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John Boydell

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Image of King Henry VI, Part 1, Act 5, Scene 4

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
Anker Smith
English, 1759–1819
after William Hamilton
English, 1751–1801

King Henry VI, Part 1, Act 5, Scene 4

about 1804
From Boydell's Graphic Illustrations of the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare

Object Type: Print
10 9/16 x 6 5/8 in. (27 x 17 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0008.0013

Credit Line: Gift of Dora Kaufman Nelke, by exchange

In 1786, a successful London publisher, alderman John Boydell, conceived of a gallery of art devoted to scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Named for its founder, the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery was one of the first large-scale commercial endeavors intended to promote British literature and artists both in Great Britain as well as throughout the European continent. He commissioned over 167 paintings of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and produced engravings based on these paintings. In creating the engravings, John Boydell partnered with his son, Josiah, whose name appears after his father’s in the list above. The third name is that of the engraver, and the fourth is that of the painter who created the original composition in oils. The role of the engraver was to transfer the painter’s composition onto plates for printing.

About this scene:
Shakespeare developed the modern history play with his Wars of the Roses tetralogy (1591–93), and all four plays feature troublesome females—and males. In Henry VI, England is now losing its war with France due to ambitious English rivalries and the French, re-inspired by Joan of Arc. The play’s pro-English perspective displays commoner Joan winning using taunts and treachery, though on both sides honor increasingly succumbs to self-interest.

Joan’s confident dynamic changes in this scene. The French are losing, and we now discover Joan conjuring fiends to aid her cause, spirits that here reject her. Boydell’s image accentuates the hellish presence with its blast of air and fiery light from below. Joan, shown more as classical warrior goddess than the soldier-garbed girl of history, knows their abandonment dooms her to imminent capture. In her last scene the English consign her to the flames.
-Susan Willis, dramaturg, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, September 28, 2020

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