7 Pieces of Art Inspired by Shakespeare

Earlier this week we visited Shakespeare and death as part of the 400th anniversary of his passing. I thought it would be nice to take a break and do something different. Last year as part of the 450th anniversary of his birth I gave you lists of inspired book titles, music, and poetry. You can find them all here, under the Words, words, words, Shakespeare page. Today we are looking at 7 pieces of art inspired by Shakespeare.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti The Question 1875

Pencil, approximately 19 x 16 inches. Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England.

In a letter to his friend Frederick Stephens, Rossetti said that this drawing is based on Shakespeare’s great line, “To be or not to be, that is the question”. Rossetti may have been inspired by both Shakespeare and the death of Oliver Madox Brown, the son of Rossetti’s friend, Ford Madox Brown. Oliver drowned in 1874. The death must have been distressing to Rossetti who also said in his letter to Stephens, “The mystery of early death, one of the hardest of all impenetrable dooms“.


Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne, 1876

Oil on canvas, 52.5 x 104.25 inches. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

This painting depicts the scene that occurs in Richard III, when Richard, who has played a part in the deaths of Edward, Prince of Wales, and his father, Henry VI, admits, “What though I killed her husband and father,” maliciously woos Anne, who is taking the body of her father-in-law Henry VI to his burial in Chertsey. The painting was accompanied in the Royal Academy catalogue for 1896 with these lines from Richard’s final passage in the scene: “Was ever woman in this humor wooed? / Was ever woman in this humor won?” I’ve yet to see a production that fully explains Anne’s willingness to marry the man who wanted to “prove himself a villain”


Sir John Gilber, Shylock after the trail 1873

Steel engraving, approximately 6.5 x 10.5 inches, by G. Greatbach. The engraving is from Charles Knight’s two-volume Imperial Edition of The Works of Shakespeare (London)

Here’s a fun fact, the title of Gilbert’s painting is a misidentification and so is misnamed. After the trial Shylock leaves the stage and we hear no more of him. The action Gilbert illustrates here occurs before the trial but after Shylock learns that his daughter Jessica has eloped with Lorenzo (and a large sum of his money). This painting shows Shylock running madly through the streets lamenting his lost daughter and money. It should be titled, Shylock after the betrayal.


William Blake Portrait of Shakespeare Date unknown 1800-1803 (?)

Tempera on canvas, approximately 16 x 32 inches. Manchester City Art Galleries

Blake based Shakespeare’s portrait on the engraving of Droeshout (First Folio fame). Shakespeare is surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves. Emory points out, on the right is the scene where Macbeth goes to the witches and receives his second set of prophecies; on the left is the ghost of Banquo, pointing to the first of the succession of kings”.


Edward Robert Hughes The Shrew Katherina, 1898

Watercolor, 19 x 28 inches. The collection of Mr. and Mrs. Sandor Korein.

This paining fascinates me; it could be any woman who has a lot on her mind. The color scheme matches the Lady Katherina’s mood. Emory tell us:

Hughes portrays Katherine in an uncharacteristically pensive mood, contemplating her empty plate and glass, hungry, and no doubt mulling over what course of action she might take. She complains of her hunger to the servant Grumio and implores him to bring her some food.


Charles Hunt The Play Scene in Hamlet 1868

Oil on canvas, approximately 18 x 26 inches. Yale Center for British Art.

I found this painting to be so fun and full of life I just had to share it. This is my first taste of Hunt; he could easily become one of my favorite artists. Apparently the Victorians agreed, as they adored paintings of children as much as they did Shakespeare. Hunt found success with this painting and produced other whimsical painting of children performing Shakespeare. His works include, The Banquet Scene: “Macbeth” and The Trial Scene: “The Merchant of Venice”. Oh how I’d love to have them all.


Henry Fuseli The Three Witches Date unknown. After 1783

Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Picture Gallery and Museum, Stratford-upon-Avon.

This is the painting that always comes to mind when I think of when artists and Shakespeare.Not much is known what inspired Fuseli to paint the three witches as accusers, which is to bad, as this is one of the most famous Shakespeare inspired pieces of art, next to Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare inspired piece of art? What would you have included in your list?


Works referenced/Cited

English.Emory. edu Shakespeare Illustrated

Shakespeare, William Richard III Folger’s edition

A biography of each artist can be found by clicking the link on their name

Surprising poetry inspired by Shakespeare

We know that Shakespeare’s influence can be felt throughout the Western Cannon. We find his work in everything from novels, plays, movies, operas, and classical music pieces. Being England’s greatest poet, it can be of no surprise to find he inspired later poets, who often paid tribute to him in their works. Keats, Alexander Pope, and Wadsworth openly admitted their admiration in letters and poems.

As I read through Shakespeare in America, a collection of essays and poems written by American scholars and writers, two pieces stood out. Not so much for the content, but the authorship. One was written by a very American writer and the other, by a man forced to assimilate into the America culture. These two men stand in stark contrast yet are united by their admiration of Shakespeare.

Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, one of the greatest American novels. His themes of man vs. nature, greed, obsession, and naïve belief in one’s own abilities against all odds are quintessentially early American values. The country was founded on these very ideas. Yet Melville lived during a time when the country was tearing itself apart due in large part because of these very ideas.

Sanford Robinson Gifford A Coming Storm
Sanford Robinson Gifford A Coming Storm

This picture “A coming Storm” was painted in 1863, right in the middle of the American Civil War. Herman Melville viewed it at the National Academy exhibition in Manhattan shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln. What struck Melville was the fact that the actor Edward Booth, brother to John, the very man who had murdered the President, owned the painting. Melville must have been in a very depressed mood and seemed to project his feelings onto Edward Booth. Melville’s poem suggests that Edward saw in the painting a kind of coming national storm, a tragedy in the making much like what was foreshadowed in Hamlet

Coming Storm

A Picture by S.R. Gifford, and owned by E.B.

Included in the N.A. Exhibition, April, 1865.

All feeling hearts must feel for him
Who felt this picture. Presage dim–
Dim inklings from the shadowy sphere
Fixed him and fascinated here.

A demon-cloud like the mountain one
Burst on a spirit as mild
As this urned lake, the home of shades.
But Shakspeare’s pensive child

Never the lines had lightly scanned,
Steeped in fable, steeped in fate;
The Hamlet in his heart was ‘ware,
Such hearts can antedate.

No utter surprise can come to him
Who reaches Shakspeare’s core;
That which we seek and shun is there–
Man’s final lore.

In contrast to Melville is Maungwudaus, a Chippewa Native American, whose identity as an American was not something to be celebrated. His name, Maungwudaus meant “Great Warrior” yet like most young Native’s he was indoctrinated into the American culture by forced schooling. He would eventually give up his birth name and take the very English name of George Henry. But before he became completely Americanized, he traveled throughout Europe, performing tribal customs in front of large audiences with the optimism that this would gain sympathy and understanding for the Native people.

Here was a young man who could have been bitter and hold the Western world in utter disdain and contempt. Who would have blamed him? Yet, for all that was done to him and his people, he felt a connection to Shakespeare. He most certainly was introduced to Shakespeare at school. And though Shakespeare is very much a product of his Western upbringing, there is something universal in his words. Maungwudaus felt some connection to the poet despite the span of time and culture identity. We know Maungwudaus and his friends deeply admired Shakespeare and saw something of themselves mirrored within his work. We know this from a short but very moving poem.

While in England in 1848, Maungwudaus and his performing troupe visited Stafford-upon-Avon. They all signed their names in the visitor’s book at Shakespeare’s birthplace, but Maungwudaus was moved to act beyond simply visiting the site. He penned a poem that very day and then had it printed on a small pamphlet. How many he made and for whom he made them remains a mystery. The poem would have been lost to history had it not been for James McManaway, a scholar working with the Folger Shakespeare Library. Around 1948, MacManaway found a copy of the poem and traced its origin. Sadly, no original printing of the poem has ever been found.

It is not the best poetry to be sure, but it speaks to us, and compels us to consider just how far reaching Shakespeare’s work is. He inspires across cultural divides. This is the power of Shakespeare. Is it any wonder he continues to inspire us today?


Indians of North America

Heard the name that shall not decay.

They came and saw where he was born,

How great is the sound of his horn.

They respect and honor his grave

As they do the grave of their brave;

Rest thou great man under these stones,

For there is yet life in thy bones.

Thy spirit is with Mun-nid-do,

Who gave thee all thou didst do:

When we are at our native home

We shall say “we have seen his tomb”


J. Shapiro, Shakespeare in America

Finding Shakespeare, Chief Maungwudaus visits the Birth-Place http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/chief-maungwuduas-visits-birthplace-1848