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John Boydell

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Image of Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
William Charles Wilson
English, about 1750–date unknown
after Richard Westall
English, 1765–1836

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4

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

Object Type: Print
10 5/8 x 6 11/16 in. (27 x 17 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0009.0002

Credit Line: Gift of Thomas L. Phillips in memory of his grandfather, Alabama State Senator J. T. Phillips

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:
False appearances complicate comedy; in Hamlet they prove tragic. Claudius has succeeded his brother Hamlet as king, also marrying his queen, Gertrude. But the dead king’s Ghost tells his son, Hamlet, that Claudius secretly murdered him and swears Prince Hamlet to revenge.

The key family triangle appears only here in 3.4. Hamlet has just confirmed Claudius’s guilt but not killed him when he found him in prayer. Instead, Hamlet goes to enlighten his mother, but first accidentally kills the eavesdropping advisor, Polonius, inciting his son’s vengeance. Into this moment walks the Ghost—near Gertrude, who is brightly lit but unaware, perceiving neither Ghost nor the situation—to demand that mourning-clad Hamlet, the knowing “shadow” of Claudius’s deed, achieve his revenge. Now both Hamlet and Claudius seek the other’s death and will face off amid a final duel of swords and secret poison as vengeance again fills the stage with corpses.
-Susan Willis, dramaturg, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, September 28, 2020

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