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John Boydell

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Image of Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
James Stow
English, about 1770–after 1820
after Richard Westall
English, 1765–1836

Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3

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

Object Type: Print
10 5/8 x 6 9/16 in. (27 x 17 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0008.0008

Credit Line: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association Purchase

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:
Macbeth (about 1605) flips the premise of Hamlet; now we follow the assassin through the treacherous plotting, deed, and crowning—then into the inevitable aftermath of continued bloodshed. Shakespeare spices the action with three Weird Sisters who add false security to the play’s potent brew.

After Macbeth’s battlefield victory, the Weird Sisters prophesy the general will become king, igniting his murderous urge to rule. The play’s other strong and fateful female presence is its next driving force, Lady Macbeth, who lays out the daggers, washes off the blood, and dons her crown, but finds she cannot wipe the blood from her psyche. She dreams it, still smells and sees it as she sleepwalks, lamenting “what’s done cannot be undone.” Agreeing, her husband hardens, fighting an army of outraged Scots led by his victims’ kin until his stolen crown is seized from his decapitated body.
-Susan Willis, dramaturg, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, September 28, 2020

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