1768-9), James Roberts’s oil of William Smith and Elizabeth Hopkins in the Closet Scene (1774-4), and Wilson’s (attributed) oil of John Henderson as Hamlet in confrontation with Richard Wilson as Polonius (1779 ?). Two of the works just listed, though probably seen by only a relatively few people, nonetheless achieved a wider currency because they were reproduced in multiple copies in different media. Gwin’s portrait was engraved by Simon François Ravenet and published by John Smith in London in 1752, and Wilson’s portrait of Garrick’s famous “start” at the first appearance of the Ghost was transformed into a 1754 mezzotint by James McArdell. Selling such reproductions at print sellers’ shops or using them in the illustration of books was to become commonplace throughout the remainder of the century and on through the nineteenth century. Our familiarity with many now lost paintings is the result of this process that permitted works of art to be put in the hands of many who would otherwise never have seen them and certainly never have possessed them. Even today, of course, Hayman’s Closet Scene and Zoffany’s portrait of Ross hang in the Garrick Club, while Wilson’s picture of Powell is in the Folger Shakespeare Library. While relatively few people might be privileged to see these originals, they are all “accessible” though reproduction.
Concerning the works just referred to, three further matters need comment. By depicting the dramatic moment when Hamlet, upon first seeing the Ghost, starts back, perhaps even falling into the arms of his companions, Gwin and Wilson introduced a new subject for artists to draw upon. Indeed, Hamlet’s “start,” a familiar and much-commented upon tradition in theater performance, quickly became one of the most frequent of subjects. Zoffany, too, added another new subject to the artists’ repertoire by depicting Ross as Hamlet, with “down-gyved” stocking and with book in hand, apparently in confrontation with an unseen person (Polonius, one assumes). Depictions of Hamlet as the man with a book soon provided as recognizable a subject as Hamlet’s “start,” the Play Scene, or the Closet Scene, and during the next century and a half, portraits of a succession of actors holding a book were to follow, among those depicted being Henry Johnson, Edmund Kean,
Edmund Kean
Barry Sullivan, Charles Kean, Charles Kemble, Henry Irving, Jean Mounet-Sully, Edwin Booth, Sarah Bernhardt, and Johnston Forbes Robertson.

Some New Subjects and Media for Hamlet Images: Early Portraits

Another matter of importance here is that all the works just mentioned depict identifiable actors in the Hamlet roles that they were currently performing in the theater. Apart from the possible portraits of Betterton and Wilks in the engravings of 1709 and 1734 mentioned earlier, these were the earliest portrayals of Hamlet topics in which specific actors can be identified. It is a significant moment in the history of Hamlet iconography because henceforth every major actor performing the role of Hamlet (and later some actors performing other roles in the play) became familiar to the eyes of the public not just through stage appearances but through the visual arts and printed images. Indeed, images of actors (usually but not always in their theatrical roles) begin at this time to become a major subject for painters and engravers. This is partly due to the rising social status of actors, and partly due to the realization by the actors themselves that distinct commercial benefits are to be gained through satisfying the increasing public demand for images of those actors most in favor. Most notable in helping to effect this change was David Garrick. Early on, he seems to have recognized the benefits that might accrue to both himself and to the theater as an institution if his rising popularity as an actor could be marked by the enhanced cachet derived from the proliferation of his image. Immensely popular as an actor, and with Hamlet as one of his most popular and frequently-performed roles, Garrick became one of the most be-pictured men in the eighteenth century. He often worked closely with the artists involved (Bertelson 1998, 308-24, and ultimately he was depicted in some 281 separate paintings, engravings, sculptures, and other media such as medallions, wall coverings, porcelain, tiles, etc (Highfill 1973, 6: 80). As might be expected, a number of these depict Garrick as Hamlet, that by Wilson being the earliest.
When a portrait could be easily reproduced in multiple copies through the techniques of engraving, mezzotint, or other available media, the status of the subject could be further enhanced. McArdell’s mezzotint of Garrick is (with the two possible exceptions just referred to) one of the earliest examples of the process applied to a Hamlet portrait. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such efforts were often richly rewarded. “Successful” stage performers sometimes became cult figures, the multiple reproductions of their portraits providing popular icons sought after by idolizers who followed their favorite actors’ fortunes with all the passion that in subsequent centuries has been accorded certain film and music stars (the examples of John Philip Kemble, Edmund Kean, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Edwin Booth, and Sarah Bernhardt immediately come to mind). Not surprisingly, just as a reputable portrait painter could make a good living by being paid by his subject (Garrick commissioned a number of works in which he was depicted), the print seller or publisher who hired a designer and engraver could generate income by reproducing and selling portraits. Book publishers in addition saw the inclusion of portraits (like the inclusion of illustrations generally) as attractive enhancements to books that could increase sales.

Some New Subjects and Media for Hamlet Images: Portraits in the Nineteenth Century

In the late eighteenth and then in the nineteenth centuries, both subject and artist, in seeking to attain the above goals, tended increasingly to offer idealized or beautified representations, expressive of some spiritual, poetic, or moral truth, rather than an image of theater performance. One thinks, for example, of the romantic pose, the scenery and the use of fading light in Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of John Philip Kemble as Hamlet (1801), one of the most frequently reproduced of any Hamlet portrait during either century. As ever with images based on Shakespeare’s plays, great caution must therefore be employed in “reading” anything in an image as indicative of actual stage performance. It is true that art works often show actors as though in performance (sometimes in company with other actors), and often at moments in a play that can be readily identified (Hamlet’s reaction at first seeing the Ghost [624]; Hamlet’s reaction to the appearance of the Ghost in the Closet Scene [2482]; Hamlet’s “Alas, poor Yorick” [3372]). It is also true, furthermore, that such images may include details that appear to suggest that a stage performance is being represented (certain gestures, stage properties, costume, scenery, etc.). However, in most instances closer examination reveals that this is not so and probably not part of the artist’s purpose. In fact, it is relatively rare for artists to attempt something close to an accurate visual record, though there are exceptions such as the lithographs by Eugène Devéria and Louis Boulanger illustrating the English Company’s performances (among them Hamlet) in Paris in 1827. More common are works that show an actor en scène without offering an accurate representation of setting. The wood engraving by F. Armytage of Henry Irving as Hamlet can be taken as a representative example. Accompanied by the quotation “to be honest as this world goes is to be one man picked out of ten thousand” (1215-6), the engraving shows Irving standing in a medieval interior setting beside a tall stone pillar. Irving’s physical likeness (both face and body) appears to be somewhat idealized to stress the spiritual, philosophical, scholarly and youthful Hamlet that he endeavored to convey in his performance, while the background, though possibly suggestive of Irving’s stage scenery for the scene between Hamlet and Polonius (2.2), is surely not an accurate representation of it. The advent of photography as a medium for portraiture did surprisingly little to change this trend. Enhancement of status and idealization and beautification of person remained guiding principles for portrait photographers. Indeed, to this day, publicity stills of stage or screen performers must be treated with considerable caution as records of actual performance.

Some New Subjects and Media for Hamlet Images: Portraits and Photography

With regard to the development of photography in the nineteenth century, one particular technical advance -- the so-called carte-de-visite -- should be briefly noted here since it played so influential role in facilitating the mass distribution of photographic portraits of actors (Darrah 1981; Linkman 1993, 61-74). Cartes-de-visite were photographs similar in size to visiting cards, and they were commonly exchanged among friends and family members. Portraits of both family members and celebrities were the commonest subjects for this cheap and therefore affordable format, and the international trade in these commercially published cartes-de-visite rapidly made familiar the likenesses of celebrities, including those who worked in the theater, even before books or newspapers could be illustrated with photographic reproductions. There exist numerous cartes-de-visite of nineteenth-century actors in roles from Hamlet, with full or partial sets surviving of such familiar names as Kate Terry, Ellen Terry, Caroline Heath, Alice Marriott, Wilson Barrett, and Charles Albert Fechter. Later in the century, other formats, including the larger format of cabinet photographs (5 ½” x 4”) (Linkman 1993, 74-6), began to supercede the carte-de-visite but the availability of photographic portraits of actors continued, and, to some extent, continues to this day.

Some New Subjects and Media for Hamlet Images: the Mezzotint

Another matter that requires mention with regard to the group of eighteenth-century Hamlet paintings mentioned above has to do yet again with the technology of reproduction. At the period when these works were completed, the primary medium in favor for the printed reproduction of paintings or drawings was the etching or the engraving (Hind 1963, 1-11; Chamberlain 1972, 11-56, 103-34; Lambert 1987, 61-3). The respective techniques involved were labor-intensive, expensive, and slow. McArdell’s 1754 mezzotint of Garrick as Hamlet, however, provides an early example of an alternate process. Invented in Utrecht in 1642 and perfected in England, where the technique became known as the manière anglaise, the mezzotint typically involved the use of an engraved plate that had been pitted in advance. The design was formed by varying the existing roughness so that different areas of the plate would print in different tones of gray, highlights being achieved by burnishing the plate quite smooth (Hind 1963, 11-12; Chamberlain 1972, 136-42; Lambert 1987, 76). The technique had two great advantages. It was better able to reproduce the varying tones of painted art works than either etching or engraving (Sir Joshua Reynolds is known to have particularly admired McArdell’s skills in this respect). Secondly, it was possible (so George Vertue claimed) to make six mezzotints for every engraving. Here, then, quite early in the history of the proliferation of Hamlet images was an apparently cheaper and easier means for the mass reproduction of art images. But there was a significant drawback: the process permitted only a relatively low number of good quality impressions.
A partial solution to these limitations was the later use of steel plates for the mezzotint process. This began in the early 1820s and was aided by Jacob Perkins’s innovation of soft steel plates in 1819. In about 1857 the introduction of electroplating copper with a thin film of pure iron (steel-facing) permitted the engraver to work on the more malleable copper while retaining the longer print runs possible with steel. Examples of early nineteenth-century mezzotints on Hamlet subjects include Samuel William Reynolds’ 1805 mezzotint of Lawrence’s portrait of Kemble and Charles Turner’s 1814 mezzotint (published by James Dunford) of Isaac Pocock’s portrait of Alexander Rae as Hamlet. In January 1826, there appeared a mezzotint portrait of Charles Mayne Young as Hamlet, painted and engraved by Henry Collen, and six years later John Charles Bromley created a mezzotint (published by Moon Boys & Graves) of a painting (Society of British Artists, 1831) of the Gravediggers by the Manchester artist Henry Liverseege. Altogether later is the undated mezzotint portrait of Ellen Terry as Ophelia by Charles William Campbell (or after Campbell) that shows her full length, head and eyes slightly raised, and standing in a densely wooded setting. As will be discussed elsewhere, in the course of the nineteenth century, other methods of reproduction became available, some of them making the dissemination of images both easier and cheaper.

Eighteenth-Century Bardolatry and the Proliferation of Images

The proliferation of images based upon Shakespeare’s plays is inextricably related during the 1740s, 50s, and 60s to the enormous awakening of popular interest in Shakespeare that occurred at that time and indeed continued on into the nineteenth century. Many phenomena contributed to the growth of what ultimately, it has been argued, can be viewed as the construction within English culture of a national icon (Dobson 1992, passim). This is not the place to examine in detail the nature of the contributory phenomena, but they include the unveiling in 1741 of a memorial statue of Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey, a sign of the virtual canonization of Shakespeare. At the same time, there was a marked expansion in readership, particularly among females, one that Lewis Theobald had noted as early as 1726 in his Shakespeare Restored where he remarked of Shakespeare that “there is scarce a Poet, that our English tongue boasts of, who is more the Subject of the Ladies’ Reading” (pp. v-vi). To serve an expanding market of readers, both male and female, and to meet the needs of those who liked to attend theater performances with book in hand, increasingly cheaper editions of Shakespeare became available, although precise details about who bought and read the cheaper texts and precise sales figures are difficult to come by. We know also that just as various theater managers sought to expand the seating capacity of their theaters, so too did publishers print increasing numbers of editions of Shakespeare’s works. Other factors, such as the growth of circulating libraries, the availability in coffee houses of periodicals in which critical discussion of Shakespeare and quotations from his works were common, and the influence of the Shakespeare Ladies’ Club in raising awareness of the virtues of Shakespeare’s works, all played a role in contributing to what became outright bardolatry (Altick 1957, 43, 47, 50, 54, 59, 65; Avery 1956, 153-8; Bate 1989, 25-6; Dobson 1992, 185). In 1769, the growing adulation of Shakespeare was demonstrated in most telling fashion with the Shakespeare Jubilee celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon, part of the immensely successful propagandizing of Shakespeare that had been conducted by Garrick (Rogers 1992, 194-5). Though the Stratford celebrations were marred by rain and the planned procession of “characters” from the plays could not take place (Deelman 1964, 208; England 1964, 50; Stochholm 1964, 60-70, 103), the event still succeeded in raising the cultural status of Shakespeare. Garrick then further capitalized upon this by re-enacting the Jubilee celebrations on the stage at Drury Lane for season after season (Deelman 1964, 286). Most important, however, for the argument of this essay was the ever-increasing appearance of Shakespeare and his characters in the form of graphic images of varying kinds, including images relating to Hamlet.
A further indication of the growing place of Shakespeare within English culture during the years leading up to the Stratford Jubilee is the evidence provided by art exhibitions. In 1760, the Society of Artists was founded, and thereafter its members held an annual exhibition of works until 1791. Shortly after, The Free Society of Artists began exhibitions, which lasted from 1761 to 1783, and on 10 December, 1768, The Royal Academy came into being, the annual exhibitions of which continue to this day. Thirty-seven years later, and in part in competition with the Royal Academy, the British Institution was founded. From the first, the annual exhibitions of these various societies almost always included works of art based upon Shakespeare. The first Hamlet item, however, did not appear until 1775, in the form of a pen drawing of the head of Ophelia, one of twelve Shakspeare’s Characters by John Hamilton Mortimer that were subsequently issued as engravings. The exhibitions generated considerable interest that was then reflected in printed commentaries (and sometimes reproductions) in newspapers and magazines. By the end of the nineteenth century the annual exhibitions at the Royal Academy were attracting between 350,000 and 400,000 people, and the Private View and the Annual Dinner before the opening were two of the most prestigious social events of the London “Season.” Of course, the accessibility of these original works of art would be limited, but works that caught the public attention were frequently reproduced once they had been exhibited, while the originals disappeared from public sight, for the most part, into private collections.
Between 1775 and 1829, there were exhibited some twenty-two Hamlet works, including watercolors. The list includes Sir Thomas Lawrence’s 1801 portrait of John Philip Kemble as Hamlet that is now in the Tate Gallery, but most of the Hamlet originals appear to be no longer extant. Lawrence’s portrait, like the drawings of Mortimer, however, received wide distribution in engraved versions (and as a mezzotint, as mentioned elsewhere), and two further works also appear to have had the wider exposure resulting from reproduction: James Nixon’s 1806 character portrait of Ophelia (engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi sometime before 1815), and James Lonsdale’s 1818 portrait of François Joseph Talma as Hamlet (engraved by Page and by Meyer). Of the various Hamlet works that subsequently appeared in the London exhibitions between 1830 and 1900, the story is much the same. By my estimate there were approximately thirty-six such works. Sixteen are now “unlocated”; six are in private collections (not all of the owners being identifiable); and the remainder are in various galleries. Of these thirty-six works, only seventeen, as far as I know, were reproduced in print form, most as engravings or photogravures, but a few in mezzotint or lithograph. To some extent the reproduction of such works (particularly the multiple reproduction of works by such artists as Richard Redgrave, Daniel Maclise, Arthur Hughes, Edwin Long, and E. Onslow Ford) offers a crude indication of the interest they generated among a public that may well not have seen the originals.

Print Shops

The distribution and growing popularity of reproductions of original art works would not have been possible without the development of print shops. During the eighteenth century, printers discovered that reproductions of works of art and of images of a wide variety of kinds, including portraits of actors (as already mentioned), could be very profitable. Print sellers’ shop windows became festooned with sample prints and in the process became unofficial galleries for those who could not necessarily afford to buy. A number of pictorial records of print shop displays have survived, including Robert Dighton’s watercolor (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum) of the premises of Carrington Bowles. Entitled Scene in St. Paul’s Church Yard (c. 1783), this was then published in 1783 as a mezzotint. A somewhat later example is James Gillray’s hand-colored etching Very Slippy Weather (1808) that also indirectly illustrates how print shop windows became unofficial galleries of graphic art for even the poorest of pockets and for many who would not have dreamed of entering the shop itself. The display and sales of prints served to broaden the familiarity with original art works, and in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the fashion for using prints as wall decorations that had first begun in Paris gave added exposure to artists’ works. The 1775 catalogue of the London print publishers Sayer and Bennett described their available “fine prints in sets” as “proper for the collections in the cabinets of the curious; also elegant and genteel ornaments when framed and glazed, and may be fitted up in a cheaper manner, to ornament rooms, staircases, &c. With curious borders representing frames, a fashion much in use, and produces a very agreeable effect” (quoted Lambert 1987, 183).

Print Sets: the Eighteenth Century

During the later part of the eighteenth century, printmakers and print sellers discovered the commercial possibilities of issuing not just single engravings of a Shakespearean subject, but entire matched sets, suitable for domestic decoration or for insertion among the leaves of a printed edition. Among the examples of such sets that included Hamlet material is Mortimer’s engraved Shakspeare’s Characters. A smaller-sized version of this that was more suitable for book illustration appeared in 1820. When John Bell published his affordable illustrated editions of Shakespeare in the 1770s, a key feature of their attractiveness was the inclusion of engraved illustrations. When the third edition appeared in six-penny weekly numbers, beginning in 1775, Bell introduced additional engravings. Not only were there ready buyers for his texts, but separate sets of the engravings had their own market. This is discernible from his subscription lists which show that a number of his customers wanted to buy only the engravings. Part of Bell’s profits derived, it would seem, from the growing interest in print collecting. Another example is provided by the set of twelve very small etchings by Daniel Chodowiecki, a Polish-born artist who memorialized for the Berliner Genealogische Kalendar of 1779 the Karl Döbbelin 1777-8 production of Hamlet in Berlin with Johann Brockmann in the title role. Between 1783 and 1787, Charles Taylor engraved and published a collection of engravings entitled The Picturesque Beauties of Shakespeare, Being a Selection of Scenes, From the Works of that Great Author. The series contained forty plates, four for each of ten plays, with Smirke providing the drawings for the four Hamlet engravings.

Print Sets: the Boydell Venture

A quite different kind of origin for prints was the famous Boydell enterprise. Although principally a business venture aimed at the establishment of a Shakespeare Gallery in which a large number of commissioned works on Shakespeare topics would be shown, the Boydells (Josiah and John) had from the start planned to publish a very large format book (atlas folio) of engravings done after the larger paintings in the gallery. The Gallery opened in 1789 with thirty-four paintings. By 1790 there were 65 paintings, and when the scheme failed and the contents of the Gallery were sold in 1805, thirty-three artists were represented in 170 items, 84 of large size. Between 1789 and 1805, folio-size prints of the larger paintings appeared separately and in 1805, Josiah Boydell (John Boydell died in 1804) published the planned two-volume atlas folio of A Collection of Prints, from Pictures Painted for the Purpose of Illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakspeare, by the Artists of Great-Britain. A highly expensive work, it contained a total of 100 engravings, among them an engraving by Francis Legat of Benjamin West’s painting (now in the Cincinnati Art Museum) of Ophelia’s mad scene (4.7)
Francis Legat Engraving after Benjamin West
and an engraving by Robert Thew
Engraving by Robert Thew
of Henry Fuseli’s now lost painting of Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost. In 1802, after first appearing in 18 parts (beginning in 1791), a nine-volume The Dramatic Works of Shakspeare Revised by George Steevens (London: Printed by W. Bulmer & Co.) was published containing 100 engravings based on the smaller paintings in the Gallery. To further capitalize on the engravings produced for the edition, which were much smaller than those contained in the Boydell folio, they were published in a separate set as Boydell’s Graphic Illustrations of the Dramatic Works, of Shakespeare; Consisting of a Series of Prints Forming an Elegant and Useful Companion to the Various Editions of His Works, Engraved from Pictures, Purposely Painted by the Very First Artists, and Lately Exhibited at the Shakspeare Gallery (London: Boydell, [1803?]). This set of prints included two Hamlet works based on paintings by Richard Westall: an engraving by William Charles Wilson of the Closet Scene (the original is in the York City Art Gallery) and an engraving by James Parker of Ophelia attempting to hang her garlands at the edge of a brook (the original is now lost).

Print Sets: Some Nineteenth-Century Examples

The middle-class vogue for print-collecting and the popular use of prints as household decoration encouraged the further production of sets of Shakespeare prints during the nineteenth century following the success of the Boydell venture. In 1814, for example, the prolific wood engraver, John Thurston, produced a series of illustrations that were engraved by John Thompson for Charles Whittingham’s Chiswick Press octavo edition of The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare. These small engravings became some of the most popular illustrations of the early nineteenth century and were frequently reprinted. In 1817, they were printed on single sheets by D. S. Maurice, one for each play, each sheet (including one for Hamlet) containing six engravings. In 1831, their popularity unabated, they could be bought separately for 3s. 6d. in a collection published by Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper entitled Illustrations of Shakspeare Comprised in Two Hundred and Thirty Vignette Engravings by Thompson, From Designs by Thurston: Adapted to all Editions. A few years later in response to the popularity of works about Shakespeare’s heroines, Charles Heath published The Shakespeare Gallery; Containing the Principal Female Characters in the Plays of the Great Poet (London: Charles Tilt [1836-37]), a series of forty-five engravings, each accompanied by a brief quotation from the relevant play. As might be expected, among the forty-five engravings is one representing Ophelia, a near full-length portrait engraved by T. A. Dean from a design by John Bostock (see description elsewhere). Just over ten years later in 1848, Heath published a second and more popular set of engravings: The Heroines of Shakespeare: Comprising the Principal Female characters in the Plays of the Great Poet. There were subsequently four more editions of this work prior to 1883. Included in the set was an Ophelia engraved by William Henry Mote from a design by John Hayter. Heath, however, was not alone in this field. Some time in the 1840s or 50s appeared The Beauties of Shakspeare. With Fifty-Two Engravings (London: J. Dicks, n.d.), a set of fifty-two wood engravings by W. G. Standfust, including one of Ophelia. A few years later, The Graphic, a London magazine with a circulation of hundreds of thousands, commissioned paintings of twenty-one Shakespearean heroines. These were first displayed in a London gallery and included a portrait of Ophelia being by Marcus Stone. Reproductions of these works, including Stone’s Ophelia, then appeared in various formats. They were reproduced in the magazine itself but also appeared in portfolio format as The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines. A Series of Studies in Goupilgravure with the Stories of the Plays by William Ernest Henley (London: Sampson, Low, et al, 1888). In 1896, these black and white reproductions were issued as a smaller-sized set of colored engravings
(Kiefer 2001, 40).

Illustrated Editions: From Tonson to Bell

By far the biggest conduit for the dissemination of images based on Shakespeare’s plays were illustrated editions of his works, beginning with the 1709 edition published by Tonson. The history of such editions undergoes a radical change with the edition published by John Bell in 1772-4. Published by subscription, Bell’s five-volume edition containing the twenty-four plays in the current repertory was initially supported by some eight hundred and ninety subscribers for an issue of more than sixteen hundred sets. The edition, which was deliberately inexpensive and aimed at as broad a market as possible, was provided with an engraving for each play, that for Hamlet depicting a subject never illustrated before – the Graveyard Scene (5.i.), designed by Edward Edwards and engraved by John Hall. When the work, now enlarged to included all of Shakespeare’s plays, appeared in a third edition in 1775, Bell added an additional series of thirty-six engraved portraits of actors in character roles, one for each play. That for Hamlet was another “first” because it was a portrait of Jane Lessingham as Ophelia and hence the first depiction of a specific actor in the role. Designed by James Roberts, who supposedly drew the portrait from life (“ad vivam”), and engraved by Charles Grignion, it heralded the long line of mad Ophelias that was to come.
But Bell was not finished with illustrating Shakespeare. Between 1786 and 1788, he published a twenty-volume duodecimo edition that he issued in 76 parts. For each play, Bell commissioned an illustrative scene by Philippe Jacques De Loutherbourg, Garrick’s scenographer, or by William Hamilton. Various engravers, among them Jean Marie Delattre, Francesco Bartolozzi, and James Heath, then completed the engravings. In addition, Bell also included a new series of portraits. The designs for twenty-one of these were supplied principally by Johan Heinrich Ramberg, twelve by Edward F. Burney and four by Mather Brown. These were engraved by James Thornthwaite, Charles, Sherwin, Charles Grignion, Thomas Cook and others. De Loutherbourg’s scene for Hamlet, which was engraved by Thomas Cook and dated 30 April 1785, showed Hamlet and the Ghost, this latter departing dramatically into the ground. Ramberg’s portrait for Hamlet, which was engraved by James Heath, showed John Philip Kemble in the Closet Scene. However, Hamlet is not shown in reaction to the sudden appearance of the Ghost, as was the case in so many earlier Closet Scenes. Instead, we see him earlier in the scene with sword drawn, gesturing towards the dead Polonius’s hand, which can just be seen protruding from the base of a curtain or arras.

Illustrated Editions from Bell to 1805: Bellamy and Robarts, Harding, Wynne and Scholey, Rivington et al

Following the success of Bell’s illustrated editions, other illustrated versions of Shakespeare’s works continued to appear throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century and on through the nineteenth. Even before the serial publication of Bell’s third edition was complete, for example, Bellamy and Robart’s eight-volume octavo edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare began its serial publication in 1787 before being published as a complete work in 1791. Where Bell’s engravings seemed to invite the understanding that they were somehow offering a record of theater performance, the designs for Bellamy and Robarts, many of them by the young Henry James Richter, were very different in style. Framed by ruined gothic arches, partially overgrown with foliage, they express a romantic sensibility. Here is Shakespeare as conceived within the imagination of the reader rather than as experienced in the theater. For Hamlet Richter designed an illustration depicting an incident that is only reported in the theater – Ophelia in a dense forest beside the brook attempting to hang up her crownet weeds upon a branch. This was to become an immensely popular subject during the nineteenth century and one that will be discussed elsewhere (Young 1998, 341-3). A second engraving for Hamlet was designed by Richard Corbould, its subject the more familiar one of Hamlet and the Ghost, though here depicted at the moment when the Ghost calls on Hamlet to “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”
Illustrations that seem far removed from thoughts of theater production are also a feature in what is usually referred to as “Harding’s Edition” of The Plays of William Shakspeare. This duodecimo publication of Steevens’s text was published by Edward Harding and printed by T. Bensley. Issued in 38 numbers at 2s. each, the complete edition was available in 1800 a twelve-volume set, with or without the accompanying engraved plates. There were five Hamlet illustrations, all designed and engraved by William Nelson Gardiner, somewhat in the style of Thomas Rowlandson. Yet another illustrated edition appeared between 1802 and 1805 with wood engravings designed by John Thurston. The Plays of William Shakespeare was published by Wynne and Scholey and printed by T. Bensley. Among its illustrations was a frontispiece for Hamlet of the Closet Scene, showing Hamlet forcing his mother to look at a miniature of his father. Perhaps the most important thing about this work was that it was partly the inspiration for an opposing set of illustrations by Henry Fuseli for a rival illustrated Shakespeare. The prospectus for this work announced in December 1802 an edition that would appear in 38 to 40 parts, one play per part, each with an accompanying copperplate engraving designed by Henry Fuseli (Weinglass 1994, 237-9). This artist, mentioned elsewhere in connection with his contribution to the Boydell venture, was one of the most imaginative and original of all the artists who have ever attempted Shakespeare subjects. Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy from 1799 and Keeper from 1804, he was a major influence upon the development of Romanticism. From early in his career, Shakespeare had been a major influence, an influence awakened by his experience of Garrick’s performances. During an eight-year stay in Italy, he completed a number of a number of drawings based upon Shakespeare, including several of Hamlet, a play that appears to have had a special fascination for him. When he returned to England, there were more Hamlet drawings, but in addition there was an oil painting of The Closet Scene (1793) (Martineau 2003, 112-13), and, as mentioned elsewhere, his large-scale contribution to the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, and the Ghost (1785-90), one of nine paintings that he contributed to the Gallery.
The choice of Fuseli as designer for a complete set of 37 illustrations, one per play, for the newly-planned edition of the Johnson/Steevens text was a highly imaginative and ambitious one. With other apparatus by Alexander Chalmers, the work, printed for F. & C. Rivington and a consortium of some forty booksellers, eventually appeared in 1805, in both nine-volume and ten-volume sets. Fuseli’s Hamlet design, which drew inspiration from Raphael’s The Freeing of St Peter (Tomory 1972, 117, fig. 129), was engraved by Joseph Clarendon Smith and dated at its foot 2 August 1804. It depicted the same subject that he had painted for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery – Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, and the Ghost. However, the octavo size of the Chalmers volumes required some radical compositional changes involving a shift from the large canvas of his oil painting to the small and narrow octavo size of the book volumes, and from “landscape” to “portrait” format. In an attempt to cater to as wide a range of potential buyers as possible, the Chalmers Shakespeare was offered in a variety of formats. One could buy the cheapest version on lower quality paper at 7s. per volume or £3.3s. the set; or one could spend £4.14s.6d. for a set on fine paper; or £9.0s. for royal octavo; or £10.10s. for super royal octavo. There were 3,250 sets printed in 1805, with further editions in 1811 and 1812 (Weinglass 1994, 239, 358-9). However, this was somewhat of a deluxe edition, one that may not have found its way into many homes. Its prices were a long way removed from the six-penny numbers of Bell’s first Shakespeare; yet the figures just cited appear to indicate that in spite of such costs there existed a strong market for illustrated editions of Shakespeare at the turn of the century.

Illustrated Editions after 1805: Thomas Tegg, Charles Whittingham

Following the early nineteenth-century illustrated editions of Shakespeare published by Boydell (1802), Wynne and Scholey (1803-05), and Rivington et al (1805), the appetite for illustrated editions grew. Whereas the first ten years of the century saw about twenty illustrated editions, the average rose to about fifty in the 1850s, falling back to about twenty in the 1890s. It is not the intention to survey this large body of material in any detail here; however, certain editions deserve brief attention for varying reasons. In 1812-15, Thomas Tegg issued Shakespeare’s works “from the text of Isaac Reed” in twelve octavo volumes. It was illustrated with engravings by Richard Rhodes after designs by John Thurston, this latter a name mentioned elsewhere as one of the most prolific designers of Shakespeare images during the nineteenth century. Thurston’s Hamlet illustration depicts the Play Scene at the moment when Claudius’s guilt is exposed. Remarkably, however, although everyone in the illustration is staring at Claudius, the Players enacting the drama that has so disturbed him are not visible.
The 1814 Chiswick Press edition of Shakespeare has been mentioned elsewhere; however, in 1826, Charles Whittingham and the Chiswick Press published another edition of Shakespeare in ten octavo volumes: The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare. With Notes, Original and Selected, By Samuel Weller Singer. The sixty illustrations for this work were all engraved on wood by John Thompson, mostly from designs by Thomas Stothard, Corbould, and Harvey. Thompson’s engraving for Hamlet depicts Ophelia’s mad scene and provides the title-page for the play. The most unusual feature of this work is the series of decorated letters that provide the frontispiece to each volume. Together they spell the publisher’s name. That for volume ten, the volume containing Hamlet, is based on a design by Thomas Stothard and uses the letter “M.” It depicts the moment in the first scene when the Ghost leaves the stage after having appeared before Marcellus, Barnardo, and Horatio.

Illustrated Editions after 1805: Knight’s Pictorial Edition

No illustrated work of the eighteenth century and none in the early nineteenth century can be said to anticipate the revolution represented by Charles Knight’s The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere (London: Charles Knight, [1838-43]). Knight’s edition appeared in fifty-five monthly parts and was then collected into eight volumes. Knight was a champion of the movement to lower book prices so that books could become more accessible to the less affluent. His Penny Magazine (from 1832 to 1845), his Penny Cyclopaedia (issued in weekly parts from 1833), and a number of other works had all demonstrated Knight’s passion for bringing to both middle and working classes useful knowledge and an acquaintance with works of art. His publishing ventures used steam power and the process of stereotyping, an ideal combination for mass production. A great believer in the importance of illustrations, his works were copiously illustrated by his staff of wood-engravers, presided over by John Jackson. In addition, he had established throughout the United Kingdom a wholesale and retail network to market his publications. (Young 2009, 19-41.)
Believing that literature, too, should be accessible to as wide a range of social classes as possible, Knight’s plan to produce a cheap illustrated edition of Shakespeare was thus completely in character. In preparing his Shakespeare edition, he first planned his illustrative material before establishing a text, so important to him was the graphic content of his work. When finally complete, his Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere contained over one thousand illustrations. In keeping with the “educational” function that Knight so believed in, the edition is especially novel in that a great number of the illustrations function as pictorial annotations upon the text, providing visual information about costumes, footwear, antique weapons, customs, and the like. To these ends, he employed Frederick William Fairholt, a well-known engraver of historical subject-matter. Knight also employed Ambrose Poynter to depict Shakespeare’s settings, so as to provide the reader with some sense of the historical “reality” of the places involved (Elsinor in the case of Hamlet). At the same time, he employed William Harvey to produce a series of frontispieces more imaginative in character. That for Hamlet was engraved by John Jackson and shows the Play Scene at the moment when the murderer pours the poison into his victim’s ear. Elsewhere, there is another wood engraving by Jackson (based on a design by G. F. Sargent). This depicts what purports to be Hamlet’s grave, adjoining the royal palace and supposedly also the place where the murder of Hamlet’s father occurred. Another wood engraving is by Gray (probably Charles Gray). It depicts the death of Ophelia, who is shown already in the water. Her skirt is half submerged and her basket of flowers is already floating away.
Knight’s Pictorial Edition was frequently reprinted, not always by Knight himself, into the 1860s and 1870s at least. It first appeared serially in 56 parts, and in its completed form, it cost £7 7s. This was a fairly high price given Knight’s aim of reaching both a middle class and working class readership, and it should be noted that is was almost double the cost of an 1805 Chalmers edition employing low quality paper. However, concerning Knight’s edition and others to be mentioned elsewhere, the ability of a family with limited income to acquire a much-prized edition of Shakespeare for domestic use was greatly assisted by the common practice of serial publication that allowed for piece by piece purchase of the precious volumes.

Illustrated Editions after 1805: The Golden Age of Wood Engraving

In 1843, the year Knight’s first edition was complete, appeared the highly imaginative three-volume publication of The Works of Shakspere revised from the best authorities: with a memoir, and essay on his genius, by Barry Cornwall. Published by Robert Tyas, a distinguishing feature of this edition was the more than 1,000 wood engravings based on designs by Kenny Meadows, most of them the work of Orrin Smith. Hamlet, which appeared in Volume Two, was illustrated with some twenty-five often highly imaginative engravings. Within a few years, Meadows’ designs reappeared in the United States in The Illustrated Shakespeare, an elaborate work edited by Gulian C. Verplanck. The work appeared first in monthly installments between 1844 and 1847 and was then published in a three-volume format by Harper and Brothers of New York in 1847. A key attraction must have been its hundreds of illustrations, a combination of Meadows’ designs with the frontispieces from Knight’s edition, all re-engraved as the title page explained “by H. W. Hewett, after designs by Kenny Meadows, Harvey, and Others.” Americans were thereby provided with access to pirated versions of two of the most imaginative sets of mid-century illustrations of Shakespeare.
Some ten years later, Howard Staunton’s edition of Shakespeare’s Works, which was published by Routledge, appeared in monthly parts between November 1857 and May 1860. Staunton’s edition contained well over 800 wood engravings, and so presented itself as a rival alternative to such illustrated Shakespeare editions as those put out by Knight and Tyas. The designs were the work of John Gilbert, a formidably prolific draughtsman who drew directly on to wood. His wood blocks were then engraved by the Dalziel Brothers, the most influential company of wood engravers of the time. To accompany Hamlet, Gilbert provided the Dalziels with twenty-nine designs, including an impressive title-page that depicts the tragic catastrophe and the entry of Fortinbras (3852). No doubt this made for a very effective front page for the initial serial issue. Four years after Staunton’s edition was complete, the British publishing house of Cassell began to bring out yet another illustrated edition of Shakespeare’s works. It was edited by the husband and wife team of Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke, although it seems clear that much of the labor for the elaborate annotations was by the latter. Known as “Cassell’s Illustrated Shakespeare,” the edition was copiously illustrated with designs by Henry Courtney Selous, the portrait and landscape painter, who, as Gilbert had done, drew his designs directly on to the wood engraving blocks. The “Illustrated Shakespeare” was designed for the popular market and in particular for family reading, as its Preface makes very clear. At the same time, it endeavored to be as inexpensive as possible. In a letter to John Howard Clark in March 1864, Charles Cowden Clarke even described the work as “a positive wonder of cheapness” (Altick 1973, 199). Each play in the Cassell edition was provided with a full-page engraved frontispiece, a headpiece, one or two full-page engravings and one or two half-page engravings for each act, and a tailpiece at the end of the text. The engraver for this huge task was Frederick Wentworth, a London wood engraver.
Finally, one further example of the great wealth of illustrated nineteenth-century Shakespeare editions should be mentioned. When Henry Irving and Frank A. Marshall edited The Works of William Shakespeare for the publisher Blackie in 1890, their text was illustrated by Gordon Browne, the son of the better-known Hablot Browne (“Phiz”). Browne’s very large number of designs included twenty-two for Hamlet. These appeared in Volume Eight and were engraved on wood, like those elsewhere in the edition, by Carl Hentschel.

Technical Innovations: Wood Engraving

Any account of the immense numbers of images related to Shakespeare’s plays that were produced in the nineteenth century, particularly (though not exclusively) those images found in illustrated editions, must take notice of a number of technical innovations relating to the reproduction of multiple copies of images. Where copperplate engraving was the standard method of reproduction in the eighteenth century, even when other methods such as mezzotint (a technique discussed elsewhere) became available, this time-honored but expensive and labor-intensive method did not serve well the greatly increased demands of the printing trade in the century that followed. Perhaps more important than any other technological innovation was the rediscovery at the end of the eighteenth century of wood engraving as a reproductive technique (Engen 1979, ix-x). Its special advantage to publishers was that it permitted both engraving and typeface to be printed together, a saving in time, labor, and cost. Employed for the illustration of Shakespeare from early in the nineteenth century, as I have indicated elsewhere, wood engraving became established during the 1840s and 50s as the principal illustrative medium, not just for books, but for newspapers and periodicals. Exploiting new technologies relating to mechanized paper-making, steam-powered printing presses, and multiple-cylinder stereotype printing, in the first decades of the new century the way was opened for the mass reproduction of images on a scale undreamed of in the eighteenth century. Wood engraving, along with other technical innovations, was a crucial feature of Knight’s many publishing enterprises, including his editions of Shakespeare, and it was wood engraving that was used for the important illustrated editions edited by Barry Cornwall, Gulian Verplanck, Howard Staunton, the Cowden Clarkes, and Henry Irving and Frank Marshall. However, wood engraving, though the most common reproductive medium was not the only choice.

Technical Innovations: Outline Engraving

Running counter to the subtle tonalities of mezzotint and the often slapdash appearance of wood engravings was the very different technique of outline engraving on metal plates (Lambert 1987, 63). Fast and therefore cheap, outline engraving did not attempt to reproduce the complexities and tonalities of original art works. Only the minimal number of lines were employed to convey the form and subject-matter of an original. The technique had been used in archaeological drawings and had been revived by the English engraver John Flaxman, whose Dante illustrations were published in 1793. Henry Fuseli permitted, with a certain reluctance, a cousin (a namesake Heinrich Füssli) to publish a collection of his works as outline engravings. In 1807, the first issue of the collection was published in Zürich with the title Heinrich Fuessli's Saemmtliche Werke. Although it did not sell well, it is of some importance to the story of Hamlet images since it included an unsigned outline engraving by Johann Heinrich Lips (1758-1817), depicting the murder of King Hamlet by Claudius as described by the Ghost in 1.5. This was based upon a drawing executed in 1771 during Fuseli's years in Italy.
Far better known than Fuseli’s outline engravings and a considerable influence upon other artists in the nineteenth century were the German artist Moritz Retzsch’s Outlines to Shakespeare (Gallerie zu Shakespeare's Dramatischen Werken). These first began to appear in Leipzig and London in 1828 with a set of outline engravings on Hamlet, followed by series on Macbeth (1833), Romeo and Juliet (1836), King Lear (1838), The Tempest (1841), Othello (1842), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1844), and Henry IV, Parts I and II (1846). Dedicated by its publisher to King George IV, the Hamlet series consisted of seventeen outline engravings designed and engraved by Retzsch, each accompanied by a very detailed analytical commentary by the Dresden art historian Carl August Boettiger that incorporated quotations purportedly from the artist himself. Retzsch had been influenced by Flaxman as perhaps was the English artist Frank Howard whose work included twelve outline engravings on Hamlet subjects, all dated 1 September 1827. It is not clear whether these works were published separately at that date, but all appeared in Volume Five of The Spirit of the Plays of Shakspeare, published by Cadell in 1833. Much later, nine of these engravings, reduced in size, then later reappeared in Shakspeare’s Dramatic Works (London: Nelson, 1876), edited by W. H. Davenport Adams, and illustrated with 370 outline illustrations by Howard.
Two further examples of the use of outline engraving require brief mention here. The first is the fifteen-volume edition of The Plays and Poems of Shakspeare, With a Life, Glossarial Notes, and One Hundred and Seventy Illustrations from the Plates in Boydell’s Edition, edited and published by A. J. Valpy between 1832 and 1834. This was an attempt to create an affordable edition of Shakespeare that would also make available versions of Boydell’s plates. Included in Volume XIV were four outline engravings on steel by William Francis Starling, providing versions of Fuseli’s depiction of Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost, Benjamin West’s of the mad Ophelia, and Richard Westall’s depictions of the Closet Scene and of the Death of Ophelia. In 1839, not long after Valpy’s edition, George Scharf published his Recollections of the Scenic Effects of Covent Garden Theatre During the Season 1838-9. Scharf’s purpose was to record the stage productions he witnessed, and in particular the work of the actor-manager William Charles Macready. To record some details of Macready’s Hamlet, in which Macready played the title role, Scharf created three outline engravings depicting Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost in Act One, the Play Scene, and the final scene.

Technical Innovations: Steel Engraving

Quite another form of technology was steel engraving, a process dating from the 1820s that used much the same techniques as earlier engraving processes (Hind 1963, 15; Chamberlain 1972, 134-5; Hunnisett 1989, 1-7; Lambert 1987, 63). Although producing the finished plate was just as time-consuming as engraving or etching on copper, steel plates had the advantage of being able to withstand the long print runs increasingly required in the publishing industry. Substantial financial savings could thus be obtained because three to four times the number of impressions could be made from a steel plate than from a copper plate. Furthermore, the hardness of steel encouraged engravers to create finer and more intricate effects. With the advent of power presses and the use of stereotyping, it became possible to mass-produce illustrated books in a manner undreamed of in the previous century.
A major figure in the development of engraving on steel plates was Charles Heath, who, as mentioned elsewhere, in 1836-7 published a series of forty-five engravings in The Shakespeare Gallery; Containing the Principal Female Characters in the Plays of the Great Poet, and just over ten years later published a second and more popular set of engravings in The Heroines of Shakespeare: Comprising the Principal Female characters in the Plays of the Great Poet. Heath’s engravings were on a number of occasions used by other publishers to illustrate other Shakespeare works, so that the Ophelias in his two sets of engravings must have become widely familiar since one or other of the Ophelias appeared in such works as The Stratford Gallery; or the Shakspeare Sisterhood: Comprising Forty-Five Ideal Portraits described by Henrietta Lee Palmer. Illustrated with fine engravings on steel, from designs by eminent hands (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1859), Heinrich Heine’s Shakespeare’s Mädchen und Frauen (1839), the French Galerie des Femmes de Shakspeare (1840s), various British and American editions of Anna Jameson’s Characteristics of Women, and various American editions of Mary Cowden Clarke’s The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines (1851-52, 1857, 1868, 1891). Other examples of Hamlet works produced in the form of steel engravings include an 1840 steel version by the German engraver Wenceslaus Pobuda of Boydell’s print of Fuseli’s Hamlet painting for the Shakespeare Gallery. Two years later, a French translation by Alphonse Borghers of Lamb’s Contes Shaksperians included an unsigned steel engraving by François Adolphe Bruneau Audibran of the Play Scene with a vignette of Hamlet and the Ghost.
Pobuda’s print may stand as a reminder that from 1830 to 1870, steel engravings, sometimes on a quite large scale, were employed to reproduce works of art. One of the most popular English Hamlet works of the Victorian period, Daniel Maclise’s oil painting of the Play Scene (1842), was reproduced by Charles Rolls in 1854 as a steel engraving. This later was used in 1872 in Charles Knight’s Works of Shakspere. Imperial Edition, and in 1879 it was published by J. S. Virtue in The Shakspere Gallery. A much grander steel engraving of Maclise’s painting was produced by Charles William Sharpe in 1868. Measuring 19" x 33", this was widely circulated as an Art Union of London print, and was clearly the kind of reproduction of a painting the Victorians would have considered eminently suitable for either wall decoration or for a collector’s portfolio. Although Maclise’s painting was much discussed at the time of its first exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1842, its subsequent wide familiarity, like such works as West’s painting of Garrick as Hamlet or Lawrence’s portrait of Kemble as Hamlet, must to a great degree have been due to the wide availability of reproductions of the original work.

Technical Innovations: Lithography

The development of lithography was an entirely new technology quite distinct from that of either copperplate or steel engraving (Lambert 1987, 77). Invented in 1798 by Alois Senefelder, the son of a Bavarian actor, lithography provided a completely different form of pictorial reproduction, although the process did not become widely known for another twenty or so years. Instead of cutting or scraping into a wooden block or metal plate, the lithographer drew or painted his design directly upon a porous printing surface, usually a stone. Lithography, which could reproduce the effects of the engraved process cheaply and easily, was especially effective at reproducing drawings. A potentially significant advantage was the potential of lithography to reproduce art works in color. Of those nineteenth-century lithographs on Hamlet subjects that I have been able to identify, most were in color, among the earliest examples being George Scharf’s thirteen colored illustrations for James Robinson Planché’s Costume of Shakspeare’s Tragedy of ‘Hamlet’ Selected and Arranged from the Best Authorities, Expressly for the Proprietors of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (London: Miller, 1825; and Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1825). Though not in color, Eugène Delacroix’s various Hamlet lithographs are far better known today, although originally they only appeared in very small print runs and cannot have been known to many outside Delacroix’s own artistic circle. Having already produced a series of lithographs on Faust in 1827 and having completed a lithograph of the Graveyard scene from Hamlet in 1828, Delacroix published at his own expense in 1844 a small edition (80 copies) of thirteen Hamlet lithographs, variously dated 1834, 1835, and 1843. After the death of Delacroix in 1863, Paul Meurice published Delacroix’s lithographs in an edition of 200 copies. Other examples of Hamlet lithographs include the reproduction by Madeley of a portrait of George Jones as Hamlet by Charles Martin (Royal Academy, 1836); a reproduction by Edward Morton of a portrait of Charles Kean as Hamlet by Alfred Chalon (1838), and portraits of John Philip Kemble and Charles Kemble designed and lithographed by Richard James Lane. Another example, quite different in nature, is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s lithograph (created in collaboration with Sir Seymour Hayden) of an 1858 drawing now in the British Museum that depicts a highly complex scene in which Ophelia attempts to return Hamlet’s gifts to him.

Technical Innovations: Photography

The various technologies for the reproduction of images mentioned thus far were, of course, to be largely eclipsed by the development of photography (Lambert 1987, 107-11; Linkman 1993, 22-27; Young [a], 260-307). Various photographic processes discovered in the second quarter of the nineteenth century revealed how images on paper could be transferred through the action of light on to wood or steel plates which could then be engraved for the reproduction of the original image. The discovery of another process – the daguerreotype – which could fix an image direct from nature without the intervening agency of an artist was, however, limited in scope because images produced in this way could not be duplicated (Linkman 1993, 22-7). Other processes invented shortly after, however, provided the potential for photomechanical reproduction. The importance of photography in the dissemination of portraits of actors has been mentioned elsewhere, among the earliest photographic Hamlet works being some daguerreotype portraits of well-known actors in Hamlet roles. I have been unable to locate the originals of these but engraved versions of them appeared in various publications issued by John Tallis, who had established a new publishing company, the London Printing and Publishing Company, in December 1853. There is, for example, an unsigned engraving of Samuel Phelps as Hamlet and Isabella Glyn as Gertrude performing the Closet Scene from a Daguerreotype by Paine of Islington. There is an unsigned engraving of Charles Kean as Hamlet from a Daguerreotype, and there is an engraving of Gustavus Vaughan Brooke as Hamlet by the English engraver D. Pound from a Daguerreotype by Fitzgibbon of St. Louis. Following these early examples, examples of photographic portraits of actors in Hamlet roles become increasingly common, and the proliferation of such portraits throughout the century (as original photographs, as printed reproductions of those originals, as book illustrations, as postcards, etc.) paralleled the enormous Victorian desire to possess photographic likenesses of celebrity figures whether royalty, athletes, military leaders, statesmen, or actors.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, when ways had been found to speed up the photographic process, it became more feasible to photograph other kinds of theatrical subjects, including the exteriors and interiors of theaters and even play productions. Of particular historical importance with regard to records of Hamlet are the photographs of William Poel’s revolutionary productions of Hamlet in 1881 and 1900. In the first of these, and in an attempt to break away from the use of a proscenium stage and elaborate stage scenery, Poel used the First Quarto text of Hamlet, dressed his actors (all amateurs except for himself and Helen Maude) in Elizabethan-style costumes, and in St. George’s Hall (London) used a bare, draped stage with maroon hangings to create something approximating to an Elizabethan stage. Our only photographic record of this is a studio work depicting Helen Maude (Maude Holt) as Ofelia and Zoe Bland as Gertred in Ofelia’s mad scene. Though not taken in the theater, it is of considerable interest because it confirms that Poel adopted the unique First Quarto stage direction that has Ofelia enter for her mad scene playing on a lute. When Poel presented another production of Hamlet in Carpenters Hall (London) in 1900, however, his attempt to create an equivalent of the Elizabethan stage was recorded photographically in the theater. Two photographs of the Carpenters Hall production show the full stage and its rear upper acting area, the details in part influenced by the recent publication two years earlier of the copy of De Witt’s sketch of the interior of the Swan Theatre. One photograph depicts the first court scene (1.2) in which most of the cast appear to be present on stage. The second photograph, which also offers valuable evidence of both the stage itself and the costumes used by Poel’s actors, is of Ofelia's mad scene, with Ofelia (Master Bartington), Gertred (Edgar Playford), the King (Philip Anstey), and Leartes (Charles Bright) present. Although the photograph has every appearance of being a record of an actual moment during performance, the rows of empty audience chairs in the foreground clearly reveal that, like most theater photographs, this one was taken during a dress rehearsal. In the same year, A. Schuler took a large number of photographs in order to make a very complete record for a book on the production of Hamlet at the Imperial Hermitage Theater in St. Petersburg (Folger Shakespeare Library Art Vol. f27). As with the photographs of Poel’s production, however, all is not quite what it seems. Close scrutiny of the Schuler’s photographs reveals that they were posed and hence not taken during an actual performance. The photograph of the Play Scene, for example, even shows a number of the cast (including Ophelia and the women around her) looking directly at the camera.

Hamlet Images in Continental Europe and North America

As can be inferred from a number of examples mentioned elsewhere, images based upon Shakespeare’s plays were not generated solely by artists in Britain. Indeed, a significant number originated in other countries, matching the growth throughout Europe and the United States of fascination with Shakespeare. However, very few images appear until the following century, obvious exceptions being Fuseli’s work while away from Britain in Italy and Chodowiecki’s pictorial records of Brockmann’s Berlin Hamlet. To those two eighteenth-century examples, one can add a number of engraved portraits of actors as Hamlet: Johann Brockmann by Tringham (1782) and by J. D. Heidenreich (1794), Josef Lange by Pfeiffer (1795), Friedrich Ludwig Schröder by K. M. Ernst (1797), and J. Beschort by C. W. Seeliger {1799). To these we can add Giovanni Batta Leonetti’s engraving (after Guiseppe Cades) of Hamlet and the Ghost that provides the frontispiece to Hamlet. Tragedia de Villermo Shakespeare. Traducida e ilustrada con la Vida de Autor ... por Inarco Celenio (Madrid: Villalpando, 1798).

Hamlet Images in France

In France, the revolutionary acceptance of Shakespeare in the face of eighteenth-century neo-classical strictures, the heritage of Voltaire and others, was given enormous impetus by the 1827 performances of Shakespeare in Paris by Charles Kemble and his company, which included Harriet Smithson, who as Ophelia created a sensation with her extraordinary acting of the mad scenes. The performances of the English actors gave rise to commemorative lithographs of Hamlet by Achille Devéria and Louis Boulanger, to a striking lithograph by Auguste Valmont of Smithson as the mad Ophelia (Kiefer 2001, 21), and indirectly to some of those (mentioned elsewhere) of Delacroix. Much has been written about the impact of the Kemble productions, particularly of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet upon the French romantic movement, since from this date onwards, interest and acceptance of Shakespeare in France grew. There were at least sixty-five performances of Hamlet alone between 1831 and 1840. Images based on the plays became more common, and Hamlet, which was one of the most translated and/or adapted of the tragedies, and certainly the most discussed, inevitably was well represented by practitioners of the visual arts. Even before 1827, the performances of the French actor François Joseph Talma as Hamlet from 1803 onwards, in Ducis’s translation, had inspired several portraits of him, including an engraving by Paul Legrand, and an oil painting by Anthelme-François Lagrenné (Martineau 2003, 140-41). Two decades or so later, the great French Hamlet, Philibert Alphonse Rouvière, inspired an engraved portrait by H. Valentin (c. 1847), a portrait designed and etched by Charles Geoffroy in 1855 to accompany a four-page biography of the actor by Charles Baudelaire, and a striking oil portrait (1865) by Edouard Manet (now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Much later in the century, two major French interpreters of the role of Hamlet, Jean Mounet-Sully and Sarah Bernhardt, also inspired visual representations of themselves as Hamlet, including a fairly extensive photographic record. Bernhardt, in addition, herself sculpted a striking bronze bas relief of the drowning Ophelia (c. 1890), a role she herself played prior to taking on the title part in 1899.
Other Hamlet art works by nineteenth-century French artists include a drawing of the Ghost by Charles Baudelaire, a poet particularly fascinated by Hamlet. In February, 1835, a lithograph portrait of John Philip Kemble by Alphonse Leon Noel was published in Echo Britannique, and in 1839, Louis-Henri de Rudder completed a painting of the Death of Polonius. In 1843 Auguste Préault, who had been much influenced by the 1827 Paris performances completed a bronze relief sculpture of Ophelia now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille. Various works exhibited at the Paris Salon included lithographs by Charles Lehmann of Hamlet and Ophelia in 1846, and an oil of Ophelia by James (Jean Baptiste) Bertrand in 1872. Other works include a painting by Jean Louis Bezard of Hamlet beside Ophelia’s tombstone, a sculpture of Ophelia (?1851) by Alexandre Falguière, an 1871 oil painting of Ophelia by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (now in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, with the title Young Woman Weaving a Wreath of Flowers), and an extraordinary depiction of the mad Ophelia by Madeleine Lemaire, reproduced in the 1880s as a photogravure by Goupil & Company (Paris).
Among French editions and other publications on Shakespeare, one finds a number of illustrations of Hamlet, but not all are of French origin. In 1828, for example, Retzsche’s Gallerie (mentioned elsewhere) was published in a French translation in Paris by Audot with reduced-size versions of Retzsche’s outline designs. Benjamin Laroche’s 1840 translation of Shakespeare’s works made use of Charles Heath’s 1836 engravings for the Shakespeare Gallery, as did the Galerie des Femmes de Shakspere (Paris: H. Delloye, n.d.), the Galeries des personnages de Shakespeare (Paris: Baudry, 1844), and Les Femmes de Shakespeare (Paris: Pick, 1860). Montégut’s Oeuvres complètes de Shakespeare (Paris: Hachette, 1869-70) employed twenty-one of the Selous/Wentworth wood engravings that had appeared in Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke’s illustrated Shakespeare in 1868 (mentioned elsewhere). In other works, however, French artists set their talents to work. The 1847 Dumas/Meurice Hamlet, Prince de Danemark (Paris: Donday-Dupré), for example, included a wood engraving of Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost by “G.” (probably Alphonse Gerard), after a design by “E. L.” François-Victor Hugo’s translation, Oeuvres complètes de Shakespeare (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1875-80), contained 37 illustrations by Charles Henri Pille, including a Graveyard Scene for Hamlet, engraved by Louis Monzies. At the end of the century, Jules Lermina’s translation, Oeuvres de W. Shakespeare (Paris: Boulanger, 1898), contained 35 wood engravings to illustrate Hamlet, designed by Albert Robida and engraved by Bourden and Keilhauer.

Hamlet images in Germany

The considerable German interest in Shakespeare in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which so influenced both British and French attitudes, was reflected in visual representations of Shakespearean subjects from the eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries. A number of eighteenth-century portraits have been mentioned elsewhere. In the nineteenth century, portraits of actors playing the roles of Hamlet or Ophelia are particularly common. These include portraits of such actors as Karl Devrient, Emil Devrient, Otto Devrient, Ludwig Dessoir, Friedrich Haase, Siegwart Friedmann, Bogumil Dawison, Josef Wagner, and Josef Kainz in the role of Hamlet, and portraits of Franziska Berg, Caroline Bauer, and Marie Bayer-Bürck as Ophelia. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, several German painters were particularly attracted to the subject of Ophelia. Ferdinand Piloty, Victor Muller, Gabriel Max, and Georg Richard Falkenberg all painted Ophelia beside the brook.
More important, perhaps, than such works with regard to the German familiarity with images of Hamlet were illustrated books containing Hamlet images. A number of the portraits mentioned above were clearly designed to illustrate texts of the play. Other texts, however, included illustrations of scenes from the play. Chodowiecki’s series of etchings and Retzsche’s very influential Galerie of 1828 have already been mentioned elsewhere. Some fifty years earlier, a 1777 Augsburg edition of Hamlet included an engraving by J. E. Nilson, depicting Schopf senior as Hamlet and Schimann as Ophelia in the “To a Nunnery” scene. An edition of Schlegel and Tieck’s Shakspeare’s dramatischen Werke (Berlin: Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1874) contained eleven Hamlet illustrations, ten by Hermann Knackfuss and the other an engraving by Schulze of Piloty’s painting of Ophelia. As in France and other European countries, it was not uncommon for publishers to use English designs. Westall’s painting of Ophelia attempting to hang up her garlands beside the brook and various designs by Thurston all provided illustrative material for a number of German editions of Shakespeare, as did twenty-nine Hamlet wood engravings by John Gilbert which appear in Shakspeare’s sämmtliche Werke (Stuttgart: Halberger, n.d.).

Hamlet Images in Selected Other Continental Countries

France and Germany were not the only Continental countries to become familiar with Shakespeare’s works, to translate his works, perform the plays, and produce visual images based upon his plays, including images related to Hamlet. In Russia, where Shakespeare was particularly influential, there were made photographs of various Russian actors in Shakespearean roles, including photographs of Anatolius Kremlov as Hamlet and Vera Komisarjevskaya as Ophelia in productions at the Imperial Hermitage Theater in St. Petersburg. As mentioned elsewhere, there is also a wonderful photographic record by A. Schuler of a production of Hamlet in St. Petersburg in 1900. As in certain other countries, book illustrators tended to employ “borrowed” images. P. A. Kanshin’s translation of Shakespeare, for example, is illustrated, not by Russian artists, but by “borrowed” images, Hamlet being represented by engravings of works by Piloty and Delacroix.
In Poland, once the Romantic movement made its impact from the end of the 1820s, Shakespeare became a central influence in Polish literary and theatrical culture, although the first collected edition of the plays, edited by Joseph Ignacy Kraszewski, did not appear until 1875-77. Following the appearance of Kraszewski’s edition, works based on Shakespeare subjects became popular among Polish artists, who produced illustrations in books and periodicals, sculptures, and paintings. The periodical Tygodnik Powszechny, for example, reproduced Blotnicki’s sculpture of Hamlet in 1885. Photographers provided portraits of actors, one of the most celebrated of these being Helena Modjeska, who before leaving Poland and making a new career in the United States, was photographed in the role of Ophelia, which she acted in Crakow and Warsaw. Among Polish painters of Shakespeare subjects in the nineteenth century, the best known are Aleksander Gierymski, Wladyslow Czachórski and Maurycy Gottlieb. All three were associated with the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Czachórski’s Hamlet with the Players (now privately-owned in the United States) was exhibited at the Munich Kunstverein in 1875 and received further publicity and exposure when it won a gold medal at the World Art Exhibition in Munich four years later).
In Italy, attempts were made to introduce Shakespeare to theater audiences in 1820 (Othello), 1845 (Othello) and 1850 (Hamlet) but with no great success. However, when Ernesto Rossi began to perform Shakespeare, everything changed. He became famous as a Shakespeare performer, Hamlet being one of his most celebrated roles. As an interpreter of the great tragic roles, Rossi was followed by Tommaso Salvini, who included Hamlet to his repertoire. Both actors played in various countries outside Italy, including England and the United States, and there are numerous theatrical portraits of them. Of Rossi’s Hamlet, there is an engraving by Modesto Faustino, several photographs depicting him with a skull, and a remarkable photograph showing him prone on the ground in his dying moments in Act 5. In addition, Rossi’s Hamlet, gesturing towards the skull that he holds in one hand, was commemorated posthumously in a striking marble sculpture by Ernesto Troili (1902) that is now in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Gallery in Stratford-upon-Avon. Salvini’s role Hamlet is also recorded in photographs and engravings. Not unexpectedly, a number of nineteenth-century Italian editions of Shakespeare were illustrated, but those that I have examined have “imported” illustrations. The Hamlet text in Giulio Carcano’s translation of Opere di Shakspeare (Milan: Hoepli, 1875), for example, uses a German engraving of the mad Ophelia, while the Teatri di Shakspeare (Milan: Libreria Editrice, 1878), translated by Carlo Rusconi and Cristofero Pasqualigo, uses the ever-popular Selous/Wentworth engravings.

Hamlet Images in the United States

During the eighteenth century, signs of familiarity with Shakespeare in the American colonies are few, consisting for the most part of accounts of the odd amateur production and the records of the first professional productions at mid century. Initially, Puritan influences in the north, and the Quaker strength in Philadelphia created a measure of opposition to the theater; the Revolutionary War, which led to the closing of professional theaters where the Continental Congress had influence, paradoxically permitted theatrical activity in places such as Boston that were occupied by the British. Following the Revolution, Shakespeare (mostly the tragedies) was regularly performed, new theaters were built in various cities, and native-born actors began to swell the ranks of imported ex-patriot actors from England. By the end of the century, the first American editions of Shakespeare began to appear. In the nineteenth century, there was a huge growth of interest in Shakespeare, and by 1865, there were large numbers of editions in print, a number of which were illustrated, though often with “imported” designs and/or engravings.
As might be expected, foremost among the visual images were portraits of a string of accomplished Shakespearean actors, some of them visitors and some of them native born or permanent immigrants. Among the former were Edmund Kean, Charles Kean, Ellen Tree, John Philip Kemble, William Charles Macready, Charles and Fanny Kemble, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Jean Mounet-Sully, Adelaide Neilson, Kyrle Bellew, Charles Albert Fechter, Ernesto Rossi, Tommaso Salvini, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and Sarah Bernhardt, while native born or immigrant actors included the likes of James Henry Hackett, Thomas Abthorpe Cooper, John Howard Payne, Edwin Forrest, Charlotte Cushman, and Edwin Booth. Photographs and engravings of all these were very numerous, and, since most of them at some time performed in Hamlet, a large number of Hamlet portraits depicting them in character exists. Some of the most memorable were by the New York photographer Napoleon Sarony, who photographed Lawrence Barrett, Charles Fechter, Edwin Booth, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Hamlet, and Helena Modjeska as Ophelia. Other American photographers, such as Frederick Gurney and Benjamin J. Falk, also did portraits of Hamlet stars in character, among them J. B. Howe, Edwin Booth, and Walker Whiteside as Hamlet, and Julia Arthur as Ophelia.
Actors’ performances were also commemorated in other media. John Howard Payne, for example, was portrayed as Hamlet in an undated oil now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by the American artist (of English descent) Charles Robert Leslie, and Junius Brutus Booth in an oil by Thomas Sully. However, no nineteenth-century American actor was as frequently portrayed as Edwin Booth. There are numerous photographs and engravings of him as Hamlet. There are also sculptures, paintings, and white-line wood engravings (by William James Linton) of him in the role. Of special importance to theater historians is the set of six wood-engravings in Hamlet, As Performed by Edwin Booth (New York: Baker & Godwin, [1866]). These record the set designs and various scenes from the production of Hamlet that Booth put on in the Winter Garden theater in the 1864-65 season.
American art works based on Shakespeare were by no means confined to portraits or book illustrations. Works based on Hamlet include Lilly Martin Spencer’s drawing entitled “Alas poor Yorick” and three oils based on Hamlet (two of Ophelia and one of Hamlet and Ophelia) that were composed between 1842 and 1850. Domenico Tojetti, who left Rome and settled in San Francisco, painted an Ophelia in 1878 and a Hamlet and Ophelia in about 1890. Albert Pinkham Ryder painted an 1887 oil of Ophelia, and Edward Austin Abbey painted an Ophelia by the Brook in watercolor, gouache and ink and in 1897 a Play Scene in Hamlet.

Privileged Scenes: Introduction

Elsewhere in this account of Hamlet and the visual arts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much of the principal focus is upon the accelerating proliferation and dissemination of visual images of the play to a broadening spectrum of readers. As new technologies permitted longer print runs, cheaper means of production, and wider distribution, images became readily available not just to the relatively well-off but, particularly as the nineteenth century advanced, to those among the middle and artisan classes. The aim of presenting some of the evidence concerning this process was to show that just as familiarity with Shakespeare’s texts increased among the populations of Europe and the United Stages, so too did familiarity with images based on the plays. Although images based on Shakespeare’s plays often presented themselves as an integral part of a published edition, they also could have an independent life of their own as art works in exhibitions and private collections and in the form of separately published prints that could be purchased for use as domestic wall decorations or for inclusion in a portfolio of prints that could then be viewed at the leisure of its owner.
This rich visual legacy (evidence exists, for example, of over 2,000 Hamlet images) of oils, water colors, engravings on copper, steel, and wood, mezzotints, lithographs, photographs, and sculptures played a significant role in the cultural construction of Shakespeare within Western culture. Shakespeare became “known” not just from editions of his texts or from performances of these texts but through other less obvious means. Indeed, the place of the figure of Hamlet, for example, in the collective memory and imagination might be more dependent on artists’ images of this character than any familiarity derived from reading or attendance at the theater. To understand how Shakespeare was perceived between 1709 and 1900, then, it behooves us not just to examine changing editorial practices and critical commentary concerned with texts and performances but to look at how practitioners of the visual arts provided their own wealth of interpretive commentary, a type of commentary that in some instances may have been far more influential than anything achieved by the editors and critics so carefully documented in the Variorum editions of Shakespeare.
What quickly becomes apparent to anyone examining the vast numbers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century images of Shakespeare’s plays is that certain subjects and scenes achieve a privileged position, in that artists choose to return to them again and again. Certain subjects and scenes that are privileged at one time, however, may then be supplanted by the choice of others at a later date. Although almost every major scene and incident in Hamlet was represented visually between 1709 and 1900, certain subjects received a higher proportion of attention. The scope of this essay is not such that anything other than these privileged scenes can be discussed. Furthermore, it should be understood that only the barest commentary can be offered concerning those Hamlet subjects that most inspired artists and that in turn were most familiar to viewers. Included here are brief considerations of the following:

Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost (1.4-5)
Ophelia’s description of Hamlet (2.1)
Hamlet reading a book (2.2)
Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (3.1)
Hamlet and Ophelia (3.1)
The Play Scene (3.2)
The Closet Scene and the Killing of Polonius (3.4)
The Closet Scene and Hamlet’s Showing of the Two Portraits (3.4)
The Closet Scene and the Ghost’s Reappearance (3.4)
Ophelia’s madness (4.5)
Ophelia’s death (4.5)
The Graveyard Scene (5.1)
The Tragic Conclusion (5.1)

Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost (1.4-5)

Within the two scenes during which Hamlet first encounters the Ghost, there occur four distinct incidents, each of which seems to have provided a powerful stimulus to a number of artists: the first appearance of the Ghost and Hamlet’s reaction (624); Hamlet’s attempt to follow the Ghost (671-80); Hamlet’s scene alone with the Ghost (681-776); and Hamlet’s forcing his companions to swear upon his sword (842-78); Already discussed elsewhere is what appears to have been the earliest rendition of the first of these incidents, Benjamin Wilson’s now lost painting of Garrick’s famous “start” upon first seeing the Ghost, a work familiar to us only from James McArdell’s 1754 mezzotint. Concerning Hamlet’s “start” there was a long-established theatrical tradition, and there is plenty of evidence in eighteenth-century discussions of actors and their performances that this was considered a touchstone in the assessment of any Hamlet’s performance.

Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost (1.4-5): Hamlet’s “Start”

When Hamlet first saw the Ghost and exclaimed “Angels and ministers of grace defend us” (624), he typically extended his arms in front of him, his fingers upwards and his palms towards the fearful figure in front of him. His weight was transferred backwards upon his rear foot, and, in a piece of stage business that is often mentioned, his hat fell upon the ground, or, as happened in some productions (Johann Brockmann, Henderson, Master William Betty), it was consciously removed. Hamlet’s face expressed intense fear and awe, and in Garrick’s case at least,
Hamlet’s hair rose (Garrick had his wig-maker create a special “fright” wig). Many of the visual depictions of this moment consequently show Hamlet posed in the “start” position, hatless, and expressing intense emotion. Frequently, the hat is shown upon the ground, as in the 1771 anonymous engraving of Frodsham (first name unknown) as Hamlet, a 1795 engraving of Josef Lange, and an 1828 lithograph of Charles Kean. On through the nineteenth century, Hamlet’s loss of his hat remained a staple piece of stage business, as can be seen from a number of illustrations. As late as 1900, a photographic collection recording a 1900 St. Petersburg production of Hamlet, mentioned elsewhere, faithfully records Hamlet’s hat on the ground.

Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost (1.4-5): the Setting

Although artists such as Wilson may have largely restricted the focus of their work to Hamlet himself, others sought to capture the effect of the outdoor night-time scene. In both 1.4 and 1.5, the castle architecture, the height of the platform above the sea, “the dreadful summit of the cliff” (658), and the roaring sea itself all offered scope for creating a setting that depicted the human participants as physically vulnerable in the face of powerful natural, and in the case of the Ghost supernatural, forces that threaten to overwhelm them. Benjamin Wilson’s 1768-9 painting of William Powell as Hamlet, with Horatio (probably Thomas Hull), Marcellus, and the Ghost (probably Robert Bensley), is quite telling in this respect. The human figures are presented as quite small within an extended landscape setting dominated by somber clouds and the sea, although this latter is difficult to discern because of the poor condition of Wilson’s painting. Towering above them at the left are the dark stone walls of the castle, a typical feature of visual presentations of these scenes that reminds of the fact that the characters are close to but outside the castle, poised between the evil of the Danish court and the perilous world that exists beyond the platform where the sentries stand guard. Using an effect perhaps derived from Renaissance painting, Wilson highlights Hamlet’s face, using as his source the moon that has momentarily broken through the dark clouds. This indeed is the “very place” that “puts toys of desperation, Without more motive, into every brain” (663+1-2).

Both sea and moonlight, potentially powerful symbols of disorder, instability, and turbulence, recur in many representations of 1.4. and 1.5. No artist conveyed this more effectively than Henry Fuseli in his painting for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, a work known to us from Robert Thew’s 1796 engraving.
The scene depicted is the moment when the Ghost beckons Hamlet and this latter struggles to follow him. That the action takes place on a high and dangerous spot is emphasized by the low horizon created by having the parapet low down in the picture plane running horizontally from left to right. In the right foreground is the suggestion of a cannon to remind us of the location (the platform before Elsinore). Far below the edge of the platform, we can glimpse the wild and raging sea, its vastness and power heightening the sense of the sublime. To the left is the masonry of the castle wall and gateway that tie Fuseli’s human figures who stand in front of it to the human sphere, while the Ghost at right is more obviously linked only to the sky behind him.
The Ghost extends his right arm horizontally across his body and points with his truncheon to beckon Hamlet, who, with legs apart, leans almost as if with longing towards, rather than away from, the terrifying specter. Horatio, standing behind Hamlet, attempts to restrain him, but the force of Hamlet's desire seems to be about to propel him forward. Marcellus at the far left is only partially visible. His hands express consternation, but he has no physical contact with Hamlet, as though any influence he may have amounts to nothing. We sense what is about to happen as Hamlet breaks from his companions, and we sense above all the son's almost desperate wish to respond to the father's call and propel himself forward. For Fuseli himself, there is also the element of the heroic in Hamlet's deliberate courage in confronting the Ghost in spite of all horror. In the Analytical Review of May 1789 in an unsigned account of the original painting, Fuseli remarked: "The uniform sweep of gloom, that quietly diffuses itself over this picture, seems in unison with the still horror of the impatient curiosity, which reflection had sharpened and puzzled. The ardor of rational courage braces Hamlet's nerves; his eyes already have flown to the shade, who strides with majestic dignity, and looks a king" (112). Obviously, like most of Fuseli's Shakespeare works, this is far from being a reproduction of what he might have seen in the theater. Instead, it is an exercise in presenting in graphic terms what Fuseli would have considered a moment expressive of the sublime, a moment of awe and terror as humanity confronts superhuman forces. Particularly memorable is the effect Fuseli achieved by placing the full moon behind the Ghost's head in such a way that it can be interpreted as either the moon or as some kind of frightening aura emanating from the Ghost itself. The presence of the sea, the moonlight, and the towering castle walls are thus powerful symbolic indicators of the painful human drama that is being enacted at this moment in the play. Sea, moonlight, and masonry do not necessarily occur together in every depiction of 1.4 and 1.5. Gravelot’s 1740 design for the second edition of Theobald’s Shakespeare, for example, the earliest representation of Hamlet first seeing the Ghost, does not include the sea. However, in some combination or other the motifs of sea, moonlight, and masonry recur in paintings, book illustrations, and in works that appear to reflect theater practice.

Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost (1.4-5): Hamlet’s Sword

In most productions of Hamlet, when attempting to break free from his companions to follow the Ghost, Hamlet draws his sword, although there is no explicit stage direction in the original texts to indicate this. How different actors handled Hamlet’s threats to his companions and his subsequent move away from them, sword in hand, to the Ghost were matters much discussed by theater critics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Understandably, given the intense and emotional drama involved, there exist many visual illustrations of Hamlet with sword in hand. Many of these are portraits of specific actors, and frequently no other character is visible. Most hold their swords pointed to the ground (e.g. Edmund Kean, Charles Kemble, Joseph Burke, and Alice Marriott). A slight variation of this is a photographic portrait of Johnston Forbes Robertson with sword raised only as far as the level of his knees. Booth, however, was famous for exiting at the end of 1.4 with his sword held hilt uppermost to form a crucifix. A clipping from a newspaper or magazine in the Folger Shakespeare Library collection shows Booth in the pose (Art Vol. B67 [unnumbered]).

Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost (1.4-5): Hamlet Alone with the Ghost

The re-entry of Hamlet alone with the Ghost at the beginning of 1.5 follows soon after his exit with the Ghost towards the end of 1.4. What follows is the crucial revelation in which he learns directly from the Ghost that his father has been murdered and that he must revenge that murder. Not surprisingly, this segment of 1.5 appears to have had a special attraction as a suitably dramatic context for portraits of Hamlet. As a consequence, a number of Hamlets, in a pose almost identical with that used for Hamlet’s exit in 1.4, were portrayed with sword drawn, the pose in this instance suggesting that they will go no further unless the Ghost speaks: “Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak, I’ll go no further” (682). Typically, such portraits ignore all scenic effects and, as in the case of portraits of Hamlet’s “start,” they also omit the figure of the Ghost. Among the list of those portrayed at this moment without the Ghost are portraits of John Henderson (engraving, 1779), John Philip Kemble (engraving, 1799), William Henry Betty (engraving, 1804), Charles Young (engraving, 1813), William Pelby (lithograph, 1826), Gustavus Brooke (wood engraving, undated), and Samuel Phelps (engraving, undated). Even without the identifying quotation that accompanies most of these portraits, viewers were doubtless expected to recognize the specific moment in the play’s action and recognize the emotions being expressed by the subject of the portrait. This group of portraits, together with those depicting Hamlet’s “start” and Hamlet with drawn sword about to follow the Ghost at the end of 1.4, form a large cluster of works. The size of this group is sufficient to suggest that during the latter half of the eighteenth century and throughout the century that followed, Hamlet would have been instantly recognizable if portrayed in one of the poses just described. Visual familiarity, then, was such that, even without scenery or the presence of other characters, artists expected viewers to recognize both the character and the context portrayed.
Of course, a number of artists chose to present the full dramatic setting in which the terrible revelations of the Ghost are made. An example is a wood engraving by John Thompson of one of the set of six Hamlet designs by John Thurston that first appeared in The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare, published by Whittingham in 1814. Frequently reprinted and copied, the set contained a frontispiece engraving and an engraving for each act in the play. That for Act One of Hamlet is placed above the quotation “Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak, I’ll go no further.” It shows the Ghost at left on the platform at Elsinore. He beckons Hamlet to follow him. This latter, his sword raised above his head (an unusual variation) and his left arm extended towards the Ghost, has his back to the viewer and appears to be on one knee at the top of two steps. The effect is to provide the Ghost with an elevated position above the son who reaches upwards towards the spirit, a visual effect expressive of the psychology of Hamlet’s yearning to be reunited with his father. Such an effect, we know, was often created in the theater where the Ghost was customarily elevated at a distance from Hamlet. Macready’s production at the Haymarket in 1849, for example, had the Ghost (John Stuart) discovered at the top of a flight of steps leading up from the ramparts. Hamlet (Macready) then appeared up some steps from behind, a moment depicted in an engraving by Hollis of a painting by Reid that was published by John Tallis and Company.

Hamlet’s first encounter with the Ghost (1.4-5): the Cellarage Scene

The so-called “Cellarage Scene,” in which Hamlet forces his companions to swear secrecy upon his sword, is the final segment of the 1.4-5 sequence that appears to have particularly attracted artists. Very important during this incident is the sword itself. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this was frequently an antique weapon with a cross hilt that permitted it to be used as a substitute crucifix. The earliest visual depiction of this appears to be a 1778 etching (published in 1779) by Daniel Nicolaus Chodowiecki, a Polish-born artist, who created the remarkable series of designs mentioned elsewhere that record the Berlin production of Hamlet featuring Johann Brockmann as Hamlet during the 1777-78 season. Chodowiecki had attended a series of Hamlet performances and had been provided with a free pass to the theater to aid his work His depiction of the Cellarage Scene shows Hamlet (Brockmann) at center, Horatio to the left, and Marcellus to the right. They are standing in a graveyard, a not uncommon choice of location for this scene. Hamlet holds his sword out in front of him and his two companions each put a hand upon it, Horatio's on the “cross” and Marcellus's on the blade. The illustration is accompanied by the text “Wir schworen” (We swear). Over a century later, the same pattern can still be seen in Howard Chandler Christy’s illustration for an 1897 edition of Hamlet. This showed Hamlet at right, kneeling on one knee, extending his sword hilt first as though it were a crucifix towards Horatio and Marcellus at left.
Collectively, the visual depictions of 1.4 and 1.5, of which I have cited only a very few examples here, represent one of most frequently-represented topics. From the time of Gravelot’s rather stilted and undramatic rendering, it is clear that the appearance of the Ghost and its shattering impact upon Hamlet was chiefly responsible for inspiring so many works. Remarkably, in one representation of the Cellarage Scene, that section of 1.5 in which the Ghost is only heard but not seen in the theater, one artist (Moritz Retzsch) was unable to resist including a transparent Ghost halfway in the ground in the foreground of his 1828 outline engraving.

Ophelia’s description of Hamlet 2.1

In the text of Hamlet the early effects of the Ghost’s revelations upon Hamlet’s psyche, though apparent in his “wild and whirling words” at the end of 1.5, are initially not seen on stage. We have instead a description of his state as seen through the eyes of Ophelia, one that reminds us of his earlier warning to his friends that he might put on an “antic disposition” and one that prepares us for the possibility that he may in actuality be on the verge of madness. When Ophelia is, according to her account in 2.1, interrupted by the arrival of Hamlet in her closet while she is sewing, she is so disturbed by his strange appearance and behavior that she runs to her father in great distress and recounts what has just happened. In appearance, Hamlet has broken the decorum of dress and as such offers an ironic anticipatory parallel to the later appearance on stage of the mad Ophelia. In her description of Hamlet (973-97), Ophelia explains to her father that Hamlet’s doublet had been undone, he had no hat on his head, his stockings were dirty, ungartered, and hanging around his ankles, he was very pale, and his knees were knocking together. He held her forcefully by the wrist and stared at her face along the length of his arm while holding his other hand to his brow. He said nothing, but after a pitiful sigh, he left the room, without ever taking his eyes from her. Ophelia’s description of Hamlet to Polonius, though not nearly such a popular subject among artists as the sequence from Act One just described, resulted in a dozen or so visual representations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The earliest and most unusual was a 1775-6 drawing by Fuseli that shows Hamlet as an almost naked figure (it was based on a dancing maenad on a now lost Lower Italian vase, an engraving of which was published in 1793), about to leave through a door flanked by two columns at right. His right arm is fully extended to the left and his head bent down to his right shoulder as he gazes along the length of his arm towards Ophelia seated at a table on the left side of the picture. She rests her elbow upon a kind of shelf beside her and her chin upon her hand as she leans forward gazing intently at Hamlet. Illuminated by a shaft of light that comes from a window above Ophelia, Hamlet appears to be making his way towards the door behind him. The room is totally bare, an effect that helps focus our full attention upon the two human figures.
Fuseli’s drawing, though perhaps the most powerful and fascinating rendering of the subject, was essentially a private work that had no public currency because it was neither exhibited nor inexpensively reproduced. Quite different in this respect was Robert Smirke’s design for an engraving by Charles Taylor that was dated 1 November 1783. As mentioned elsewhere, Taylor produced for sale between 1783 and 1787 a set of forty engraved Shakespearean subjects in a collection of prints entitled The Picturesque Beauties of Shakespeare, Being a Selection of Scenes, From the Works of that Great Author. That depicting Ophelia’s description of her encounter with Hamlet in 2.1 was one of four Hamlet works. Accompanied by a five-line quotation that beings “He took me by the wrist, and held me hard; ...” it shows Ophelia sitting to the left at a table beneath a window. She has turned towards the right where Hamlet stands and stares in bewilderment by at his face. Her sewing is in a basket on the floor before her, perhaps to suggest that it has been dropped in her surprise. Hamlet at right has his back to the viewer and holds Ophelia's wrist with his left hand. He gazes down upon her looking along the length of his left arm. He holds his right hand over his brow, wears no hat, and has a left stocking that is “down-gyved.”
Later versions of the scene include an 1825 engraving by William Greatbatch of a design by Henry Perronet Briggs, an 1827 outline engraving by Frank Howard that eventually appeared in The Spirit of the Plays of Shakspeare (published by Cadell in 1833), and an oil painting by William Maw Eggley, a watercolor sketch for which (now in the Folger Shakespeare Library) was shown at The British Institution exhibition in 1855. A wood engraving by C. H. Schulze after a design by Hermann Knackfuss appeared in the 1874 edition of Schlegel and Tieck’s German translation of Shakespeare’s Dramatische Werke. In the Henry Irving and Frank A. Marshall edition of The Works of William Shakespeare (London: Blackie, 1890), there is a wood engraving of the scene by C. H. Hentschel after a design by Gordon Browne, and in Jules Larmina’s French translation of Oeuvres de W. Shakespeare (Paris: Boulanger, 1898), there is a wood engraving of the scene by Bourdon and Keilhauer after a design by Albert Robida. This last presents the scene within a large richly-appointed room with a high wooden ceiling. At the left is a four-poster curtained bed with an elaborately-carved end piece showing a mermaid, a curious choice that, together with the presence of the bed, adds perhaps an erotic undertone to the picture. Ophelia, looking rather calm and sedate, her sewing across her lap, is seated at right upon a high-backed carved wooden bench below a painting and a coat of arms high up upon the wall. Hamlet, a blonde disordered figure, stands at the center of the picture. He is hatless, his hair is loose and in disarray, and both of his stockings have fallen down to mid calf. He holds his right hand to the top of his head, and with his left hand, he holds Ophelia's right wrist. Below is the quotation “Il m’a prise par le poignet ...” (He took me by the wrist) (984). Though radically different from Fuseli’s early drawing, Robida’s design illustrates just how evocative this moment in the play could be, one that is described but not enacted in the play.

Hamlet reading a book (2.2)

In the following scene, just after Polonius has assured Claudius and Gertrude that Hamlet is mad for love of Ophelia, Hamlet enters, as the First Folio text describes him, “reading on a Booke” (1203). Over three hundred lines of the text have passed since we actually last saw Hamlet in person, but in the interim we have heard Ophelia’s description of him and we have heard Polonius’s reading of the strange letter Hamlet wrote to Ophelia. There has been considerable discussion of Hamlet’s madness and his possible cause, so an audience naturally will anticipate with considerable interest his first reappearance. During the past century or so, actors seem at times to have vied with each other to invent bizarre ways to indicate Hamlet’s madness when he at last reappears on stage. In eighteenth-century visual depictions of Hamlet’s entrance, Hamlet’s madness was invariably indicated by his lack of a hat and by his having one fallen stocking. Johan Zoffany’s 1757 oil portrait of David Ross as Hamlet, now in the Garrick Club, is an early example and includes these details. It further indicates Hamlet’s disordered state of mind by having his wig partly loose and hanging down to his right shoulder. During the early part of the nineteenth century, the detail of Hamlet’s dropped stocking was abandoned, although Macready insisted on maintaining it as late as 1840, and in keeping with this nineteenth-century artists typically showed a completely sane-looking Hamlet. Even though in the theater Polonius is present and, according to both early quarto and First Folio texts, Hamlet enters before Claudius and Gertrude leave, artists generally presented Hamlet as being alone. He thus becomes the man with a book. Though he may be looking up from the book as though addressing some other unseen person (Polonius), the casual viewer will tend to see a man deep in contemplation who has looked up from his book merely to follow his own thoughts. Typical of this type of presentation is an 1858 photographic portrait of Charles Kean by Laroche. Hamlet stands with his right hand resting on the arm of a chair. In his left hand he holds a book. His gaze is somewhat upwards, and he is posed as though is deep in thought. The book thus becomes an emblematic property signifying Hamlet’s contemplative and introspective nature, qualities captured in photographic portraits of Johnston Forbes Robertson and Sarah Bernhardt of 1897 and 1899 respectively that show each actor standing alone reading a book.
Somewhat similar in effect though earlier is one of a number of very fine wood-engraved portraits of Edwin Booth dated about 1872. The designer William John Hennessy and engraver W. J Linton portrayed Booth as Hamlet, seated with a book. His hands are together, resting in his lap in a position of complete repose. With his right index finger, he marks his place in the book that rests in his lap. His gaze is forward and unfocussed, providing us with an image of the contemplative, philosophical Hamlet. A similar image of Booth seated and reading a book was also created in a photograph by Napoleon Sarony. In this instance, Hamlet’s eyes are directed downwards towards the pages of the book, so there is no possibility of the viewer being reminded that supposedly another person is present. Two later portraits, an 1893 engraving of Mounet-Sully and a 1900 photograph by B. J. Falk of Walker Whiteside, also used a seated pose, reminiscent somewhat of that of Booth, but neither quite succeeded in capturing the melancholic inertia of Hennessy’s design.
Quite different are at least two photographs by Lafayette that show Sarah Bernhardt reading a book while lying across a small two-person ornamental bench. Her feet are raised and extended to the left and rest upon the arm of the seat. Her head and eyes are raised, as though she is addressing someone off to the left or as if she is contemplating something she has just read. In these portraits, the photographer has attempted to memorialize a piece of stage business that Bernhardt introduced into her productions of Hamlet in Paris and then, shortly after, in London. When she entered, Bernhardt used to sit on a bench, but when Polonius then attempted to sit beside her, she would raise both legs and stretch them out and thereby prevent the old man from sitting down, a shocking display of disrespect. However, because Polonius is not visible in the photograph, the principal thing we perceive in the image, and the principal thing we remember, is that Hamlet is alone, reading a book.

Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (3.1)

Hamlet’s appearance with a book that Romantic and nineteenth-century artists were able to use to convey the philosophical and contemplative aspects of Hamlet’s nature, anticipates another stage entrance of Hamlet not many lines afterwards in 3.1. Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be, no not to be” (1710) then follows. Nothing from Hamlet is more ingrained within the collective cultural awareness of the play than these lines. Nineteenth-century artists who attempted to create works related to Hamlet’s soliloquy took a somewhat similar path to those who portrayed Hamlet with a book. Signs of Hamlet’s “antic disposition” such as the fallen stocking are dropped, and the emphasis tends to be upon Hamlet the melancholy philosopher. Almost all the depictions are portraits of specific actors, and almost invariably these are accompanied by one of the better-known lines from the soliloquy. An engraved three-quarter length portrait of James William Wallack by Thomas Woolnoth based on an 1820 drawing by Thomas Charles Wageman, for example, shows the actor facing forward and slightly up. His hands are clasped before him below his waist, almost as if he is in prayer, and below is the quotation: “The undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveler returns” (1733-4). At mid century, an engraving by T. Sherratt after a daguerreotype by Brinkerhoff depicts McKean Buchanan with his right hand tucked into his doublet at the waist. To make clear who the character is and what part of the play is represented, the view is provided with an accompanying quotation in the form of the first line of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (1710).
Another somewhat later example of an actor-portrait related to Hamlet’s soliloquy is a lithograph by H. Saunders of Henry Irving. It appeared as the first plate in Mary Cowden Clarke’s Shakespeare’s Heroes and Heroines (London: Tuck, [1891]), which was dedicated to Irving. The illustration was also published separately as a postcard by Raphael Tuck in his series of Shakespeare’s Heroes and Heroines. This is perhaps the most melancholy-looking and philosophical-looking of all the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Hamlets depicted at this moment in the play. It shows Irving in his familiar black tunic and fur-trimmed cape. Following the pattern of Booth’s stage performance, he is seated in a chair. In Saunders’ lithograph, his left elbow rests upon the arm of the chair, and his hand supports his cheek in the conventional pose of the thinker. Accompanying the postcard version is the quotation “To be, or not to be, – that is the question.” The unseen presence of Ophelia is irrelevant and all is focused upon the meditative Hamlet who utters what are perhaps the best-known lines in all of literature, familiar to those who may well never have read or seen Hamlet.

Hamlet and Ophelia (3.1)

Once Hamlet has delivered his “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, there occurs one of the most dramatic and painful episodes in Hamlet. As Claudius and Polonius watch from their hiding place, Hamlet and Ophelia, as was intended by the King and his advisor, are thrown together when Hamlet comes upon Ophelia who, so Polonius wants it to appear, is reading a book and engaged in her devotions. The motives for Hamlet’s cruel behavior in this scene have puzzled interpreters. Does he detect the secret onlookers and/or Ophelia’s deceptions? Or is his purpose to sever his relationship with the woman he loves in order to pursue the task the Ghost has demanded of him? Is he pretending to be mad? Is he perhaps mad? The scene has been played in the theater in many different ways. There is the potential for moments of extreme tenderness and for moments of shocking verbal, and even physical, violence. Like the later Closet Scene, this episode charged with intense emotional and sexual overtones. Visual artists who attempted to portray the scene generally selected one identifiable moment in the unfolding drama of the scene, using it to reveal something of the tempestuous dynamics that make up the full experience of the scene in the theater.
The earliest rendition of the scene is a 1778 by Chodowiecki, one of two etchings that he was commissioned to do for Litteratur- und Theater-Zeitung (Berlin, 1778). It records, like his later series of etchings, the Berlin performance during the 1777-8 season of Johann Brockmann and Caroline Doebbelin. At the foot of the work is the quotation: “Geh in ein Kloster. geh” (Get thee to a nunnery, go), indicating to the viewer that the we have reached a section fairly late in the action where Hamlet’s bitterness and verbal cruelty have reached a very high level (1795). Ophelia (Doebbelin) stands at left with a book in her left hand and her right hand clasped to her breast. Hamlet stands at center, side on to the viewer. He leans in towards Ophelia as though addressing her, and his closeness to her and the way in which he stares directly into her face suggests the passion of his feelings. With both hands he grasps her left wrist, and in this may be seen a break in permissible decorum and a stage convention for violence. Somewhat different is the only other eighteenth-century version of the scene – Robert Ker Porter’s 1798 portrait of Henry Erskine Johnston, engraved in 1817 for the Theatrical Inquisitor by James Thomson. The engraving depicts only the single figure of Johnston, who is presented full length, standing, turned slightly to the right, his eyes to left. He is wigless in the manner in which he made his London debut in 1798. His arms are folded tightly across his chest as though he is in a state of considerable physical tension, and, in the manner of eighteenth-century Hamlets, his right stocking is dropped to mid calf. An accompanying quotation below engraving supplies the textual reference: “Ha, ha! are you honest?” (1758). There is no physical violence here. Indeed, Johnston’s gesture with his arms suggests the very opposite of physical contact. Instead, his dress and staring eyes, together with the viewer’s understanding of the context of the quotation, are suggestive of a fraught, unstable Hamlet, unpredictable and frightening in what he next may do or say. This is Hamlet as perhaps Johnston’s Ophelia would have seen him.
Quite different in character is an oil painting by George Clint, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1831 and now in the London Theatre Museum. Clint’s painting memorializes the performances at Covent Garden during the years 1826-7 of Charles Mayne Young and an actress generally thought to be Phillis Glover, although this identification is by no means certain. The work shows Ophelia at left, her back to the viewer. She wears a long white dress that exposes much of her shoulders, a detail that perhaps adds to her seeming vulnerability. As the viewer quickly discerns, Clint has chosen to depict the moment when Ophelia attempts to return to Hamlet the gifts he has given her:

My Lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have longed long to redeliver,
I pray you now receive them. (1748-50)

Ophelia, her eyes demurely lowered, is offering Hamlet his remembrances in a small red package. As many actors have realized, there is great potential in this moment because what Ophelia holds are tokens of what she took to be Hamlet’s love for her. There is an opportunity here for Hamlet to permit Ophelia, who has been ordered by her father to reject Hamlet’s advances, to see that he still loves her in spite of his strange behavior. For her part, an Ophelia (Ellen Terry was one) could in the reluctant and sad way in which she surrendered the remembrances signal her continued love for Hamlet. Clint’s painting, set in the intimacy of Ophelia’s closet, shows some of the trappings of Ophelia’s private existence. Hamlet is the intruder upon this quiet and innocent world. On a chair to Ophelia’s right is her lute, and on a small table to her left is an open book and a rosary. Hamlet, by contrast, harshly dressed in black with a short black cape, is quite out of harmony with the soft and subdued colors of Ophelia’s room. Furthermore, he stands with arms folded staring into the distance beyond Ophelia and quite unresponsive to her gesture. It is very clear that Clint intends in his pose to represent the verbal response that Hamlet makes in the play (“I never gave you ought” 1751). But further to this, we see a Hamlet who expresses none of the compassion or barely repressed love that was often apparent in the theater.

Almost thirty years later, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
completed a pen and ink drawing depicting this same episode from the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia. The Hamlet-Ophelia story was of particular interest to Rossetti and his circle (Walter Deverell, John Everett Millais, and Arthur Hughes all produced depictions of Ophelia). Rossetti’s drawing, not his only version of the subject, is dated 1858, although its exact dating remains problematic, and it is now in the British Museum. This extraordinary work, unlike Clint’s painting, is far removed from the world of the theater. Familiar today from its many reproductions, the work offers a complex allegory involving both texts and visual motifs. Primarily, it seems to explore the charged, erotic tension between a young man and woman, a type of subject that particularly appealed to Rossetti. On the right sits Ophelia upon a high-backed bench. On her lap is an open book. With her right hand she holds up towards Hamlet his various gifts and letters. Her head, however, is turned away from Hamlet, as if it is too painful for her to look at him. Hamlet, dressed in black, kneels upon a bench at the center of the picture gesturing with both arms raised horizontally, his right hand extending to the left of the picture where there are roses growing (there is a hint of the crucifixion motif in this pose). He is looking down at Ophelia. He appears to be kneeling upon the portion of the bench that runs at right angles to that on which Ophelia is sitting. The fact that the same bench then turns 90 degrees again and extends forward towards the viewer on the left of the picture is of considerable effect in that the two characters are almost literally boxed in on three sides, something that serves to emphasize the discomfort both feel in each other's presence at this moment.
Various symbolic motifs gradually reveal themselves to the viewer’s eye. To Hamlet's right and below his right arm on the viewer's left the back of the bench is decorated with carvings. At the center is the Tree of Life encircled by the Serpent. To the right of the Tree stands a figure with a sword but this is obscured by Hamlet's clothing. To the left of the tree stands the winged Archangel Michael bearing an unsheathed sword, a reminder of the Fall and subsequent expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise. There is an inscription: “Eritis sicut deus scientes bonum et malum” (You will be like God knowing good and evil). Below this is a misericordia depicting the death of Uzzah after he disobediently touched the ark (2 Sam. 6:6-7). Balancing these allusions to the Fall is a small alcove on the right beside Ophelia that contains a small carved crucifix. Its proximity to Ophelia is suggestive of the possibility of redemption in opposition to those images against which Hamlet leans. Clearly, the carvings invite the viewer to see them as an intriguing gloss on the drama being enacted in the foreground between Hamlet and Ophelia. Rossetti described the scenes on the left panels as “symbols of rash introspection,” a vague phrase that probably suggests that the forbidden knowledge depicted is sexual knowledge, a point that seems supported by Hamlet’s grasping of the roses, themselves suggestive of sexual passion to Rossetti. Such emblematic detail is further emphasized by the fact that Hamlet's right hand grasps, as if unconsciously, a rose (for love and sexual passion) that is growing from a pot on the extreme left of the picture. Originally inscribed on the frame of the picture were some verses from Ecclesiasticus 6:2 ('Extol not thyself in the counsel of thine own heart, that they soul be not torn in pieces'). This was on the left where Hamlet's and Ophelia's dialogue ('I did love you once' etc.) was placed. Verse 3 of the text ('Thou shalt eat up thy leaves and lose thy fruit, and leave thyself as a dry tree') were on the right and accompanied Hamlet's speech “Get thee to a nunnery; why shouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (1776-7ff). Behind the bench in the far background can be seen the battlements of the castle, and a small figure there reminds the viewer, perhaps, of the Ghost that Hamlet has recently encountered and that has indirectly set in motion the drama now being enacted. The intricate and winding stairs and passageways that make up this background that can be seen behind Hamlet’s head inevitably suggest the psychological complexities and conflicting motives that now assail the young man whose world has been torn apart. Originally, as we know from a letter that Rossetti wrote to George Eliot (18 February 1870), his intention was “to make Hamlet ramping about and talking wildly [...] hardly knowing all he says and does, as he throws his arms this way and that along the edge of the carved screen.” Instead, however, the final effect is highly static, both figures seeming to be immobilized, bereft of energy, and drained by the emotions that they have experienced.
Among the many other versions of the Hamlet-Ophelia encounter in 3.1 is a painting by Thomas Francis Dicksee (1864) that portrays only Ophelia, a look of despair upon her face as, according to the quotation on the rear (1745-6), she first addresses Hamlet. There is a painting of a year later by William Quiller Orchardson that was exhibited at the Royal Academy. In subject this is somewhat similar to Clint’s earlier work, and it depicts the same attempt by Ophelia to return her remembrances to an unresponsive Hamlet. On a much smaller scale, but receiving a much broader circulation were a number of wood engravings that were included in important illustrated editions of Shakespeare. These include designs by John Thurston (1814), Kenny Meadows (1843), John Gilbert (1860), William Courtney Selous (1868), Gordon Browne (1890) and Albert Robida (1898), all names mentioned elsewhere in this essay.

The Play Scene (3.2)

At the center of Hamlet is the scene in which the full court assembles to watch a play that Hamlet plans to use as a means of exposing Claudius’s (and possibly Gertrude’s) guilt. In the theater, since the eighteenth century the characters on the stage have usually been divided into three distinct groups: 1) the Players, once their performance begins; 2) the King, Queen, and attendant courtiers, including Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern; and 3) Hamlet, whose aim is to watch Claudius, Ophelia, next to whom the text tells us Hamlet places himself, and Horatio, whom Hamlet has instructed to observe Claudius’s reactions. To signify the conflict between Claudius and Hamlet, the two adversaries were frequently placed on either side of the stage with the Players performing upstage at center rear.
Two long-standing pieces of stage business occurred in many stage performances. The first, which seems to go back at least as far as Robert Wilks, involved Ophelia’s fan. Hamlet would take her fan and hide his face behind it so as to spy on Claudius (and perhaps Gertrude too). Hamlets from Garrick on through the nineteenth century developed various pieces of stage business to do with Ophelia’s fan, while other Hamlets, in a variation upon the use of the fan, would instead have with them a manuscript of the play to which Hamlet had added some additional lines. Like the fan, this could be used as a means of concealing the face, as a pointer, and, if gnawed upon or destroyed, as an indication of Hamlet’s extreme emotions. The second piece of stage business went back to at least as early as Edmund Kean and William Charles Macready and could still be seen at the end of the nineteenth century, Sarah Bernhardt’s performance providing an example. It involved Hamlet crawling on the floor away from Ophelia and towards Claudius as the scene progressed and the tension mounted. At the climactic moment when Hamlet believes that Claudius displays his guilt, Hamlet rises from the floor to confront the murderer of his father.

The Play Scene (3.2): Fans and Manuscripts

So memorable was the first of these two pieces of stage business that a number of Hamlets seem to have had portraits made of themselves lying on the ground with a fan or manuscript. An anonymous undated wood engraving of Macready as Hamlet shows him on the floor, his head supported by his left hand. His right hand holds his left elbow, and in front of him on the ground is an open book, representing, one assumes, the script of the play. He is staring intently off to the right, presumably towards an unseen Claudius. In the same vein is a an anonymous undated wood engraving (based on an original by Ernest Knaufft) of the American actress Louise Pomeroy, showing her cross-gartered in the manner of Booth and lying on a carpet with the playscript in her hand. Francis Wilford Lawson’s painting of Henry Irving as Hamlet provides another example. He is lying on the floor and holding Ophelia’s fan so as to hide his face with its peacock feathers. However, at the same time he seems to be deliberately holding it in his fist so that the sharp-pointed handle is in front of him as though it were a dagger pointing at Claudius. Of the second piece of stage business -- Hamlet’s crawl -- there are also a number of visual renditions. An undated wood engraving of the Play Scene by H. Valentin, for example, possibly memorializes Philibert Alphonse Rouvière’s performance at the Théâtre-Historique in 1847. Published in a French newspaper or magazine with the caption "Théâtre-Historique. -- Hamlet, 3e acte, scene dernière," the engraving (there is a copy in the Folger Shakespeare Library) gives special prominence to the figure of Hamlet, who is placed in the center foreground, isolated between the large groups of stage spectators at right and left. He is crawling from left to right towards two large chairs at right where Claudius and Gertrude are seated. In his right hand Hamlet holds a fan that he holds in front of his face as he stares up towards Claudius. Another example of Hamlet’s crawl and subsequent leap from the floor is recorded in an engraving by R. Taylor and Company after a design by Antonin Clair Forestier. It shows Herbert Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket in 1892. In this depiction, Tree has crossed the floor and is virtually attacking Claudius with the pages of his play script to which he points with an accusing finger.
These last two examples, like so many other visual representations of the Play Scene, attempted to capture the multi-faceted and complex drama of the full stage picture. Almost all the works of this kind chose to include the moment when Lucianus pours the poison into the ear of his victim. Almost all the pictures also show Claudius rising in consternation at this apparent re-enaction of the murder he himself is guilty of, and almost all show Hamlet making some kind of gesture of accusation. Variations occur regarding who is looking at the play, who is looking at Claudius, and who is looking at Hamlet, but the central purpose seems generally to have been to capture the dramatic climax that Hamlet has planned.

The Play Scene (3.2): Earliest Pictorial Versions

The four earliest pictorial versions of the play scene that we know about were all by Francis Hayman and are discussed elsewhere in this essay: the pen and ink drawing of c.1740-41 and the subsequent 1743 engraving from Thomas Hanmer’s edition of Shakespeare; the oil painting in the Folger Shakespeare Library of about 1745 that was probably a modello for a painting exhibited in Vauxhall Gardens; and the now-lost 1745 painting for Vauxhall. Later in the eighteenth century, three further artists did versions of the Play Scene. The first of these was an anonymous engraving that was published in The Universal Museum in March 1769. The engraving may be an attempt to provide a visual record of Garrick’s version of this scene and the typical tripartite grouping of the characters. The Hamlet group is to the left, and the Claudius group are to the right. In front of this latter group stands Claudius, who has just risen from his chair, his back partially turned towards the play at center rear. Two other eighteenth-century depictions of the Play Scene reverse the two main groupings. A 1770 pen and ink wash drawing by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, now in the Folger Shakespeare Library, shows the Claudius group at left. At center on the floor is Hamlet, his legs extended towards his mother, but his back is against Ophelia's knees at right. All are looking at the play at center rear. Daniel Chodowiecki’s record of Karl Döbbelin’s 1777-78 Berlin production, engraved by Daniel Berger and published in Gothaer Theaterkalendar for 1779 (1780) (Kiefer 2001, 13), is the most clearly documented eighteenth-century attempt to record the details of a theater performance of the Play Scene. Entitled Die Mausfalle (The Mouse-trap), it shows Claudius (Johann Bruckner) and Gertrude (Anna Henke) seated on chairs to the left, Claudius with his legs crossed and his chin resting on his left hand and Gertrude leaning slightly towards him and pointing to Hamlet (Johann Brockmann). This last sits on the floor opposite at right beside the seated figure of Ophelia (Caroline Döbbelin). Hamlet’s chair, which is immediately behind him, is empty and stands next to that of Ophelia. At the rear behind a small barrier are the theater musicians and beyond them on a raised stage the Play Scene is being enacted. The stage is empty except for the sleeping King. We appear to be observing the short pause that occurs between the Player Queen’s exit and the murderer’s entrance (2097-2111).

The Play Scene (3.2): Nineteenth-Century Theater Traditions

During the nineteenth century, a number of works depicting what appear to be close renderings of theatrical performances of the Play Scene allow one to trace the theater traditions. They show a remarkable consistency with regard to the stage groupings of characters, and the details of stage business already mentioned. One example will here suffice. George Scharf’s Scenic Recollections of the Covent Garden Theatre During the Season 1838-9 (London: James Pattie, 1839), a work that records key moments from certain of Macready’s performances, including his Hamlet, contains an outline engraving of the Play Scene. At center rear is a raised stage, flanked by two columns and two statues of female figures in niches. On the stage, Lucianus stands beside the sleeping Gonzago and pours the poison into his ear. In the foreground at center, Hamlet (Macready) sits on the floor. His left arm points to the play, but his face is directed across to the right where Claudius (Charles Diddear) is sitting with Gertrude (Mary Warner [Miss Huddart]). She is watching the play, but Claudius has turned his back on the play and has buried his face in his hands, an action that matches what Macready wrote in a prompt book now in the Folger Shakespeare Library: “at this word [Lucianus’s “drugs fit” 2125] the King, who has been much agitated, covers his face with his hands, and leaning down, remains hiding his face in violent agitation.” In front of Hamlet on the floor, between himself and Claudius, lies the fan. Behind Hamlet in a light-colored dress sits Ophelia (Elizabeth Rainforth), who looks down at Hamlet rather than at the play.

The Play Scene (3.2): Moritz Retzsch

Two well-known nineteenth-century depictions of the Play Scene that were also influential upon other artists and even perhaps on theater producers were Retzsch’s 1827 outline engraving and Daniel Maclise’s much admired and much commented upon oil painting, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842. Retzsch's version of the Play Scene shows the climax of the play-within-the-play, a moment that parallels that depicted in Retzsch's introductory engraving of the Murder of King Hamlet. The sleeping man lies upon a bank in an outdoor setting and Lucianus is bending over him, pouring poison into his ear while at the same time reaching with his free hand to take up the crown (2131). Upon the walls at either side of the small stage where the play is being performed are what may be murals, painted hangings or tapestries. That on the left shows a serpent coiled around a tree and being confronted by the Archangel Michael with shield and raised sword. Given that Hamlet's purpose in arranging the performance is to confront the evil conscience of his uncle, the picture-within-the picture of God's agent Michael confronting the Serpent/Devil provides an apt typological and emblematic commentary on the moral drama being played out both in the play-within-the-play and the play of Hamlet itself. That commentary is further developed by the way in which the Archangel holds up his shield towards the serpent, which then sees its own image reflected. This parallels the way in which Hamlet is using the play-within-the-play to confront Claudius, who is thus associated with the serpent (“The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown” (726-7). The far less complicated picture on the right shows a triumphant Michael with a lance, an anticipation of the victory of good over evil, reminding us of what had been a highly popular subject for visual artists in earlier centuries--Michael slaying the Serpent (or Dragon). As might be expected, Retzsch’s commentator Boettiger has something to say about these details in the accompanying text. First he quotes the words of Retzsch himself:

Auf der Tapete zur Linken ist ein Engel eingewirkt, der das Prinzip des Bösen, die Schlange, bekämpfend, derselben den blanken Schild entgegenhält, in dessen Spiegel sie, sich selbst erblickend, vor ihrem eigenen Bilde entsetzt zurückweicht. Dies soll die auf der Bühne vorgestellte Handlung symbolisch bezeichnen. Die Tapete zur Rechten zeigt den Engel Michael als Ueberwinder der Schlange. (p. vii)

[Upon the tapestry on the left is wrought an angel, who, combating the serpent, as the principle of evil, holds towards it his bright shield, and the reptile, perceiving itself in this mirror, recoils affrighted at its own image. This is intended as an emblematic allusion to the action represented on the stage. The tapestry on the right shows Michael, the archangel, as conqueror of the serpent.]

Then he adds an interpretive detail of his own, one that was surely part of Retzsch's inspiration, in which he notes that the artist has recollected the notion that the basilisk is supposedly killed by the sight of itself.

The Play Scene (3.2): Daniel Maclise

Daniel Maclise was very much influenced by Retzsch and owned a copy of the latter’s Outlines to Hamlet. Of his enormously popular and much reproduced painting of the Play Scene,
now in the Tate Gallery (London), the Literary Gazette said: “This is the picture which attracts a never-failing crowd around it; and well does the genius it displays deserve such homage” (No. 1320, p. 316). The Art Union called it “a chef-d’oeuvre of the British School” (1842, p. 120), and The Times called it “the lion of the gallery” (3 May, 1842, p. 5). The work deeply impressed both Dickens and Thackeray, and Ruskin, though he disliked the work, admitted to its enormous popularity. Maclise followed certain aspects of Retzsch’s emblematic method, employing both the serpent and Eve motifs. He included allusions to both the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise and to Cain’s murder of Abel, this latter a particularly apt typological motif since Claudius is guilty of fratricide and even identifies himself with Cain shortly after in the play (2313-4).
In his composition, Maclise is particularly effective at underlining the implied symbolism of the two opposing groups of characters. In effect, he creates a dramatic opposition between good and evil. The highlighted Ophelia, dressed in white, her golden hair, long and loose behind her, her arms bare from the elbow, identifies the side of innocence and virtue (stage right) which is balanced by the side of guilt and evil (stage right) where Claudius and Gertrude are located. Hamlet's outstretched body visually links the two groups and symbolically indicates the impossible moral situation in which he finds himself. His reclining position also parallels that of the murder victim behind him, reminding us that Claudius, having killed Hamlet’s father, will later attempt to kill Hamlet. At the rear behind the two main groups of characters and on a small stage, the actors perform the play, which has reached the moment when the murderer is in the act of pouring the poison into his sleeping victim's ear. Behind the players, the shadow of the murderer's hand and the sleeping man's head are grotesquely projected upon the rear wall, emphasizing the evil nature of the deed which spatially is distanced from the viewer. On the wall at the left and indicating an obvious debt to Retzsch is a tapestry with two panels depicting the temptation and expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Matching tapestries on the right, also with two panels obviously to be associated with Claudius's crime of fratricide, depict the sacrifice and the murder of Abel. On the front of the small proscenium arch are emblematic statues. Significantly, Ophelia sits directly below that of Prayer (a figure with clasped hands and eyes raised to heaven), whereas Claudius sits before Justice (with scales and sword). The two allegorical figures may echo those in Scharf’s engraving of the Play Scene in which the play-within-the-play was flanked by two allegorical female figures, a feature, one assumes, of Macready’s staging of the scene that may also have influenced Maclise.

The Play Scene (3.2): Keeley Halswell and Edwin Austin Abbey

Later in the century, two other Royal Academy paintings of the Play Scene followed, no doubt with a certain amount of self-consciousness, the success of Maclise’s work. Like Maclise’s works, they were viewed while on exhibit in London by more that a quarter a million people, and the second of the two paintings had even greater exposure when it won three gold medals at subsequent international exhibitions. Neither work, however, was to attain the level of popular familiarity of Maclise’s work, which became very well known through subsequent engraved reproduction. The first of the two Academy paintings was by Keeley Halswelle, who had begun exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1862. In 1878, he exhibited at the Royal Academy a large oil of the Play Scene that is now in the Forbes Collection in New York. Understandably, it was immediately compared to the earlier work of Maclise (Art Journal [1879], pp. 49-52) although it bore no resemblance to its prototype nor did it in any way reflect current stage performance. Halswelle’s big innovation was to draw upon an earlier visit he had made to Italy and use as setting the seventeenth-century church of Santi Vincenzo ed Anastasio, the site just outside Rome where St. Paul was said to have been executed. To the right at the top of a flight of three steps beneath a high arch is performed the play scene, which has reached the moment when the murder takes place. Hamlet is upon the floor halfway between the steps and a dais at left that faces the brightly illuminated alcove where the play is being performed. Upon the dais, which is deep in shadow, are Gertrude and Claudius. On the tiled floor, Hamlet has raised himself upon his hands, his copy of the play text and his sword on the floor in front of him. He is not watching the play but has turned his head to observe Claudius. Close to Hamlet's feet and more to the rear is a chair upon which Ophelia sits in isolation. Symbolically, and in contrast to the shadow that darkens the royal couple, she is illumined by the bright light which enters through the archway where the play is being enacted. At the rear, behind Hamlet and Ophelia, a large tapestry hangs below an arch. Its primary purpose is perhaps to add further to the medieval setting that Halswelle has attempted to create, but it may have a secondary symbolic intent, since it depicts a hunting scene in which a number of mounted figures and figures on foot pursue a deer which has already been hit by several arrows. There is doubtless an allusion here to Hamlet’s actions against Claudius in this section of the play and an anticipation of Hamlet’s later triumphant lines when Claudius flees: “Why, let the strooken deer go weep, The hart ungalled play, ...” (2143-4).

Even later in the century than Halswelle’s painting was that by the American artist Edwin Austin Abbey,
who left the United States in 1878 and eventually settled in England. In 1897, he exhibited at the Royal Academy a painting based on the Play Scene in Hamlet that is now in the Yale University Art Gallery. Abbey was a devoted theater-goer and in England in the 1880s, he established friendships with Lawrence Barrett (Edwin Booth’s co-star), Ellen Terry, Mary Anderson, and Henry Irving. This latter gave Abbey a token that provided him with free admission to any Lyceum performance. During the last two decades of the century, not only did Abbey draw inspiration from his attendances at the theater, but a number of actors and theater directors were in turn influenced by his works.
Abbey’s 1897 Hamlet painting, like the painting by Halswelle, was also compared by critics to that of Maclise. Like Halswell’s work, it suggests a medieval setting, reminding us of his own fascination with history and the considerable archaeological research he is known to have engaged in during his career with regard to costumes, furniture, and architectural accessories. Breaking completely with the tripartite arrangements so common in nineteenth-century renditions of the scene, Abbey omits the play-within-the-play and presents everything as though seen from the perspective of the players enacting the murder of Gonzago. In the foreground and at right, Hamlet leans against Ophelia, who, like her counterpart in Maclise’s and Halswelle’s paintings, is the only character in light-colored clothing and consequently first attracts the viewer’s eye. Hamlet ignores the play and turns to study Claudius. With his right hand, he reaches up and holds that of Ophelia, who is looking in the direction of the play (i.e. towards the viewer). Her gaze is disturbingly vacant, perhaps hinting at her impending madness. In the background, Claudius's fixed forward gaze and the snake-like design on his costume seem to indicate his guilt, while Gertrude holds one hand to her face and stares in front of her as though she has recognized the meaning of the players' re-enaction. A certain amount of space separates Claudius and Gertrude, and the general effect is to suggest a fractured relationship and a state of psychological alienation. Ophelia, too, is part of this pattern of isolation, and, though her hand is being held by Hamlet, she seems unaware of it. Further symbolism derives from the bright scarlet, emanating chiefly from Claudius’s robes, that Abbey has used to dominate the painting, an almost deliberately ugly tone that hints at blood and revenge.
Although Abbey’s painting may strike one as a break with artistic conventions in its handling of the Play Scene, certain or its details may have been influenced by the stage productions that Abbey saw. Hamlet's cross-gartered leggings, for example, resemble those worn by Edwin Booth. The large number of figures in the background, including a Fool, a crowd of torch-bearing guards, noblemen, and harpists, may owe something to Irving's staging of the play, though the paintings by Maclise and Halswelle, and the Hamlet productions of Tree doubtless also played a role in influencing Abbey’s imagination.

The Play Scene (3.2): Nineteenth-Century Book Illustrators

As might be expected, visual representations of the Play Scene attracted the attention of book illustrators. A number of visual renditions of the Play Scene appeared in widely-published nineteenth-century editions of Shakespeare. One such example occurs in Charles Knight’s Pictorial Edition of Shakspere, a work that had a very wide readership. When Knight’s ground-breaking edition first appeared in serial form, Hamlet appeared in Part 10 in 1839. The illustration given pride of place as the title-page was a wood engraving of the Play Scene by John Jackson after a design by William Harvey. It shows the conventional arrangement of the action, with Ophelia in a light-toned dress seated to the left, Hamlet seated at her feet and looking at Claudius while pointing to the stage. Horatio stands behind Ophelia’s chair. Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius are to the right, and the performance of the play at the rear takes place on a small proscenium stage. Two allegorical-like female figures stand on either side of the small stage at the rear. They draw back a curtain to reveal the action of the play, which has reached the crucial moment when the murderer pours the poison into the sleeping Gonzago’s ear. The figure on the right, who is directly above Claudius in the composition, holds a dagger. Does she represent Tragedy, Murder, Revenge? The woman on the left stands above Ophelia and Hamlet. Her eyes are cast downwards. Does she represent Innocence, Sorrow, Prayer? The artist’s intentions are perhaps not as clear as they might be, something that Maclise may have noted when he created his two allegorical figures of Prayer and Justice a few years later. Significantly, Georg Scharf in his engraving recording Macready’s performance of the Play Scene, which appeared in the same year as Knight’s Hamlet, also included two somewhat similar female figures. Two such figures, then, appear to have been a feature of contemporary stage performance; however, their precise symbolic intention is open to interpretation.
The Harvey/Jackson version of the Play Scene does not completely resolve the problem of how to effectively use a “portrait” format for this very crowded event, a necessity in most books unless the reader is going to be required to turn the volume sideways to look at a picture in a “landscape” format. Faced with the challenge, John Gilbert, in his design for Howard Staunton’s 1860 edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare, came up with his own bold, if somewhat obvious solution. He split the scene in two across facing pages of his book. On the left page (p. 364), he placed the Hamlet/Ophelia/Horatio group
Gilbert - Hamlet/Ophelia/Horatio Group
. They are shown looking off to the right. Behind Hamlet and Ophelia upon a platform up two steps the Play is being enacted, although no one is watching it. When the viewer’s gaze shifts from the engraving on the left page to that on the right page (p. 365), it is immediately clear what the Hamlet/Ophelia/Horatio group is looking at
Gilbert - Claudius/Gertrude/Polonius Group
. Claudius is shown rising from his chair and turning away from the play. Gertrude to his left, looks up at him in concern, her back to the Play, while Polonius, to the left of her, leans on his wand of office and observes Claudius. A quite different solution to the compositional problem is attempted in the design by Henry Courtney Selous
Selous - Play Scene
for the wood engraving by Frederick Wentworth that appeared in Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke’s edition of Shakespeare in 1868. Selous made a virtue out of necessity by crowding his figures close together in the foreground. The Claudius group is to the left, but Hamlet, though on the floor at Ophelia’s feet, is at the same time touching Claudius and Gertrude with his outstretched legs. Hamlet’s accusing finger points like a dagger towards Claudius, who reels back as he turns away in alarm. The drama and confusion of the moment is further emphasized by the way in which the performance of the Players on the small stage at the rear has clearly been completely disrupted. Gonzago and the murderer, Lucianus, are both looking out at the audience, while a court official standing in front of the stage waves them away.
Hermann Knackfuss’s design, engraved by C. H. Schulze, for the 1874 Schlegel and Tieck translation of Shakespeare’s Dramatische Werke takes yet another approach. Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Horatio, Hamlet, and Ophelia in an unusual arrangement are grouped together, all sharing a common viewpoint on the left of the Players’ performance at right. Within a narrow curtained alcove, two steps up at right, a single figure, crown in hand, exits from the improvised stage. This appears to represent the murderer stealing away with the crown. By fusing two separate groups of characters into one and by eliminating the horizontal figure of the murderer’s victim, Knackfuss is able accommodates everything within the available space.
Two further examples will suffice to complete this brief survey of visual representations of the Play Scene. Both are also from printed editions. For the Hamlet published by Raphael Tuck in 1897, Harold Copping produced a colored chromograph of the Play Scene that was also issued as a postcard
. It shows only the Play at left rear and the drama of Claudius’s reaction to it. Hamlet, Ophelia, and Horatio are entirely omitted. However, on the title-page of the edition and repeated later close to the chromograph is a wood engraving by Hare that shows only Hamlet, who is on the floor, holding the script of the play. The same year, Howard Chandler Christy illustrated a New York edition of Hamlet published by Barse and Hopkins and by Dodd and Mead. That Christy knew of Abbey’s painting of the same year seems a little unlikely; however, as a way of finding the space to squeeze in a much as possible of the complex scene in “portrait” format, Christy completely omitted the play-within-the-play. As in Abbey’s version, the Players’ performance is enacted in the space occupied by the viewer.

The Closet Scene and the Killing of Polonius (3.4)

Although the Prayer Scene (3.3) was frequently subjected on stage to considerable cutting or even omitted entirely, a number of artists appear to have been attracted by the intense drama of Hamlet’s disturbing behavior when he is unexpectedly presented with the perfect opportunity to of killing Claudius. In relative terms, however, the number of visual representations is small. Far more common are versions of the Closet Scene that follows. As a subject for artists from the very beginning of Hamlet illustration in the eighteenth century, the Closet Scene remained one of the most frequently represented scenes among visual representations of Hamlet through both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its highly complex drama includes Hamlet’s confrontation with his mother, the expression of his feelings regarding her remarriage, his killing of the eaves-dropping Polonius, his forcing of his mother to look at the differences between the painted portraits of his father and his uncle, and his second encounter with the Ghost who is visible only to Hamlet to the consternation of both Hamlet and Gertrude. Three moments in the scene – the killing of Polonius, the viewing of the portraits, and the appearance of the Ghost – seem to have particularly attracted artists in both centuries.

The Closet Scene and the Killing of Polonius (3.4): Actor Portraits

There are only a small number of actor portraits depicting the killing of Polonius, their scarcity probably reflecting the general concern that Hamlet’s treatment of the Polonius could all too easily make the Prince seem insensitive (Hamlet’s concluding reference to Polonius’s “guts” at the end of the scene [2579] was routinely cut). Actors perhaps preferred not to have this problematic side of Hamlet’s behavior recorded for posterity. The earliest actor portrait depicting the killing of Polonius is an engraving dated 1785 by Cook of a design by Johann Heinrich Ramberg. Printed for Bell's British Library, it depicts a wild-haired John Philip Kemble as Hamlet,
just after Polonius has been killed. Standing with legs wide apart, he holds his sword horizontally across his body and points towards the arras. With his left arm extended, he points down to Polonius's hand which protrudes on the floor from behind the arras. The engraving is accompanied by the quotation “A Bloody deed! almost as bad good Mother, as kill a King & marry with his Brother” [2409-10]. Hamlet is obviously showing his mother the results of what he has done but ironically has not yet pulled back the arras and discovered his error. A.H. Brown’s undated “one penny” engraving of Charles Kean, who had his first great success in the role of Hamlet in 1838, was accompanied by the quotation “Is it the King?” It shows Kean full length with legs wide apart. His sword is in his right hand, its point to the ground. However, it shows only Hamlet, and the viewer is expected to supply the full context and recognize the irony of the situation. As far as I am aware, the only other nineteenth-century actor to be portrayed in this segment of the scene, apart from Henry Irving in a caricature of by W. G. Baxter, was Charles Dillon, who played Hamlet at the Lyceum in 1857. An unsigned and undated engraving published by the London Printing and Publishing Company shows him standing, full face, sword in right hand, extended back horizontally across his body towards the arras at the right. He would appear to be pointing towards the arras with his left arm extended behind him. As in the portrait of Kemble, he appears to be addressing his mother whose unseen presence has to be assumed by the viewer.

The Closet Scene and the Killing of Polonius (3.4): Illustrated Editions and Toy Theater

In illustrated editions of Shakespeare, the subject seems to have been neglected in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The 1843 Barry Cornwall edition appears to provide the earliest visual representation. Orrin Smith’s wood engraving of Kenny Meadows’ design shows the hand and wrist of the dead Polonius poking from beneath the arras and Hamlet looking back over his shoulder towards his mother at right. It is accompanied by the caption: “Nay, I know not: is it the king?” (2407). Subsequent illustrated editions, however, do not include the scene until the 1890s when the Irving Shakespeare in 1890 included a wood engraving by C. Henschel of a design by Gordon Browne showing Hamlet, sword in hand, pulling back the arras to reveal the body of Polonius. Both Harold Copping and Howard Christy provided illustrations of the subject in the 1897 editions of Hamlet to which they contributed, and one year later, Jules Larmina’s French translation of Chefs d-Oeuvre de Shakespeare also included the scene in the form of a wood engraving by Albert Robida of a very violent-looking Hamlet plunging his sword into the arras.
Whereas publishers of Shakespeare editions in the nineteenth century appear to have been somewhat cautious about including illustrations of the killing of Polonius, no such reservation governed the set of Juvenile Theater sheets issued by Hodgson and Company some time between 1822 and 1830. Children performing Hamlet in their toy theaters were provided with every facility for playing out the killing of Polonius. Plate 9 of Hodgson’s series (there is a copy in the London Theatre Museum), a hand-colored engraving, includes the Hamlet figure at right with drawn sword. Legs wide apart and left hand to his brow, he looks down as though in horror at the body of Polonius protruding from behind a curtain at right. Also included is the horrified Gertrude in an ermine-lined gown, hands clasped upon her breast.

The Closet Scene and the Killing of Polonius (3.4): Retzsch and Delacroix

At about the same time as Hodgson’s Juvenile Theater publication appeared, Moritz Retzsch published his well-known set of outline engravings of Hamlet scenes, among them an engraving depicting the moment when Hamlet stabs Polonius through the arras. Some years later, Delacroix gave special prominence to the killing of Polonius by including in his series of Hamlet lithographs two works related to the topic, one showing the moment just before the murder and the other showing the moment when Polonius’s dead body is revealed. He also painted at least two works based on these same “before” and “after” moments. The lithograph (undated) depicting the moment just before Hamlet thrusts his sword through the arras has the caption “Qu'est ce donc? ... Un rat!” (2404). At left is a curtain at the foot of which can just be seen Polonius's feet. Delacroix seems to have attempted to capture the moment in time when Hamlet, having heard Polonius’s cry, momentarily pauses before acting. His sword is not raised but pointed towards the feet of the person hidden behind the curtain. With his left hand he holds back Gertrude behind him as though asking her to be still so that he can decide what is behind the curtain. All this matches the question in the first part of the accompanying quotation, but we are aware that only a small moment of time will pass before Hamlet exclaims “Un rat!” and plunges his weapon into the man behind the curtain. The painting of 1848/9, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), is closely modeled upon the earlier lithograph and simply repeats the same effects.
Delacroix’s second lithograph, which is dated 1835, forms a pair with the first lithograph, even though in the narrative sequence of the play it is separated from the first by the long scene between Hamlet and his mother. Delacroix’s second lithograph shows the same curtain at left as that in the first work. Hamlet, who has dropped his sword on the ground, has raised the curtain with his right hand to reveal the prone body of Polonius, whose gnarled and bearded face is in the immediate foreground of the picture, strongly contrasting with the youthful, clean-shaven, girlish face of Hamlet (Delacroix modeled Hamlet on a woman friend, Juliette Pierret). To emphasize the contrast between the two men, Delacroix has made Polonius seem quite large, while his Hamlet seems short in stature. Gertrude is now excluded so that the viewer’s attention is only upon the two contrasting figures. The moment in the text that Delacroix has in mind is revealed by the accompanying quotation, a French translation of 2580-2: “Vraiment ce conseiller est maintenant bien silencieux, bien discret, bien grave, lui qui dans sa vie était le drôle le plus bavard du monde.” Some twenty years later, Delacroix did a painting based on this same moment in the play (the current location of the work is unknown, but a copy exists). The design is somewhat similar to that of the lithograph; however, this time Delacroix includes Gertrude, far back at the left and perhaps about to leave the room. In contrast to Hamlet’s downward meditative gaze, her head is tipped back and her arms raised to her head in a gesture of grief as she wrestles in her mind with all that has happened in the scene that is now ending. During the remainder of the nineteenth century, artists other that book illustrators seem largely to have ignored the killing of Polonius. Perhaps the dramatic events that follow seemed more attractive as possible subjects than either the opening and closing segments of the scene involving the death of Polonius.

The Closet Scene and Hamlet’s Showing of the Two Portraits (3.4)

After killing Polonius, Hamlet soon turns once more to Gertrude, forcing her to sit and compare the portraits of her former husband (Hamlet’s father) and her current husband (Claudius). Originally in the theater Hamlet appears to have directed his mother’s attention to two portraits hanging on the wall, the earliest visual support (though by no means conclusive evidence) for this being the Boitard/Kirksall engraving that provided the frontispiece for Hamlet in Rowe’s 1709 edition of Shakespeare. This may have been how Thomas Betterton performed the scene. However, from at least as early as the 1730s, a quite different stage practice developed. Hamlet might have about him two miniatures, one of his father and one of his uncle, that he then forced Gertrude to look at. An early picture that probably relates to this practice is Robert Dunkerton’s 1777 portrait of John Henderson, now in the National Portrait Gallery (London). It depicts Henderson three-quarter length and seated (in eighteenth-century stagings of the scene, it was customary to supply seats for both Hamlet and Gertrude). Henderson’s head is turned to the left, his eyes raised as if staring intently at something/one (presumably Gertrude). His right hand crosses his body and his left hand is raised to shoulder height. In each hand he holds a miniature. That in his left hand has a small ribbon attached to it.
Due to the inconsistency of Hamlet carrying a miniature of his uncle when his feelings were so hostile, stage practice later changed. Hamlet would refer to a miniature of his father that he wore about his own neck and a matching miniature of his uncle that Gertrude wore about her neck.. A variation upon this, the commonest practice, was to use one wall portrait and one miniature. Later, certain actors, among them Macready, Forrest, Bandmann, Mounet-Sully (in the Comédie-Française production), Bernhardt, and Forbes Robertson, returned to the use of wall portraits, Macready introducing the innovation of having the Ghost appear as though from his own portrait. A much more radical variation of using neither portraits nor miniatures and leaving everything to the imagination of the viewer was introduced by Irving and subsequently followed by Salvini and Poel. Irving described the portraits as if they were hanging in the space (the fourth wall) occupied by the audience.
The portrait scene, no matter whether wall portraits or miniatures were employed, frequently seemed to invite a degree of violence on the part of Hamlet. Having first forced his mother to sit earlier in the scene, he now forces her to look at two pictures in order to make a comparison that she would rather not make. In Georges Clairin’s wood engraving of what is entitled “Scène des Portraits,” for example, Hamlet’s (Bernhardt’s) bullying behavior is conveyed by the image of Gertrude cowering on her knees, her hands to her head which Hamlet directs with one hand so that she must look to the right and to the unseen portraits to which he points with his other hand. Another variation where wall portraits were used involved Hamlet moving his mother towards the portraits. Macready did this, and in an anonymous engraving published in a newspaper, probably in 1845, we see Macready and his Gertrude (Frances Ternan) before two full-length wall portraits. Gertrude is seated in a chair, so it would seem that Macready has brought both her and the chair to face the wall. While Gertrude’s head is bowed and supported by her right hand, Hamlet stands with legs apart as he gestures with both arms extended in front of him towards the two portraits. Whenever miniatures were used, other types of violence were possible. Henderson, for example, seems to have introduced the stage business of having Hamlet throw Claudius’s picture to the ground. Later, other actors such as Booth and Rossi treated the miniature even more violently, first wrenching the miniature from Gertrude’s throat and then trampling upon it.

The Closet Scene and Hamlet’s Showing of the Two Portraits (3.4): Eighteenth-Century Renditions

The earliest rendition of the portrait episode is a 1776 oval engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after a design by William Hamilton. Entitled “HAMLET and his MOTHER,” it shows Hamlet and Gertrude seated upon what appears to be Gertrude's curtained bed, not something that was ever a stage property in this scene until a good deal later, though, as noted elsewhere, Du Guernier included a bed in his 1714 engraving of the Closet Scene. In Hamilton’s design, Gertrude is seated on the left and is attempting to move away from Hamlet, her hands raised in consternation. Her head is turned over her left shoulder to look at the miniature which Hamlet, seated close against her on the right, holds out in his left hand. Particularly effective is the manner in which Hamlet’s indecorous verbal (and in this instance, near physical) assault on Gertrude is conveyed. His right thigh seems to be pushed against his mother’s left thigh, and his right elbow fills the curve of her waist. At the same time, his leaning in towards her forces her to lean to the side, all this within the close confines of a curtained bed. The inherent sexuality in Shakespeare’s text, concerning which later Freudian critics and many modern directors have made so much, is here given perhaps its earliest visualization. At the close of the eighteenth century, two editions of Hamlet included illustrations of the portrait episode. Most familiar was the 1798 engraving by William Nelson Gardiner that appeared in Harding’s illustrated Plays of William Shakspeare (1798-1800). One of five engravings to accompany the text of Hamlet, it shows Hamlet and Gertrude seated upon what today would be called a “love seat.” As in Hamilton’s design, mother and son are placed close together in an unnaturally confined position. Gertrude at left stares down in consternation at the miniature that Hamlet at right holds towards her with his left hand that reaches across his body. As an indication that he is forcing Gertrude to stay seated and look at the picture, he grasps Gertrude's wrist with his right hand. His gaze is directed downwards towards her face and onwards towards her low cleavage. To the modern eye, at least, this last detail is sexually suggestive. One year after Gardiner’s work, a J. Thornton completed a small octagonal engraving based on a design by William Marshall Craig to serve as frontispiece to an edition of Hamlet that was published in London and Manchester. Gertrude is seated in a chair. She faces slightly to the right and upwards but leans across to the left, her arm fully extended to the right as though to ward off Hamlet. Upon her face is a wild look of consternation and fear. Hamlet stands at her side, his body erect and his feet wide apart in a pose suggestive of his power role in the scene. He is looking down at her, holding a miniature in front of her face with his right hand. In his left hand, which is held aloft to the right, is another miniature.

The Closet Scene and Hamlet’s Showing of the Two Portraits (3.4): Nineteenth-Century Renditions

The implied violence and underlying sexual aggression of Hamlet’s behavior are further evident in an early nineteenth century wood engraving by John Thurston for an edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare published in 1804 and in a somewhat later 1834 lithograph by Delacroix. Quite different in character, however, is a lithograph by Richard James Lane, published in 1840. Lane’s lithograph, a bust-length portrait of Charles Kemble as Hamlet, rather than depicting Hamlet’s wild and aggressive behavior towards his mother, chooses instead to try and capture a different note. Lane accompanied his lithograph with the quotation “See, what a grace was seated on this brow” (2439), the first line of Hamlet’s fervent (and in the theater usually deeply sincere) paean to his dead father. The portrait appears to be an attempt to depict the sensitive and reverential son who, for a moment in this often violent scene, appears (as Booth did) to become caught up in the memory of his beloved father, forgetting momentarily the presence of his mother and the purpose of his speech.
Two further works, both book illustrations, and both dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, provide final examples of visual renderings of this section of the Closet Scene. Both explore the violence and underlying sexuality that has already been noted above. The first is a wood engraving by C. H. Schulze after a design by Hermann Knackfuss provided for the 1874 Schlegel and Tieck translation of Shakespeare. The illustration shows Gertrude seated, her hands clasped in her lap. She has turned her head to the left to look at two portraits hanging on the wall while Hamlet to her right, stands beside her, legs apart and right arm fully extended to point at the portraits. At the rear, partially visible beneath the arras, is the body of Polonius. Hamlet's sword lies next to him and is placed parallel to Hamlet’s extended arm. Consequently, Hamlet’s pose reminds us of his earlier exercise of power in killing Polonius and suggests the threat he may now pose to the cowering Gertrude. The exercise of power by the vertical figure of Hamlet over the seated Gertrude is made very clear. The same is true in one of Harold Copping’s designs for the edition of Hamlet published by Raphael Tuck in 1897. This also shows Hamlet standing over a seated Gertrude. In his right hand, he holds a miniature that is attached around her neck. The effect (often used in stage productions) is menacing. Will he pull the chain around her neck any tighter?

The Closet Scene and the Ghost’s reappearance (3.4): Eighteenth-Century Renditions

Following the section of the scene in which Hamlet forces his mother to compare real or imaginary portraits of his father and uncle, Hamlet continues his verbal battery of Gertrude, and, as Hamlet’s hostility mounts, the emotional intensity of the scene becomes more and more fraught. There then occurs one of the most dramatic events in the entire play occurs – the totally unexpected reappearance of the Ghost (2482). It is this moment that provided in 1709 the first ever visual representation of a Hamlet subject. Boitard’s design for Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare has been discussed elsewhere in this essay, as have two further early representations of the Ghost’s appearance in the Closet Scene by Du Guernier in 1714 and Dandridge in 1734.
Other eighteenth-century depictions of this moment in the Closet Scene include an oil by Francis Hayman, now owned by the Garrick Club and dated c. 1755-60. A chalk drawing now in the Folger Shakespeare Library (Art Box H422 no. 1) may be an earlier sketch for this oil. It is far more dramatic (even violent in its representation of the grappling between Hamlet and Gertrude) than the more decorous painting and provides a fascinating opportunity for comparison. How much, one wonders, did decorum require that the drama observed by the artist on the stage be toned down in a formal painting? The oil painting depicts three identifiable actors: Spranger Barry, Mrs Mary Elmy, and Lacy Ryan. These three performed together on a number of occasions between 1751 and 1754 in the roles of Hamlet, Gertrude, and the Ghost respectively, although to what extent Hayman’s painting provides an accurate record of their performance together remains open to question. Among other eighteenth-century versions of the Closet Scene are works by James Roberts, Daniel Nicolaus Chodowiecki, Henry Fuseli, and Richard Westall. This last is perhaps of particular interest to the story of how images of Hamlet contributed to the cultural consciousness of the play because, though originating as an oil painting, it subsequently received a much wider circulation as an engraving. Westall’s painting of the Closet Scene was one of twenty-two small-scale pictures that he had been invited to contribute to the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. The work was probably added to the collection shortly before 23 April, 1798. Four years later Boydell published an engraved version by William Charles Wilson that was included in both the 1802 edition of The Dramatic Works of Shakspeare and in Boydell’s Graphic Illustrations of the Dramatic Works, of Shakespeare (1803?). There were also two further versions by other engravers that were published in 1829 and 1833 respectively. Such exposure ensured that Westall’s image became relatively well known.
Currently on loan to the York City Art Gallery, Westall’s design employs a vertical (“portrait”) format. The seated figure of Gertrude is placed at center and Westall drew the viewer’s gaze to her by highlighting her face. Hands clasped in front of her (one is perhaps reminded of Hamlet’s earlier “Leave wringing of your hands” 2416), she stares up and to the right at Hamlet. Her expression is one of fright and amazement. To the right stands Hamlet, feet wide apart and arms extended in front of him in astonishment and perhaps fear. He appears to have just risen from his chair and faces across the top of Gertrude’s head to the left where we see the bearded figure of the Ghost, who appears to have entered through the doorway behind him. The Ghost wears armor and a plumed helmet, its visor up, and he is wrapped in a cloak. His head is turned to the right, almost in profile, to face Gertrude and Hamlet, and he gestures with his right hand as if speaking to Hamlet. There is a strong sense of domestic intimacy, an effect conveyed by placing Hamlet’s and Gertrude’s chairs close together and at right angles to each other. In addition, the low lighting source that illuminates Gertrude’s face and places Hamlet almost in silhouette is particularly effective in suggesting intimacy and the private nature of the meeting between mother and son which has now been shattered by the arrival of the Ghost, who stands close to Gertrude, his foot virtually touching the bottom of her dress.

The Closet Scene and the Ghost’s reappearance (3.4): Nineteenth-Century Renditions

The early popularity of the Closet Scene among artists continued throughout the nineteenth century, and versions of the scene are rivaled in number only by visualizations of Ophelia’s madness and death and the Graveyard Scene in Act 5. The nineteenth-century depictions of the reappearance of the Ghost are divided between those that show the arrival of the Ghost and those that show the effects of his departure. A well-known version of the former was the outline engraving in Retzsch’s 1827-8 series that showed Hamlet at the right rear standing before two wall portraits representing the two royal brothers. His hands are raised and point at the near transparent figure of the Ghost who has entered from the right rear. Seated at the right is Gertrude. Her hands clasped with anxiety, she leans forward and looks up in concern at Hamlet. This is not a particularly compelling work, chiefly because Hamlet’s stance is rather like that of a boxer. He does not start back and hence there is no sense that he is startled or frightened by what he sees. Indeed, the most effective part of the composition is the skilful delineation of the body of Polonius in the left foreground, but this then merely distracts us from the main drama that supposedly is happening elsewhere in the picture.
A much later but very striking representation of the arrival of the Ghost is William Salter Herrick’s large oil painting that was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857, a work now in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library. On the far right is the transparent form of the Ghost, an effect possible to the painter but not completely realizable in the theater. Anticipating Irving’s innovation, the Ghost is presented “in his habit as he lived” (2518), which for Herrick means a kind of dressing-robe and a crown. Hamlet stands just to left of center in front of the arras, protruding from the bottom of which is the head of the dead Polonius and Hamlet’s bloodied sword. Hamlet’s left arm is raised, the palm towards the Ghost in a gesture typical of the “start” and no doubt still current in the theater. Gertrude is seated at the left and gazes up in astonishment at Hamlet. Behind her is a small table on which stands a crucifix, a reminder of the moral order, perhaps, by which Hamlet believes both she and Claudius will be judged.
Particularly striking in Herrick’s painting is the medieval Nordic character that the artist has applied to his work. On the floor beneath Hamlet and Gertrude is a wild animal skin, something that was to become a familiar feature of later “historical” productions of Hamlet and appears in several visual realizations. Gertrude wears a small crown that acts as a headband for her loose blonde hair. Even if not historically authentic, it is clear that Herrick has attempted to create a medieval costume for her. The same can be said for Hamlet, who wears a short black tunic and has shoulder-length blonde hair. The tunic may be an echo of that worn by Charles Kean, but the blonde hair is another matter. This was a detail that does not appear to have been adopted in any English stage production until Fechter appeared in a blonde wig at the Princess’s Theatre in March 1861. Perhaps Herrick was influenced by an earlier artist, William Maw Egley, who exhibited a painting at the British Institution in 1855 that portrayed Hamlet as blond. Alternatively, we may be witnessing the influence of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1796), which maintained that Hamlet, as a Dane, as a Northman, was fair-haired and blue-eyed. Later actors often followed the precedent set by Fechter. Sarah Bernhardt, for example, wore a blond wig in 1899, and in the following century both Olivier and Branagh dyed their hair blond for their respective films.

The Closet Scene and the Ghost’s reappearance (3.4): Records of Theater Productions

Among works depicting the arrival of the Ghost in the Closet Scene, several attempt to offer records of theater productions. These include a watercolor by William Telbin, Sr., that was created for the revival of Fechter’s Hamlet at the Lyceum Theatre in 1864; an anonymous wood engraving based on a design by Charles Witham in a work memorializing Edwin Booth’s Hamlet and published in New York in 1866; and a drawing by Hawes Craven reproduced in the souvenir program for Johnston Forbes Robertson’s 1897 production of Hamlet at the Lyceum. This last, for example, shows two of the three walls of the stage set which represents a very large medieval room. On the far wall and on the rear wall at right are the portraits of the two kings. Hamlet (Forbes Robertson), his legs wide apart, stands at the left facing across to the right. He leans slightly forward and his left arm is extended in front of him towards the phantom-like figure of the Ghost (Ian Forbes Robertson) who stands at the center. The artist seems to be attempting to show not so much Hamlet’s fear and terror as his desire to reach out and communicate with the Ghost. In Forbes Robertson’s performance of the Closet Scene, he apparently saw and spoke to the Ghost before it appeared, a detail designed to make Gertrude (Charlotte Granville) especially likely to question her son’s sanity. In Craven’s picture, she is placed at the right, partly bent over a table that she clutches as she stares across directly at Hamlet. By placing the Ghost in between Hamlet and Gertrude and not behind Gertrude as in many productions, Forbes Robertson was thus able to emphasize the fact that Gertrude never sees the spirit of her former husband. In a later moment, he even had Gertrude stretch her hand to Hamlet and appear to come in contact with the Ghost without knowing it.

The Closet Scene and the Ghost’s reappearance (3.4): The Ghost’s Departure

Other nineteenth-century representations of the Ghost in the Closet Scene often depict the departure of the Ghost. Among these are four engravings, all book or magazine illustrations: the frontispiece to an 1812 edition of Hamlet published by Oliver & Boyd in Edinburgh and engraved by D. Somervile; a wood engraving by after a design by Kenny Meadows for Barry Cornwall’s 1843 edition of Shakespeare; an anonymous 1845 wood engraving for the Illustrated Review, depicting Macready and Frances Ternan (Gertrude); and an engraving based on a daguerreotype by Paine of Islington that was published in various versions in the 1850s by John Tallis & Co. (later the London Printing and Publishing Company). This last may suffice for purposes of comment here. It was printed in various sizes, and copies of it seem to have been very common. Depicting Samuel Phelps as Hamlet and Isabel Glyn as Gertrude in Phelps’s Sadler’s Wells production of Hamlet, it was included in an edition of Shakespeare that appeared in 1850-53, with subsequent editions in 1851, 1856, and 1858. Almost certainly taken in the studio, the work shows Gertrude at center, seated upon a chair, eyes somewhat downcast. On the left (to her right) stands Hamlet, his right arm raised above his head. To the right is what appears to be a full length portrait of a king, a detail reminding us that Phelps was one of those who returned in his production the use of wall portraits earlier in this scene. Possibly, however, the indistinct figure is intended to be the Ghost in the act of leaving. Behind Hamlet is a curtained alcove, and one is presumably expected to imagine that behind it lies the dead Polonius. Accompanying the engraving are Hamlet’s words: “Confess yourself to heaven Repent what’s past! avoid what is to come!” (2532-3). They are followed by Gertrude’s response: “O Hamlet! thou hast cleft my heart in twain” (2539-40). It is impossible to know in this instance, as so often when quotations have been added to pictures, whether the artist has attempted to illustrate the words quoted or whether the choice of quotation was someone else’s later contribution, made without knowledge of the artist’s actual intentions. What is probably more certain is that the poses of the two actors, and Phelps’s particular choice of gesture, relate in some way to stage practice. Assuming that the quotation is what Paine, Phelps and Glyn had in mind when the daguerreotype was taken, we may read Hamlet’s upright pose, with his right arm above his head as suggestive of the forcefulness with which he speaks. More specifically, his raised arm is also suggestive of the direct appeal to “heaven” that he makes after the departure of the Ghost. Equally clear is the crushed response of Gertrude, seated listless, crestfallen, and perhaps tortured by guilt. By contrast Hamlet, who stands above her seems almost to be literally taking the higher moral ground while making judgment upon her.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5)

Ophelia’s description of Hamlet in 2.1 and the distress that befalls her in 3.1, the so-called Nunnery Scene, remind viewers of the play of the love plot that forms one of the many strata that make up the complex mix of personal relationships in Hamlet. Nineteenth-century productions tended to make more of Hamlet’s love for Ophelia than their eighteenth-century forebears and permitted Hamlet to express in various ways both tenderness for the plight of Ophelia and personal agony at having to set aside his love for her. Artists also attempted in different ways to capture some of these intense feelings in their visual representations of the two scenes. Later in the play, however, Ophelia also offered both the actors who played her and the artists who depicted her a quite different kind of subject-matter. In 4.5 she appears on stage mad after Hamlet has killed her father and left Denmark. Then in 4.7 Gertrude comes on stage and provides a moving description of how Ophelia’s distracted state has led to her drowning.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5): Eighteenth-Century Actor Portraits

The appearance of the mad Ophelia in 4.5, with the possible exception of an engraving by John Hamilton Mortimer that will be discussed elsewhere, was first pictorially represented in Bell’s third edition of Shakespeare, specifically in the six-penny edition of Hamlet that appeared on 7 October 1775. This contained a portrait of Jane Lessingham as the mad Ophelia, designed by James Roberts and engraved by Charles Grignion (Young 2002 [b], 244-46). Accompanied by the quotation “There’s rue for you” (2932-3) and apparently drawn from life (“ad vivam”), this was the first depiction of a specific actor in the character of Ophelia. Jane Lessingham first appeared as Ophelia for her benefit at Covent Garden on 21 April 1772. Why she was selected as Roberts’s subject is unclear. Isabella Mattocks, the Covent Garden Ophelia named in the Cast List for Bell’s text was perhaps rejected because her portrait appears elsewhere in Bell’s Shakespeare edition as Princess Catherine, but this still leaves Mrs. Smith, listed as the Drury Lane Ophelia, together with a number of others better-known for their performances of the role than Jane Lessingham. As was the case with the other portraits that Bell introduced into his edition, that of Jane Lessingham shows only her and must have been much quicker and above all much cheaper to produce than the depictions of Shakespeare scenes that had accompanied Bell’s earlier editions, something that would have been of particular importance in the rapid production of Bell’s cheap weekly six-penny numbers. Roberts’s design (the original drawing is in the British Museum) shows Ophelia full length, facing to the left. In her left hand she holds a basket of flowers. She extends her right hand, which holds rue, as if offering a sprig of it to someone (Claudius is the probable recipient). Although there is no obvious sign of madness in her expression (unlike the engraving by Mortimer), her mental state is indicated by the manner in which her dress has flowers attached to various parts of it, and she has flowers in her hair. In addition, her very long hair hangs loosely behind her back and one loose tress hangs forward over the shoulder nearest to the viewer, indications to eighteenth-century viewers of her disordered mental state.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5): Nineteenth-Century Actor Portraits

Following Jane Lessingham’s bold step in allowing herself to be the first actress portrayed not just as Ophelia but as the mad Ophelia, a small but steady procession of female actors had their portraits taken in the role, among them Mary Bolton (1813), Lydia Kelly (1815), Caroline Heath (1857), Helena Modjeska (1871 and 1889) and Sadda Yacco (1891?). Three further examples can be mentioned in more detail here. In 1827, when Charles Kemble’s company of English actors caused such a sensation at the Odeon theater in Paris, the center of attraction proved to be the little-known Harriet Smithson. Her very naturalistic portrayal of Ophelia’s madness had an unexpected but startling effect upon a number of writers, artists, and musicians who attended. Several visual depictions record her acting, one of which, an 1827 lithograph by Auguste de Valmont, is a portrait of her in 4.5. She is presented full length, standing, facing to the right. She wears a long white dress, and from the back of her head hangs a long black veil that reaches the floor. At left front are attached some flowers to the veil. In her hair are wisps of foliage. Her left hand is at her side but her right arm crosses her chest and her right hand rests upon her left breast. She has long loose hair that hangs forward over her left shoulder. Below is the quotation “I cannot chuse but weep, to think, they chould [sic] lay him in the cold ground” (2806-7). The inclusion of the black veil is a reminder of a piece of novel stage business that elicited much comment at the time. During the scene, Smithson, indicating that her madness was due to the sudden death of her father, spread out her veil on the floor in front of her, and, according to what we know of the production, then mistook it for her father's shroud. The incident was depicted in the lithograph of the scene by Valmont’s contemporaries Achille Devéria and Louis Boulanger, and Smithson may well have provided the model for Delacroix’s 1834 lithograph of the scene, in which the black veil is also portrayed (Kiefer 2001, 23).
Some fifty-one years after the Paris performances of Harriet Smithson, another actor playing Ophelia for the first time also deeply impressed her audiences. Ellen Terry made her debut with Henry Irving at the Lyceum in a revival that opened on 30 December 1878 and ran for 108 nights. A number of artists subsequently attempted to capture aspects of her performance. Among the various visual renditions is a studio photograph by Window & Grove of London that presents her three-quarter length. She is turned slightly to the left but faces slightly to the right. She wears what appears to be a white long-sleeved dress with a v-neck (in her earlier scenes she had a different dress with a rounded neck). In her hands, which are clasped before her, she holds a bunch of lilies. Terry’s use of lilies was a feature of her performance. Indeed, she always insisted upon having fresh flowers regardless of expense. It is understandable, then, that she would want her portrait to include them, for they were her chosen images for Ophelia, derived apparently from a poem by Oscar Wilde.
Almost twenty years after Terry made her debut as Ophelia, Mrs. Patrick Campbell appeared in the role at the Lyceum Theatre in Johnston Forbes Robertson’s 1897 production. A photograph by Lafayette (Dublin) that was subsequently reproduced on a postcard by J. Beagles in London records her performance in the mad scene. She stands full-length, her face turned slightly to the right, upon a carpet with a large pillar behind her. In her right hand she holds a large bunch of flowers. Her left hand, in which is a flower or plant, is extended forwards to the right of the picture as though she is offering what she is holding. Her hair is long and loose and has a flower in it, and her gaze is somewhat mournful but not particularly mad or distracted, although George Bernard Shaw was impressed by the way in which Campbell made Ophelia “really mad” (Shaw 2000, 149). She has a long light-colored dress. Draped over it, in a detail reminding us of Harriet Smithson, there is a black veil. What the portrait does not indicate, however, is that Forbes Robertson employed an open-air setting in the castle gardens for 4.5.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5): Character Portraits

Alongside actor portraits of Ophelia, artists produced an even larger stream of representations of the mad Ophelia. Isolated and alone, she offered a powerful and irresistible subject. As a number of feminist scholars have noted, Ophelia provided artists with the opportunity of displaying female madness and vulnerability, with all the erotic undertones thereby permitted. Beginning with the romantics in the late eighteenth century, depictions of either female madness, female death, or both motifs in combination became ubiquitous in nineteenth-century art and were representative of a deeply-embedded cultural construction of the feminine that profoundly affected the arts, the practice of medicine, and all aspects of male-female relationships. The preponderance of opinion appears to be that depictions of female madness and concomitant female sexuality, as in the case of the Ophelia of Act 4 of Hamlet, provided artists and viewers of their works (particularly males), with the opportunity to contemplate and contain (notably when madness leads to death) the threatening fantasy of uncontrolled female sexuality.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5): Eighteenth-Century Character Portraits

The earliest such character portrait is the engraving, designed and engraved by John Hamilton Mortimer (Young 2002 [b], 248-50). Original drawings of the Ophelia in reverse, one in charcoal and one in pen and ink, are located in the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Huntington Library respectively. The entire set of drawings was exhibited at the Society of Artists exhibition at the beginning of 1775, the Ophelia
Mortimer - Ophelia
being the first Hamlet subject ever to appear at any of the annual art exhibitions. The later engraved version of Ophelia was one of a set of twelve engraved character portraits that Mortimer published with the title Shakspeare’s Characters: 12 Illustrations in two batches of six on 20 May 1775 and 15 March 1776 (Garrick had helped generate subscribers for the project). The engraved Ophelia, which is accompanied by the quotation “There's Fennel for you and Columbines There's Rue for you, and some for me” (2932-3), depicts Ophelia half-length, her back partially turned to viewer. She faces left and .holds a sprig of herbs up before her. Beneath her left arm is a small basket of flowers, not unlike that carried by Jane Lessingham in Roberts’s portrait of the same year. Her hair is partly bound up with a garland of flowers and vegetation, but it is disordered nonetheless, some of it falling loosely down her back and forward over her right temple. The chief effect of the composition, however, is achieved by means of her staring, seemingly unfocused gaze across her left shoulder. In a manner completely different from the calm look on the face of Roberts’s Jane Lessingham, this Ophelia’s expression shocks the viewer with its declaration of psychic disorder.
A few years after the first appearance of Mortimer’s Ophelia engraving, the accomplished engraver Francesco Bartolozzi completed two engraved character portraits of Ophelia (Young 2002 [b], 250-3). The first was based on a now lost painting by James Nixon that was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1782. Accompanied by the quotation “There's rue for you” (2932-3), it presented a three-quarter length portrait of Ophelia looking to the left as in Mortimer’s work, her long hair loose, and foliage woven into her hair on top of her head. Her right hand is across her breast, her left hand goes in the other direction and holds a sprig of rue. She wears a light diaphanous top and her shoulders appear to be mostly bare. Her arms are also bare from wrist to elbow. Hanging on her left arm at the bottom center of the picture is a small basket of plants and flowers. Her gaze is soft and pensive and provides no hint of her madness; however, the strange placing of the flowers in her hair and above all the wild looseness of her hair that surrounds her head in tumultuous disarray clearly indicate her madness. In addition, by exposing Ophelia’s shoulders and lower arms to suggest that her clothing lacks proper decorum, the artist has introduced another feature indicative of Ophelia’s madness, one that is taken up by many subsequent artists who frequently expose her shoulders, arms, legs, and feet, and even is some instances her breasts as well. Five years later, Bartolozzi engraved another picture of Ophelia’s madness after a design by an artist named Madan. It depicts Ophelia walking from left to right of the picture frame, as if having just entered the room, a classical decor with stone pillars. Her left arm is extended in front of her, and from it drops a sprig of foliage. In her right hand, extended slightly behind her, is a bunch of flowers and foliage. As in his earlier engraving, Ophelia’s madness is signified by her disheveled hair, her staring eyes, and her very low-cut dress and bare arms.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5): Nineteenth-Century Character Portraits

In the nineteenth century a somewhat different type of character portrait of Ophelia emerges when she is presented, not so much as the mad, erotically exposed female, but as a heroine and role-model to be celebrated for her innocence and virtue. Examples of this type of Ophelia are to be found in Charles Heath’s 1836-37 series of engravings in The Shakespeare Gallery; Containing the Principal Female Characters in the Plays of the Great Poet and in Heath’s later 1848 set of engravings, The Heroines of Shakespeare: Comprising the Principal Female characters in the Plays of the Great Poet. The first included a character portrait of Ophelia engraved by T. A. Dean from a design by John Bostock., and the second contained another engraved by William Henry Mote from a design by John Hayter (Kiefer 2001, 65). Both Ophelias were clearly intended to show innocent “beauties,” but one can see submerged in both quite different elements In both, the signs of her madness remain present, but her disarray is often transmuted into erotically-charged images that present the vulnerable female to the male gaze, masked in the guise of innocence and idealized beauty. Both pictures, for example, exploit the erotic potential of Ophelia’s long loose hair, and, while Bostock exposes her lower arms, Hayter exposes the whole of Ophelia’s left shoulder, which is provocatively turned towards the viewer. A further example of this type of work, also mentioned elsewhere, appeared among the twenty-one paintings of Shakespearean heroines commissioned by The Graphice that were then reproduced in both the magazine and a separately-available portfolio published in 1888. In 1896 the series was then reproduced again in a set of colored engravings. Of interest here is the character portrait of Ophelia by Marcus Stone.
Marcus Stone - Ophelia
This depicted Ophelia, almost full length, in profile, facing right. She is kneeling or leaning against what appears to be a bed with a red cover (one of the bed posts can be seen in the extreme right of the picture). She holds a daisy (for purity?) in her left hand, and before her held between her arms are other flowers. She wears a white dress and her waist-length auburn hair is let down, although held in place by a pink ribbon. She gazes upward as though praying or looking at someone off to the right. Beside her in the foreground of the picture lies her lute, resting against a large brown cushion. The picture is disturbingly ambiguous. It might easily be taken to represent an innocent young woman, perhaps in prayer, her purity signified by her white dress and the white flowers. At the same time, however, the pink ribbon and the red bed cover, together with the presence of the bed itself, hint at something quite different. Ophelia may be an innocent heroine, but the gaze of the viewer is not.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5): Eighteenth-Century Versions of the Scene in Context

The peculiar ambiguities apparent in Stone’s design are also to be seen in those many depictions of Ophelia’s madness that include all the other characters who appear on stage in 4.5. The earliest rendition of Ophelia’s mad scene by Daniel Chodowiecki, one of the twelve scenes recording Brockmann’s Hamlet that were published in 1779 in the Berliner Genealogische Kalendar for 1778. Apart from the vacant gaze of her (Caroline Doebbelin’s) face, there is little obvious sign of Ophelia’s madness. More revealing of her state is another eighteenth-century work, a 1783 engraving by John Ogbourne after a design by Thomas Stothard that shows Ophelia in a long, low-cut, light-toned dress. There are flowers in her hair and on her left arm is a small basket containing more flowers and plants. Far more adventurous in its rendition, however, was an oil painting by Robert Edge Pine that was exhibited in 1784. Though it appears to have been destroyed in a fire in the United States in 1803, there exists a large engraving of it by Caroline Watson that was published by Boydell in June 1784 (Young 2002 [b], 254). It places the mad Ophelia at the center. She carries a basket of flowers and plants in her left hand and in her right she holds a plant. Woven into her hair are straws, a stage tradition frequently found in visual representations. She wears a light-toned diaphanous dress and one arm is fully exposed as is the lower part of one leg, although she is not bare-footed. Pine has also exposed her left breast.

Soon after Pine’s painting was exhibited, Benjamin West completed a large oil painting in 1792 for the Boydell Gallery. Brought to the United States in 1805 and now in the Cincinnati Art Museum, the painting depicts the mad Ophelia. She is bare-footed and bare-armed, and her hair is wildly disheveled. She wears light diaphanous clothing, and she holds up the hem of her dress in her left hand. Flowers seem to be falling from her dress and some lie on the ground before her. She stares forward, and her eyes are wide open but unfocused. The other characters are all shown expressing their horrified reactions to her appearance, something that further focuses the viewer’s attention upon Ophelia. Laertes stands behind her on the left, his left hand raised to heaven. His plumed hat has fallen to the floor between his legs. To the right, upon thrones on a dais and beneath a canopy, sit Claudius and Gertrude. Gertrude leans forward, her chin supported upon her right hand, sadly contemplating the scene. Claudius, his fists clenched, stares in bewilderment, perhaps fear, at Ophelia. In the background several more figures look on. The peculiar ambiguity in her presentation that is such a hallmark of nineteenth-century Ophelias was noted by a contributor to the Examiner on 7 February, 1808, who described Ophelia as “robed in white; her flaxen locks hang in loose disorder over her forehead and down to her waist; with her left hand extended she carelessly strews around the rue and thyme; her eyes exhibit a wandering mind and delicious indecisiveness, yet she is gentle; rage makes no part of her character; the most beautiful and interesting of her sex...” (94). The official Boydell engraving of West’s work by Francis Legat
Benjamin West - Ophelia
was published in December 1802 (Kiefer 2001, 15), and there were a number of subsequent engravings by various artists, among them Henry Lafont, William Francis Starling, and Adolphe Rouargue.

Ophelia’s madness (4.5): Nineteenth-Century Versions of the Scene in Context

Of all the versions of Ophelia’s madness, Benjamin West’s work for Boydell was one of the best known in the nineteenth century and must surely have influenced other artists who attempted the subject. Among these artists were a number (e.g. Frank Stone, Henry Nelson O’Neil, Maurice Greiffenhagen) who like West produced oil paintings, presumably finding that the medium was helpful in allowing them to accommodate all the characters involved. An example of one such work appeared almost one hundred years after West exhibited his work, and it demonstrates that the subject still held its attraction for painters. In 1890 Henrietta Rae (Mrs. Ernest Normand)
Henrietta Rae - Ophelia
submitted an oil painting for the Royal Academy exhibition of 1890. Now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, this work provides as dramatic a depiction of Ophelia's madness as any that preceded it. Ophelia has just entered from a door at the rear and is in part backlit from a light that comes through the door. She wears a long white dress and with her left hand holds up her skirt, almost a convention in Ophelia pictures, to contain some flowers and herbs. She has flowers entwined in her hair. Her right arm is extended towards the left of the picture where Claudius and Gertrude sit huddled together as though frightened by the power of the woman who confronts them. As she had worked on the painting, the positioning of the heads had been a cause of considerable controversy among her artistic godfathers, who included Sir Frederic Leighton, but she had persevered, although Leighton did not like the final version (Fish 1905, 57). In her right hand Rae’s Ophelia holds some vegetation (perhaps rue) that she offers to Claudius. As in a number of visual depictions, the medieval setting includes a large wild animal skin serving as a rug on the floor. Inevitably, this reminder of the savage side of nature serves to heighten the apparent vulnerability and innocence of the young woman who stands upon it. Further enhancing this effect is the manner in which Gertrude and Claudius are in shadow while the figure of Ophelia is highlighted.
Other artists who attempted during the nineteenth century to represent Ophelia’s madness in its full dramatic context with all the attendant figures who appear in the text include a number of book illustrators of Shakespeare editions, among them John Thurston, Frank Howard, Henry Courtney Selous,
Selous - Mad Ophelia
Hermann Knackfuss, Herbert Sidney, Gordon Browne, Harold Copping, and Albert Robida. The scene was also included by Moritz Retzsch in his Outlines to Shakespeare , a work mentioned several times elsewhere in this essay, in Souvenirs du Théâtre Anglais (Paris, 1827), which, as mentioned elsewhere contains a lithograph recording Harriet Smithson’s performance in the scene, and in Delacroix’s 1844 collection of Hamlet lithographs that contains a work dated 1834 depicting the scene. One further book illustration will be mentioned here. In 1897 was published a souvenir edition of Hamlet recording details of Johnston Forbes Robertson’s production at The Lyceum in London. Entitled Hamlet by William Shakespeare as Arranged for the Stage by Forbes Robertson and published by the Nassau Press, the book contained, among other visual material, three photographic reproductions of depictions by Hawes Craven of three scenes: the Closet Scene, Ophelia’s Mad Scene, and the final scene of the play. Craven’s illustrations record not only the details of the Lyceum sets (they had been lent to Forbes Robertson by Irving when this latter rented the theater to him), but they also provide some indication of the actors’ performances and costumes. The illustration relating to 4.5 depicts an open-air setting in the garden of the castle, with trees to right, left, and rear. Below a prominent tree at the left is a stone bench. At the center stands Ophelia (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) in a light-colored dress. Her right arm is extended in front of her, and she is scattering flowers
Harold Copping - Ophelia
on the ground. To the left in front of the stone bench stand Claudius (H. Cooper Cliffe) and Gertrude (Charlotte Granville) watching her with considerable concern. On the right of the picture stands Horatio (Harrison Hunter). Curiously, the black veil that was a distinctive feature of Mrs. Campbell’s performance and that has already been mentioned in connection with the studio photograph of her by Lafayette appears to be absent from Craven’s rendition.

Ophelia’s Death (4.7): Actor Portraits

Towards the conclusion of the scene in which Claudius and Laertes plot to kill Hamlet, Gertrude enters, like a character in a Greek tragedy, with news of the death of Ophelia by drowning which she then describes in some eighteen lines (3158-75). Although Gertrude’s celebrated description of the manner of Ophelia’s death was frequently shortened in the theater in both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, artists, particularly in the nineteenth century, found in it one of the most compelling of subjects. Since this was not a scene enacted on stage, one does not expect to find any actor portraits associated with it; however, there exists an undated engraving by Charles Rolls (d. 1857) after a painting by John Wood that depicts Harriet Smithson, black veil around her shoulders, on the bank of the brook (this must date from after 1827 when Smithson played the role in Paris). In about 1863, when he was briefly married to her, George Watts
George Watts - Ophelia
twice painted another famous Ophelia, Ellen Terry, leaning forward upon a willow branch above water in the manner described by Gertrude. This was some fifteen years before Terry ever played the part. Later, Watts reworked his painting after he had seen her perform at the Lyceum with Henry Irving in 1878. A few years later, in another rare example of an actor portrayed to match Gertrude’s description, Mary Eastlake, who played opposite Wilson Barrett’s Hamlet in 1864, had the photographer Barraud depict her as Ophelia. In the photograph, she is on her back, surrounded by rocks, reeds, and flowers, in what appears to be a pool of water.

Ophelia’s Death (4.7): Eighteenth-Century Character Portraits

While actor portraits of Ophelia’s death are very few, there remain a very large number of visual representations of the subject depicting imaginary Ophelias. This large body of representations may be divided into two main groups. The first group almost invariably depicts Ophelia as a solitary figure within a natural setting, often among dense trees or tall reeds and often beside the water that will be her undoing. Frequently, she is attempting to hang up the garlands she has made from wild flowers. In a number of instances she is falling into the water because of the broken “envious sliver” (3165). A second major group, though somewhat smaller, shows Ophelia actually in the water, generally on her back, as in the photographic portrait of Mary Eastlake, and as in the now-famous 1852 painting of by John Everett Millais that is probably imitated in Eastlake’s photograph. In both groups, Ophelia is generally dressed as she was in representations of the earlier mad scene. She tends to wear a white dress, and her arms, legs, and even breasts may be exposed, while her hair is loose and disordered.

Both types of representation begin their history in the eighteenth century. Apart from a drawing by Mary Hoare, tentatively dated c. 1781 and now in the Yale Center for British Art (Kiefer 2001, 32), the earliest example of the first group is a 1783 engraving by Charles Taylor from a drawing by Robert Smirke that was published in Taylor’s collection of prints entitled The Picturesque Beauties of Shakespeare, Being a Selection of Scenes, From the Works of that Great Author. It shows Ophelia leaning out over the brook while holding on to a small branch of a willow tree with her right hand. Her body is placed in a twisted pose as she turns her head back to her left, her left arm extended behind her and holding her 'crownet weeds' (3164) in her hand. Her arms are bare and her white dress has fallen to reveal her left shoulder. Equally typical is the manner in which her long hair is loose and falls behind her. A few years later, Henry James Richter provided a design that was engraved by W. Hawkins for inclusion in Bellamy and Robarts’ illustrated edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare (1788-91). This presents the brook in the foreground. Richter has created a much darker more thickly forested setting of a kind that was to become common in nineteenth-century versions where the dark, menacing, and enclosing forms of the wilderness surround the lightly clothed, vulnerable beauty in the white dress. Within this setting, Richter depicts a bare-armed Ophelia leaning out over the water while hanging on to the branch of a willow tree with one hand. Further emphasizing Ophelia’s isolation is the manner in which Richter has enclosed his picture within a frame consisting of gothic arch overgrown with ivy and containing objects relevant to the play such as a cup, a sword, a recorder, and a crown. Richter’s composition has much in common with Richard Westall’s version of the same subject. Appearing first as one of the small paintings in the Boydell Gallery, Westall’s work was reproduced in an engraving by James Parker, dated 23 April 1798, that was published in Boydell’s edition of The Dramatic Works of Shakespeare. Evidence that the original painting may still exist, although I have been unable to date to locate it, is provided by an undated photogravure of it in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Probably related to the sale of the work at one stage in its history, this records both canvas size and sale price: “Canvas Size 28 x 22 ½ Price 45 Guineas.” Westall’s scene,
Richard Westall - Ophelia
like that of Richter’s, is also set in dense woods to emphasize the gothic horror of the event, and his Ophelia is similarly presented with bare arms (in addition she is bare-footed in Westall’s version) and with long, loose and disheveled hair, as she attempts to hang up her garlands while leaning forward over the water. Westall’s work, like others in the Boydell collection, was subsequently reproduced by a number of nineteenth-century engravers, including Augustus Fox, Charles Heath, William Starling, Wenceslaus Pobuda, R. Sherratt, and M. F. Geisler. During the first half of the nineteenth century, it became what must have been one of the best-known images of Ophelia.
Quite different from any of the other eighteenth-century works was a large engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after a design by Henry Tresham that was published in London in 1794 (Kiefer 2001, 15). The only copy I have seen of this work is in the Folger Shakespeare Library and is colored. Tresham’s design offers a quite extraordinary rendering of Ophelia's fate. In the center foreground the trunk of a willow tree leans out in silhouette over a quite wide brook. Ophelia is perched precariously on one part of the tree, holding a dead branch with her left hand. With her right hand she reaches out to another part of the tree to hang up a wreath of flowers above the water. She is bare-armed and bare-breasted, and her bare ankles seem to be given special prominence in the Folger copy due to the pink slippers that she wears. Her hair is loose and disheveled and flies out from either side of her head. She has flowers in her lap that seem about to fall, a detail that further emphasizes the instability of her position. She is clearly about to fall. On the far bank are three classical-looking women, an addition by the artist to Gertrude’s account. Possibly they are intended to represent the three Fates. Two of them raise their arms in anguish as they observe Ophelia's predicament. The caption below states “OPHELIA Vide HAMLET” and there follows a quotation: “There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds” (3164).
As for eighteenth-century renditions of Ophelia in the water, the subject of the second main group of images, only one work is known to me – a brush drawing with gray wash over pencil by Fuseli that is now in the British Museum. Dating from the period of his sojourn in Italy, 1770-78, Fuseli’s drawing, which is more or less contemporary with Roberts’s portrait of Mrs Lessingham, depicts an elongated, bare-breasted and bare-armed woman, her right arm fully extended above her head. She is semi-submerged in the brook, drifting downstream, her clothes spread around her in the water. In this merging of Ophelia with the water, we may see the beginnings of a romantic fascination with a subject that can be traced through the nineteenth century, most notably in works by Delacroix and Millais, as is discussed elsewhere.

Ophelia’s Death (4.7): Nineteenth-Century Character Portraits

In the nineteenth century, works from the first group -- depicting the mad Ophelia in a natural setting just prior to her death -- are very numerous. A very few, such as the 1805 engraving by Charles Warren after a design by Thomas Unwins, appear intended as printed illustrations. The majority, however, appear to originate as paintings, even though they may later be given wider currency in engraved or photographic form. The long list of painters whose imaginations were captured by Gertrude’s description includes Richard Redgrave, Henry Le Jeune, Arthur Hughes, Ferdinand Piloty, Alfred Seifert, Thomas Francis Dicksee, William Salter Herrick, Madeleine Lemaire, John William Waterhouse, John Everett Millais, William Morris Hunt, Edwin Austin Abbey, Alfred Joseph Woolmer, and Victor Müller. To these we may add the sculptor Thomas Woolner and the wood engraver Lucien Pissarro. Only a few selected examples can be mentioned here.

Richard Redgrave’s oil of Ophelia,
now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842 and was hung close to Maclise’s Play Scene. An engraving of Redgrave’s Ophelia by Butterworth and Heath for the Art Journal appeared in 1859 (p. 206) and a colored lithograph of it in 1891 in Shakespeare’s Heroines and Heroines, a work published by Raphael Tuck who specialized in such colored lithographs. The Royal Academy catalogue of 1842 quoted a curious adaptation of some of the lines from Gertrude’s description, the last of which was almost always cut from stage performances because of its sexual suggestiveness: “There is a willow grows ascaunt the brook. That shows his hoar leaves in the glossy stream; There with fantastic garland did she awake of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples” (3158-61). Redgrave depicted Ophelia in a white dress, with bare arms and feet, sitting on the trunk of a tree that appears to be growing out over the brook in the foreground. Stretched across her lap is the garland that she has been making. Her hair is long and loose over her shoulders, and it has flowers and vegetation woven into it. Her face has soft features and is made to seem young and innocent rather than distraught or deranged. However, there is a certain vacancy in Ophelia’s gaze that was noticed by a reviewer for the Athenaeum, who remarked on Ophelia’s disordered clothing and the strange “light in the eyes and a quivering of the lip” (4 May 1842, p. 410). For its part, The Art-Union noted that Ophelia “is pale – woebegone – and her restless, fevered eyes, bespeak a mind diseased” (1842, p. 121).

It is not difficult to see in Redgrave’s painting an anticipation of the nineteen-year-old Arthur Hughes’s 1852 Ophelia
that was exhibited at the Royal Academy and is now in the City Art Gallery, Manchester. The story is often told of the mutual surprise of the two artists – Hughes and Millais (this latter was only 22) – who both submitted depictions of Ophelia in the same year and only became aware of each other’s works on varnishing day. The two works created something of a sensation for each in its very different way represented the Pre-Raphaelite voice though opposed by considerable adverse criticism. Hughes’s painting presents a child-like, emaciated Ophelia, her arms bare and her right shoulder exposed. Her skin is very pale in contrast to her red lips. She wears a white dress and sits at the center of the picture upon the base of a willow tree that leans out over the brook. She has vegetation in her hair and clasps a bunch of vegetation and flowers to her breast with her left hand. Her right hand is stretched out towards the water and holds some flowers. More flowers float away in the water before her. Her gaze is distracted, and she appears to be staring down into the water off to her right, perhaps at the flowers and perhaps in anticipation of her own imminent fate. Upon the trunk of the willow and upon the trunks of the trees on the right side of the picture there is ivy growing, and the general inhospitable character of the setting is conveyed by the low-flying bat at left, the sickly green moss on the surface of the water, and the toadstool on the right. Hughes has also created a moonlit landscape. Though not the first to employ a moonlit setting, he did something that his predecessors had not when he used moonlight to suggest the disorder of Ophelia's psychological state. To hint at her status as a kind of sacrificial victim he also contrived to have the vegetation in her hair stick out in spikes like some improvised crown of thorns. The frame into which Hughes's arched canvas is set is inscribed with a quotation from the play (part of Gertrude's description of Ophelia's death) in gothic lettering and surrounded by a band of ivy that echoes that in the painting Though at first given a negative reception, Hughes’s painting was engraved in 1857 by Charles Cousen for the Art Journal (p. 252) and reused in Samuel Carter Hall’s Selected Pictures from the Galleries and Private Collections of Great Britain (1862?). Then, like Rolls’s engraving of Maclise’s Play Scene, it appeared first in 1872 in Charles Knight’s Works of Shakspere. Imperial Edition and then in J. S. Virtue’s 1879 The Shakspere Gallery. Later, in 1871, Hughes returned to the subject of Ophelia and painted a version in which Ophelia is presented standing beside the brook. This appeared in 1871 at the annual winter exhibition of the Dudley Gallery and is now in the Toledo Museum of Art. It offers a very different and far more “comfortable” Ophelia than the figure in the 1852 work. She stands beside a large willow tree immediately behind her that leans out from the left over the brook. Her right arm is raised above her head and is touching the leaves of the tree. Her left hand is at her waist where she has raised her outer garment to hold various flowers and plants, prominent among them a daisy, perhaps to suggest her purity. Her long hair falls loose down her back and there are flowers and plants woven into it. A bird flies past her at her back. Her face is serene and pensive, and she is the epitome of the idealized female beauty of the time.
Three years after Hughes’s second painting, the Royal Academy Exhibition contained William Salter Herrick’s version of Ophelia. This work may no longer be extant, but an engraved version appeared in July 1874 and a photogravure was issued in 1879. The presentation of Ophelia and the general quietly melancholic mood of this work are somewhat similar to what one finds in Hughes’s second Ophelia. Ophelia is painted three-quarter length, and she is seated at the base of a willow tree in a densely forested setting. She wears a very plain, smock-like dress that fully covers her body. However, her hair is long and loose and falls forward over her left shoulder. In her hair, she has woven flowers. Her eyes are directed slightly downwards towards the left of the picture and her head is turned in that direction. Her look is pensive and sad. Again, the opportunity for displaying an uncomfortable revelation of madness is exchanged for the chance to portray a touching and beautiful female victim of forces beyond her control.
In startling contrast to Herrick’s Ophelia, and more in the disturbing manner of Hughes’s first painting, is an Ophelia by Madeleine Lemaire. I have been unable to determine the date of composition and current location of this work, but a record of it exists in a photogravure issued by Goupil & Company in the 1880s. Lemaire has placed Ophelia among encroaching reeds, flowers, and overhanging trees at the water’s very edge. She has a curious unstable-looking stance that suggests her loss of control, and this is further emphasized by her wild-looking, staring eyes, her long, loose, disheveled hair, and the disarray of her dress, which renders her bare-armed and bare-breasted. Ironically, she holds a daisy in her right hand, but her gaze and pose is anything but pure. With her left hand, like many other Ophelias, she pulls up the skirt of her dress to hold other flowers in her lap. The result, however, is that her ankle is revealed, another sign of how her madness has destroyed all decorum. In no other art work, perhaps, is the erotic potential of Ophelia’s madness exploited with such intensity in a way that exposes the innocent female victim’s body and sexuality to the gaze of the viewer.

A final example of an artist who painted the mad Ophelia by the brook is John William Waterhouse, who returned to the topic three times – in 1889, 1894, and 1910. His 1889 version
John William Waterhouse - 1889 Ophelia
was sold at Christie’s in 1926 and its location is currently unknown. Apparently, it depicted Ophelia stretched out on grass. Of the 1894 oil,
Waterhouse - 1894 Ophelia
formerly in the collection of George McCulloch and sold at Christies on 25 and 26 November 1982, the current location is again unknown; however, there does exist a colored photographic reproduction that has been published as a postcard. The painting shows Ophelia seated upon the trunk of a willow tree that grows out over a brook. She wears a long, white, long-sleeved medieval-like dress with decorated belt, hem and cuffs. Her long auburn hair hangs behind her, and her hands are raised as though she is removing the wreath of flowers that decorates the rear of her head. In her lap are some daisies, and there are flowers upon the bank of the brook at her feet. The dark surface of the water is covered with water lilies. There is no real hint of the tragedy to come, and the emphasis is more upon the beauty and pensive state of the solitary young woman, who displays her profile to the viewer. The madness that was such a feature of Hughes’s and Lemaire’s portrayals seems completely absent. Waterhouse’s third Ophelia of 1910,
Waterhouse - 1910 Ophelia
which is privately owned, is mentioned here only to show how the subject appears to have engaged the painter throughout his career. It depicts Ophelia in a wooded setting beside the brook. She stands leaning against the trunk of a willow tree at left with her right hand. With her left hand she holds up the skirt of her dress to make a fold for a large bunch of flowers, predominantly daisies and poppies. There are more of the same flowers woven into her long, loose, auburn hair, and there are flowers growing all around her. She wears a long dress that exposes most of her shoulders, but the most striking difference in this version of the subject is the expression on her face. Rather than the serene, self-absorbed Ophelia of the 1894 work, we have a distraught and troubled woman, whose eyes are wide and staring. We may note too that her pale blue dress is richly embroidered in gold around the hem and the neckline. Underneath she wears a red undergarment that shows at the lower front and at her wrists. The picture is disturbingly contradictory in its use of colors, the white daisies and pale blue dress suggestive of innocence and purity, and the red flowers and red undergarment suggestive of sexual passion. As an unusual addition that contributes further to this ambiguity, Waterhouse includes a wooden bridge in the background, upon which lean a young man and woman, who look down at Ophelia in the foreground. The dark clothing of the man and the auburn hair of the woman are suggestive of Ophelia’s past relationship with Hamlet, their physical closeness shows them to be lovers and hints at their mutual sexual awareness.

Ophelia’s Death (4.7): the Dead Ophelia

Fuseli’s drawing of the drowning or drowned Ophelia merging with the water was a remarkable, almost prophetic anticipation of a romantic fascination with this subject that can be traced through the nineteenth century, and not just in the representations of Ophelia but in other subjects (Tennyson’s Elaine was a particular favorite of English artists) that permitted artists to display a dead female in association with water.
Perhaps the earliest nineteenth-century version of this topic is an unsigned wood engraving, entitled in one state “Ophelia and the Fates,” that was published in Anna Jameson’s Characteristics of Women, Moral, poetical, and Historical, with Fifty Vignette Etchings (1832). The engraving, the work of Jameson herself, shows the prone, bare-breasted figure of the dead Ophelia, her right arm extended above her head. She seems intended to be shown as in the water, although the presence of the water is only lightly suggested. Above her stand three hooded and long-robed figures (the Fates), their arms extended over her body. At top center is the crescent moon.

Ophelia’s Death (4.7): the Dead Ophelia ~ Delacroix

A few years later in 1838, and no doubt quite independently, Eugène Delacroix produced a grisaille (virtually a monochrome), now in the Neue Pinakothek, Munich. It depicts a near prone Ophelia, bare-breasted and bare-footed, and already partially in the water, her head to the left and her feet to the right. She gazes mournfully
Delacroix - Ophelia (1853)
towards the viewer, her left arm raised and clutching a small bough from a willow tree that grows at the left and leans slightly over the stream. Ophelia holds with her right forearm a bunch of flowers and foliage against her right breast. The lower part of her body is covered with a loose, light-toned garment. The entire scene is framed by dense vegetation and forest, allowing the body of Ophelia to be dramatically highlighted. The Munich grisaille was not, however, the only treatment of this subject that Delacroix produced. Seemingly fascinated by the possibilities of presenting a near naked and soon-to-be drowned Ophelia within a lush natural setting, he created three more versions of the subject during his lifetime. In a lithograph dated 1843, one of his Hamlet set, he followed the same compositional pattern as the 1838 work but increased the dramatic impact by moving Ophelia closer to the foreground, allowing her body to take up a greater proportion of the entire composition. Where the earlier death may have seemed primarily picturesque and distanced from the viewer, it is uncomfortable close in the lithograph (Kiefer 2001, 24). In 1844, Delacroix reworked the subject again in a painting now in the Oscar Renihart Collection, Winterthur, moving Ophelia back to the position she occupied in the 1838 grisaille but exposing more of her upper body. Finally, in 1853, he did yet another painting, now in the Louvre, Paris. Here the composition is essentially very similar but in reverse.

Ophelia’s Death (4.7): the Dead Ophelia - Millais

No image of the drowning or drowned Ophelia has entered so strongly into our cultural consciousness as that produced by John Everett Millais in the oil painting that was exhibited at the 1852 Royal Academy exhibition and is now in the Tate Gallery, London. Millais’s image of Ophelia in the brook has become the received image of Ophelia’s fate, almost as recognizable as Hamlet, the man with the skull, even to those who may never have seen or read Hamlet.
In Millais’s painting, the artists has attempted to catch the moment just prior to Ophelia’s death that is described so movingly by Gertrude: “Her clothes spread wide, \ And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up, \ Which time she chaunted snatches of old lauds, ...” (3167-9). Ophelia (the model for whom was Elizabeth Siddall) is shown on her back in the brook. Her silver embroidered dress, an antique that Millais had purchased especially for use in the painting, does indeed appear to be all that holds her up. Her eyes are open and her mouth parted so as to suggest that she is singing, and both hands are slightly raised as though to emphasize the words of her song. There are flowers, both white and red, upon her dress, upon the surface of the water, and growing upon the side of the brook, and in the upper left side of the picture there is a small bird (a robin), which, it has been suggested, symbolically represents the exodus of Ophelia's soul. Originally, Millais included a rat, a discordant element that would have functioned, perhaps, like the bat in Hughes’s Ophelia, but he ultimately decided to paint it out. The accent in the picture is upon the natural beauty of Ophelia and the tragic pathos of her fate. The contrasting red and white of the flowers, and her contrasting bright red lips and pallid face offer mixed iconographic signals and, as in the later 1910 painting by Waterhouse, create an ambiguous mixed allusion to sexual passion and innocent purity.

Ophelia’s Death (4.7): the Dead Ophelia ~ Further Images

Much later in the century, the image of the drowning or drowned Ophelia was still very current, as can be seen in Sarah Bernhardt’s bronze bas-relief of c. 1890, a work exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair, 1893. No doubt inspired by her own experiences playing Ophelia and being carried on stage soaking wet, and no doubt appealing to her own psyche that had caused her in the 1870s to have her photograph taken lying in a coffin, Bernhardt’s Ophelia provides an overhead view of Ophelia, floating in the brook. The upper part of her body is above the surface of the water, and her right breast is fully exposed. Her hair is long and loose and has flowers woven into it. Her eyes are closed as if she is dead and her head is turned to the left. Ophelia’s merging with the water is graphically realized through the manner in which the curly tresses of her hair match the ripples of the water.
To these selected examples of nineteenth-century works that depict the imagined scene of Ophelia’s death, one could add many further examples, among them Kenny Meadows’ design for an unsigned wood engraving by Orrin Smith (1843) that appears to show Ophelia’s head disappearing below the water (or perhaps it shows only the garland of flowers that was around her head – the illustration is difficult to make out); and Maria Constantinova Bashkirtseff’s design, engraved by Claude Faivre (n.d., 1877-84), showing the prone body of a bare-breasted Ophelia, still holding her flowers, her eyes closed and a serene expression on her face, almost as though she is sleeping in the water (Kiefer 2001, 34). To these one may add two sculptures that, like Berhandt’s bas-relief, seek to obtain a similar effect: Auguste Préault's relief of a dead Ophelia merged with water and reeds (1843-76); and D. Crentacoste's head of Ophelia (ca. 1898), her face expressing (like that of Bernhardt’s Ophelia) serenity or perhaps even ecstasy (there is an engraving of this work by S. Dreher). Other works, intended as book illustrations, include Gordon Browne's design, engraved in wood by C. Hentschel (1890), for Irving's Shakespeare, which shows Ophelia in the water and which is accompanied by the quotation "Her clothes spread wide" (3167-9); Harold Copping's design for an illustrated edition of Hamlet that again shows Ophelia floating in the brook, with eyes wide open and lips parted as if, like Millais' Ophelia, she is still singing; Albert Robida's 1898 wood engraving for a French edition of Shakespeare; and the American artist, William Drake's, undated watercolor, painted directly into the text of an edition of Shakespeare now owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The Graveyard Scene (5.1)

Following Ophelia’s death and Hamlet’s return to Denmark after he has discovered Claudius’s plot to have him killed, there occurs one of the best-known scenes ever written – the so-called Graveyard Scene. As Hamlet, accompanied by Horatio, makes his way to the court, the two men pause in a graveyard where they encounter a gravedigger. Unbeknownst to Hamlet, it is Ophelia’s grave that is being prepared. After some initial banter between Hamlet and the Gravedigger, Hamlet is handed the skull of his father’s court jester, Yorick, a man whom Hamlet remembers from his childhood. Hamlet’s “Alas, poor Yorick!” (3372) and his holding of Yorick’s skull have taken a place in Western culture as familiar as his “To be, or not to be” (1710) statement. Among visual artists, no other scene appears to have inspired so many works. Some artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries chose to depict the Gravedigger and his companion (in the text he leaves before the arrival of Hamlet), and others depicted either the funeral procession that follows the episode of the skull or the harrowing confrontation over Ophelia’s body that occurs shortly after between Hamlet and Laertes However, the majority of visual works based on 5.1 concern the skull incident. It is this part of the scene that will be considered here.
The First Gravedigger’s handing of Yorick’s skull to Hamlet creates on stage, as has often been noted, a memorable reworking of a familiar iconographic topos. The image of a man with a skull (or even just a skull alone) was an instantly recognizable version of memento mori, and Hamlet’s words on human mortality and vanity when added to this image create a powerful stage emblem related to key themes in the play. So full of resonance is this incident that it is hardly surprising that so many visual artists chose to rework it, making it by far the most popular subject in the nineteenth century for visual works based on Hamlet (Young 2002 [c], 191).

The Graveyard Scene (5.1): the Eighteenth Century

The earliest visual rendition of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull was a 1773 engraving by John Hall after a design by Edward Edwards that appeared in John Bell’s edition Shakespeare’s Plays (1773-76). Bell’s edition was designed for a popular readership. Though no doubt aware that Garrick had cut the scene in his recent 1772 adaptation, Bell included the text of the scene and offered readers what they were denied in Garrick’s performances at Drury Lane, although still able to see at Covent Garden and later at the Haymarket – Hamlet holding Yorick’s skull. Accompanied by the quotation “Alas, poor Yorick!” (3372), Edwards’s design shows the walls of a large church in the background. In the foreground is the open grave, beside which are two skulls. At one end of it stands a rather youthful gravedigger. Hamlet stands at the center beside the grave holding Yorick's skull at about waist height in his left hand. To the left stands Horatio also looking at the skull, which is given special prominence by being silhouetted against the background of the church (Young 2002 [c], 191-3). Many subsequent versions of this scene explored the many variations possible in posing the three characters and showing their interactions, the skull being almost like the presence of a fourth person and often the central focal point of interest for both the characters and the viewer of the picture.
A quite different compositional possibility, however, arose when the artist chose to ignore all the figures who appear on stage in the theater and depict only Hamlet and the skull. This was first tried in a portrait of John Henderson by Daniel Dodd that was engraved by J. Goldar for the Hibernian Magazine in 1777 to mark Henderson’s appearance as Hamlet during his first London season that year at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Above the quotation “Alas, poor Yorick!” Henderson stands with body forward, his face turned to the left. In his left hand, he holds Yorick's skull against his left side, and his right arm is extended towards the left side of the picture as though he is gesturing to emphasize some point (Young 2002 [c], 193-5).

The Graveyard Scene (5.1) ~ Sir Thomas Lawrence

The most extraordinary and also the most popular of all the works depicting Hamlet alone with Yorick’s skull was Sir Thomas Lawrence’s large oil portrait of John Philip Kemble,
exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1801 and now in the Tate Gallery (London) (Martineau 2003, 115, 117). Various other paintings, versions of this same work exist, and in 1805 a mezzotint reproduction by S. W. Reynolds was published by Boydell. During the next fifty years, more than thirteen additional engraved versions appeared as testament to its popularity. According to The Quarterly Review in 1876, only the Art Union print of Maclise’s Play Scene rivaled Lawrence’s work in popularity, the print of Maclise’s picture being “as common in dining-rooms now as the mezzotint copy of Lawrence’s portrait of John Kemble as the Prince was thirty years ago” (unsigned article on “Pictorial Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 473). As noted elsewhere, Lawrence’s portrait of Kemble, who made his London debut as Hamlet at Drury Lane in 1783, is among the earliest works to attempt to capture the Romantic critics’ conception of Hamlet’s angst-ridden psyche, a man of too heightened a sensibility to be able to carry out the role fate has assigned him. Where earlier artists had invariably depicted Hamlet as the central figure within some key moment of dramatic action, Lawrence, following the success of his much-admired earlier portrait of Kemble as Coriolanus, portrayed Hamlet alone and as an isolated, meditative figure, dominating the entire canvas. Though he holds the skull in his left hand and stands beside the newly-dug grave, Lawrence’s Hamlet seems unconscious of the presence of either. The somber, melancholy mood of the picture helps convey the sense of Hamlet’s brooding introspection. The effect is largely created by Lawrence’s use of a low horizon, which encourages the viewer to concentrate upon the central figure who is partly silhouetted against the dark sky and the setting sun low down at the rear left. Kemble’s face and hands, together with the skull, are highlighted in such a way that there appears to be a source of illumination low down in the foreground, almost as though he stands before footlights in a theater.

The Graveyard Scene (5.1) ~ Delacroix

As already noted elsewhere, Eugène Delacroix produced a considerable number of works based on Hamlet during his career, and those works in turn had a considerable influence upon the French Romantic movement. Delacroix seems to have been especially affected by two Hamlet subjects: the death of Ophelia (this is discussed elsewhere) and Hamlet holding Yorick’s skull in the Graveyard Scene. Between the late 1820s and 1859, he produced at least five paintings of this latter subject, three of them are now in the Louvre, one in a private collection, and one currently unlocated, together with two lithographs. His earliest version of the scene was painted in the 1820s but the current whereabouts of this work is not known. Of approximately the same date is a lithograph of 1828 and a watercolor employing the same composition in reverse. As in the lithograph by Delacroix’s fellow artists, Deveria and Boulanger, these make full capital out of the effect of the black plumes of Hamlet’s bonnet silhouetted against the sky. They also employ a similar compositional arrangement of the three central figures; however, perhaps taking a hint from a version of the Graveyard Scene by Moritz Retzsch, Delacroix also included in the background the approaching funeral procession.
One of Delacroix’s earlier versions was an 1835 oil painting that he submitted to the Salon jury of 1836, only to have it was rejected. There was an immediate outcry from Delacroix’s supporters, and the journal L’Artiste then published a lithograph of it (in reverse) and a poem in its praise. A year later, the Magasin pittoresque paid tribute with a wood-engraving by Andrew Best Leloir. Arguably, Delacroix’s painting got more public attention on account of its rejection than it would have received if the Salon had accepted it. The lithograph, produced by Benard & Frey, presents a desolate landscape and an equally desolate graveyard, based, it has been suggested, on a cemetery at Toulon, the city where Delacroix had been held in quarantine on his return from North Africa in 1832. In the left foreground is a large stone slab upon which Hamlet rests one leg. The lighting in the picture is suggestive of twilight or moonlight, and the standing figure of Horatio, complete with plumed bonnet, is dramatically silhouetted against the sky, along with a distant crucifix. Adding to the bleakness of the picture is the absence of vegetation, and, more striking, the absence of the Gravedigger. All our attention is upon Horatio and, more particularly upon the extremely youthful-looking but listless Hamlet, whose delicate beardless face and limp left hand resting on his knee create a stark contrast with the older-looking, bearded, and more masculine Horatio, whose upright stance and more aggressive, active pose only serves to emphasize the refined sensibility of the figure sitting in front of him, so out of place in such a brutal landscape.
Three years later, Delacroix submitted another oil painting on the same subject to the Salon jury, and this time he met with success, and his work was exhibited (Young 2002 [c], 199). As before, the painting, which is now in the Louvre, depicts a wild landscape, but this time Delacroix included the figure of the Gravedigger and a further figure who may also be a Gravedigger. In 1843, Delacroix returned to the subject yet again in a lithograph, part of his series of sixteen Hamlet lithographs that he created between 1834 and 1843. Its compositional arrangement is very close to that of the 1839 painting, and it is possible that the design precedes that for the painting. The four figures are arranged in a fashion very similar, though in reverse, to that in the painting; however, Hamlet is given a more “masculine” pose and is made larger and more muscular than in previous works. A year after the lithograph was published, Delacroix seems to have completed yet another painting of the same subject, but its whereabouts are unknown. Then, towards the end of his career, he returned to the subject yet again and completed for the Salon of 1859 his last painting of the scene. Now in the Louvre, this work reverts to something like the compositional design of his 1828 lithograph. It includes in the distant background a much more elaborate approaching funeral procession than in the early works, and like the 1839 painting, it adds a second Gravedigger. Breaking with all his previous versions, Delacroix now gives Hamlet a beard, making him seem much older, while Horatio is beardless and much younger.
Delacroix’s lithographs were not widely available and relatively few people would have had access to his paintings once they had first been exhibited; however, his work collectively exerted a strong influence upon the French Romantics and also, it has been suggested, upon English artistic circles that included Ford Maddox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Graveyard Scene (5.1) ~ Nineteenth-Century Book Illustrators

Understandably, the subject of Hamlet with the skull was popular among book illustrators, including a number already mentioned elsewhere: Kenny Meadows, John Gilbert, Henry Selous, Hermann Knackfuss, Gordon Browne, Harold Copping, Howard Christy, and Albert Robida (Young 2002 [c], 201-04). These artists undoubtedly played a central role in popularizing and making familiar the image of Hamlet with a scull. As one looks at their works, one occasionally senses a desire to break free from so familiar a subject. Meadows, for example, in his 1843 design omits the figure of Hamlet altogether and shows only the Gravedigger, standing in the grave. With outstretched arm, he hold the skull as if he is about to hand it up to some unseen person standing at the side of the grave. Both John Gilbert in 1860
Gilbert - Hamlet with Skull
and Henry Selous eight years later also created somewhat unusual designs in that Hamlet is depicted holding the skull up high before his face in the manner thought to have been introduced by Edmund Kean much earlier in the century. Then towards the end of the century, to
Selous - Hamlet with Skull
give one further example, Harold Copping in 1897 omitted Horatio and placed Hamlet and the Gravedigger in intimate proximity to each other, the skull providing the meeting point between the two. This effect seems to sharpen our awareness of what the young Prince feels when he encounters not just the skull but all that the Gravedigger represents in the cycle of human mortality.

The Graveyard Scene (5.1) ~ Nineteenth-Century Actor Portraits

One final significant group of works on the topic of Hamlet and the skull were portraits of actors. The skull provided both an instantly recognizable prop and the opportunity for the actor-subject of the portrait to strike a melancholy and meditative pose thoroughly suited to a post-Romantic Hamlet. Whereas only two or three eighteenth-century Hamlets were portrayed holding Yorick’s skull, in the nineteenth century the subject became extremely popular, and almost all the best-known nineteenth-century Hamlets and themselves portrayed in this was. Photographic portraits are especially numerous, their subjects including such familiar names as Charles Fechter, Barry Sullivan, Lawrence Hanley, Wilson Barrett, Kyrle Bellew, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Johnston Forbes Robertson, and Sarah Bernhardt. The photographic portraits of Fechter, Tree, and Bernhardt may serve here as representative examples.
Of Fechter there exists an unusual photographic portrait, in that it is a double portrait that includes his Gravedigger from the production at the Princess’s Theatre in 1861 – Henry Widdicombe (Young 2002 [c], 205). The photographer has gone to considerable efforts in the studio to make the portrait as “realistic” as possible. Fechter is seated upon a gravestone, holding Yorick's skull in his hands. He gazes upward as though deep in meditation. In the open grave is at the center stands the Gravedigger, his arms folded. To obtain the appearance of Widdicombe standing in a grave, the photographer has probably had him kneel, concealing what he has done by placing part of a gravestone in front of his legs. Behind is the stone arched doorway to a church, presumably either part of the photographer’s building or (more likely) part of a backdrop.
More typical is the W. & D. Downey photograph of Herbert Beerbohm Tree that shows him standing in front of a completely plain studio background, his two hands in front of him at waist height holding Yorick’s skull. Around his neck, prominently displayed, is a chain, upon which hangs the miniature of his father. Although the portrait principally recalls Hamlet’s reaction and words when he takes up the skull, the miniature acts as a secondary visual pointer, reminding us of the larger drama in which Hamlet is involved and which is soon to come to its gruesome conclusion. When Tree took his Hamlet to New York in February, 1895, he went like so many other acting stars to the studio of Napoleon Sarony. Here he was again photographed holding Yorick’s skull. On this occasion, however, Sarony created a backdrop of trees and rear lighting suggestive of moonlight. The copy of this photograph in the Folger Shakespeare Library is autographed by Tree and dedicated to William Carey, reminding us that such theater portraits were not only sold in large numbers to avid collectors and theater fans but were frequently given away by the actors themselves, an important means by which images of particular scenes were made familiar.
A final example of the image of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull is provided by one of a number of photographic portraits of Sarah Bernhardt’s 1899 production of Hamlet. Apparently, Bernhardt
made more of the skull than many previous actors, a point on which critics seem to have been somewhat divided (Young 2002 [c], 207-10). The American actress and novelist Elizabeth Robins, who witnessed Bernhardt’s 1899 performance at the Adelphi Theatre in London, complained that Bernhardt even ignored the stage direction to “put down the skull” and that the skull, which had supposedly “lain in the earth three and twenty years,” was “a staring and indecent whiteness, as of bone boiled and bleached.” She further complained that Bernhardt took the skull and “tapped the grinning teeth with her finger,” rather than expressing disgust with the skull’s “odor of mortality” (North American Review, 171 [December 1900], 908-9). Other critics, however, went out of their way to praise Bernhardt’s performance in the scene for its gravity, mournful dignity, and general high seriousness, even sublimity. The photograph shown here was by Lafayette but does not depict the "tapping" incident. However, a photographic portrait by Otto of Paris suggests that Bernhardt, contrary to Robins’s criticism, attempted to create a serious emblem of mortality. It shows Bernhardt holding up Yorick’s skull and with her right index finger touching the spot where Yorick’s lips would once have been. Though this perhaps innovative piece of stage business had disturbed Robins, who thought it was intended as a moment of levity, the photograph gives a totally different impression. Here instead is a memento mori of high seriousness, made particularly emphatic because it focuses upon the contact of living flesh (Bernhardt’s delicate hands) with the skeletal remains of a man whom Hamlet remembers as a once living and vibrant being.

The Tragic Conclusion (5.2)

The scene depicting the dramatic bloodbath that concludes Hamlet was, as might be expected, a subject that attracted the attention of artists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Of the forty or so visual renditions that I have been able to identify, however, only two date from the eighteenth century. There are also only a few works depicting specific actors Following the processional entry of the King, Queen, Laertes, and others at 3674, a series of episodes, increasingly dramatic and violent in character, follow in rapid succession until the stage is littered with bodies. Generally, it was Horatio who then took control of the situation, and ordered a soldier’s death-rites for Hamlet. Fortinbras, king-to-be, who in Shakespeare’s text enters to survey the carnage and assume the crown (3852), was, of course, largely absent until Forbes Robertson reintroduced him at the very end of the nineteenth century. Among the 40 pictorial versions of this section of the play that I have been able to identify, the killing of Claudius and the death of Hamlet were the most popular subjects.

The Tragic Conclusion (5.2): Toy Theater

One of the earliest and most intriguing depictions of Hamlet killing Claudius is the tableau that Hodgson included as Plate 11 in a Juvenile Drama set, published between 1822 and 1830. Hodgson’s sheet, shows Gertrude to the left, supported by a male courtier. She has fallen back close to a small table on which are a bowl of wine and a small cup. In the foreground at the left Osric stands bending over Laertes, who has fallen to the floor and appears to be about to die, his left arm extended in a final gesture towards Claudius. At the center rear upon a dais and beneath a canopy and with legs wide apart, Claudius falls back as Hamlet attacks him from the right and runs him through with his foil. On the floor in the right foreground lie one of the foils and a cup. No doubt this scene became familiar in many homes, providing an exciting and violent climax to many a toy theater performance of the play.

The Tragic Conclusion (5.2): Howard and Meadows

More or less contemporary with Hodgson’s tableau was Frank Howard’s 1827 outline engraving that was particularly successful in conveying the violence and speed of events. The engraving depicts the dying Laertes, pointing up at Claudius as he makes his damning accusation that the weapon in Hamlet’s hand has been poisoned (3797-8). The royal thrones of Claudius and Gertrude are upon a dais. Gertrude slumps in hers as though dead, her left arm fully extended towards the right of the picture. In her left hand is the poisoned cup which a page at far right is taking from her. Claudius, semi rising from his throne, is pushed back by Hamlet, who has his left hand at Claudius's throat. Both of Claudius’s arms are thrown back above his head in fear and surprise, and in his left hand he holds a cross-shaped scepter, the sign of his authority that will shortly be wrested from him. Hamlet's right arm is extended back ready to thrust at Claudius with his sword, allowing one to sense the power of the act that is about to follow. Equally powerful is Kenny Meadows’s design for Barry Cornwall’s 1843 edition of The Works of Shakspere that emphasizes only the key figures in the final moment of Hamlet’s revenge. Although the dead Gertrude and the dying Laertes are included, the viewer’s attention is focused upon Hamlet and Claudius. Claudius sit upon a massive throne, his head and body leaning over towards the right side of the picture, his right arm high in the air, expressive of shock. His head is twisted and his mouth is wide open in pain. Hamlet stands in front of him, his back to the viewer. His left foot is on the first step of the throne and his right knee is thrust forward into Claudius's groin area. With his left arm he reaches forward and pushes Claudius's head back, while his right arm thrusts his foil into Claudius's heart. So strong is his thrust that we are able to see little more that the handle of his weapon. No subsequent depiction of the scene in the nineteenth century matches the impact of Meadows’s design, which, in Orrin Smith engraved version for Cornwall’s Shakespeare, must have become familiar in a great many British households.

The Tragic Conclusion (5.2): the Death of Hamlet

While artists such as Howard Christy and Albert Robida followed in Meadows’s footsteps and showed the death of Claudius, others were naturally attracted to the death of Hamlet himself with all its tragic pathos, the earliest representation being Robert Smirke’s 1783 oval design for Charles Taylor’s The Picturesque Beauties of Shakespeare. Some sixty years later, Delacroix included the scene in his series of Hamlet lithographs, but his version has little of the tragic melancholy of Smirke’s earlier design. Instead we have a very “busy” picture in which the viewer’s eye is drawn in different directions. The intent appears to be not so much to focus on the fate of Hamlet as on the turmoil and continuing physical momentum of the scene.
Somewhat later in 1860 and 1868 respectively, the book illustrators John Gilbert and Henry Selous both produced designs that attempted to deal with the final events in the play. Both artists included the arrival of Fortinbras, a figure who did not appear on the stage throughout the nineteenth century until Forbes Robertson’s production of 1897. Gilbert
Gilbert - Death of Hamlet
places the body of Laertes in the immediate foreground. Just beyond him on the right, a kneeling Horatio partially supports Hamlet's body while looking up at Fortinbras and his men who enter from the rear left (3852). The blonde-haired Hamlet is given special emphasis (as he is in Selous’s design) by being the only figure in dark clothing. At center, on his back and stretched out head first down the steps leading up to the throne is the dead Claudius while at the right rear, two men lift up the body of a very young-looking Gertrude. On the left, Fortinbras and his men enter, Fortinbras being depicted as a very young, almost feminine-looking figure, who leans forward in astonishment at the sight before his eyes. Selous
Selous - Death of Hamlet
by contrast has a slightly different solution for working in all the principal figures in the small space that a book illustration permits. In the immediate foreground, face down beside his crown, lies the dead Claudius. Also in the foreground are the poisoned cup and Hamlet's sword. At center, a soldier supports from behind the dead Hamlet, whose dark clothing makes him the first figure that the viewer notices. Horatio stands just behind him to the left, right arm raised in consternation. Laertes lies partially propped up on the floor at left, and behind him is the body of Gertrude. At the right rear stands Fortinbras, his sword drawn, looking much more the soldier than Gilbert’s figure.
A final example of visual representations of the conclusion of Hamlet and a final example from the more than 2,000 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century images of the play that I have identified is a work by Hawes Craven recording the details of Forbes Robertson’s 1897 production. Reproduced in the souvenir edition of Hamlet mentioned elsewhere in this study, his version of the scene shows the very end of the play. At the center are four soldiers carrying a bier (in the production formed from two spears and a shield) on which is the body of Hamlet, his head raised so that the audience will have a full view of his face as he is taken away towards the rear of the stage. A very large number of people are present because Fortinbras’s army bearing lighted torches are now spread across the entire rear of the stage. In the right foreground lies the body of Laertes, ignored by everyone, and in the center foreground is the kneeling Horatio. Fortinbras, in double-pointed helmet, stands at the right, and a woman stands beside the now empty throne. The body of Gertrude, in accord with the stage notes for the original production, is at the rear left of center, close to the standing woman beside the throne. Claudius, according to the stage notes, dies eventually to the right of the table at right. His body can just be seen behind Fortinbras, a strategy that would thus have permitted all the attention to be placed upon Hamlet at center stage.

Note: The preceding essay covers in abbreviated form material contained in Alan Young’s book, Shakespeare and the Visual Arts, 1709-1900. For additional information about the topics presented in this essay, readers may wish to consult Young 2002a. Illustrations have been added as available from the library of Eric Rasmussen, Bernice W. Kliman, and others.

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