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John Boydell

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Image of Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 7

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
James Parker
English, 1750–1805
after Richard Westall
English, 1765–1836

Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 7

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

Object Type: Print
10 7/16 x 6 7/16 in. (27 x 16 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0009.0003

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:
Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, the sister of Laertes, and up until the beginning of the play’s events, she has also been romantically involved with the main character, Hamlet. The engraving shows a scene not literally performed in the play itself, that is it describes the moments leading up to her death by drowning in a stream. She is depicted clinging to a branch, which is breaking from the tree and, upon breaking, will allow her to fall into the stream and her eventual death by drowning.

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