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John Boydell

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Image of King Richard III, Act 3, Scene 1

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
Burnet Reading
English, (active 1776–1822)
after James Northcote
English, 1746–1831

King Richard III, Act 3, Scene 1

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

Object Type: Print
10 1/2 x 6 3/4 in. (27 x 17 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0008.0014

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. William Hutchins, 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:
In Richard III, the end of Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, another such demonic impulse seems to drive the vicious, scheming Richard as he murders his way to the throne. The embodiment of all the outsider ambition, violence, and bloodshed of the first three plays, Richard here in 3.1 manipulates the Church to reunite the little Princes, his nephews and rightful heirs of the throne [royal crest shown beside them], so he can have both secretly murdered to clear his claim to the crown.

Certain doom hovers over all here, for while the Cardinal blesses the princes, the horizontal continues past the Prince’s head and the crown to Richard leering at them, weapon at his side. Bedecked in ermine, the shadowy, huddled Richard is about to order the pivotal murders that will eventually cost him friends, allies, and his monarchy, when Henry Tudor kills him in the final battle.
-Susan Willis, dramaturg, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, September 28, 2020

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