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John Boydell

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Image of Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
George Noble
English, (active 1795–1806)
after Richard Westall
English, 1765–1836

Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2

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

Object Type: Print
10 13/16 x 6 5/8 in. (27 x 17 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0008.0005

Credit Line: Gift of Francis Drexel Smith, 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:
Influenced by “venturing” in money-centered Venice, Merchant offers another mid-play nuptial leading to separation with a sudden turn from joy to angst that postpones the wedding night.

Bassanio has just solved Portia’s wealthy father’s riddle, choosing the correct box and thereby gaining Portia’s hand, to her delight. Enjoy this peak moment, because the fact that he wooed her on money his best friend Antonio borrowed from his enemy Shylock will now explode into potential tragedy as a letter arrives, revealing Antonio has gone bankrupt and Shylock wants his collateral, a pound of Antonio’s flesh (notice those dark clouds outside). As in Romeo and Juliet, love and bloodthirstiness combine, now driving toward a bitter legal wrangle. Lucky for Bassanio his new wife is smart as well as rich, and perhaps as disguised and untamable as Kate when he gives away her ring, an event that will refine, or re-define, their relationship.
-Susan Willis, dramaturg, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, September 28, 2020

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