Hamlet: Prince of Denmark
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The Art of Hamlet

Hamlet and the Players

Widely recognized as Czachórski's greatest individual work, this painting depicts a scene from Act II, scene ii in which Hamlet welcomes a group of traveling players to Elsinore. He will later devise a plan to use these actors to perform "The Murder of Gonzago" in which he reenacts the murder of his father in order to "catch the conscience of the king."

The Play Scene in Hamlet

In this painting, which won gold medals in three international exhibitions, Abbey depicts "the play scene" from Hamlet (Act III, scene ii) through the eyes of the traveling players as they perform "The Murder of Gonzago." As the rest of the audience observes the play, Hamlet steals a glance at Claudius hoping to determine his guilt. When the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, it was accompanied in the exhibition catalogue by the following lines in which Hamlet instructs Horatio to watch Claudius carefully:

Give him heedful note
For I mine eyes will rivet to his face;
And after, we will both our judgments join
In censure of his seeming.

Hamlet and His Mother Seeing His Father's Ghost

This painting by Danish artist Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard portrays the appearance of the ghost in Gertrude's chamber during her interview with Hamlet (Act III, scene iv). Although the spirit is clearly visible to the prince, his mother sees nothing and thinks he has gone mad. Abildgaard had previously treated the subject of Hamlet in a painting entitled Hamlet Visiting the Queen of Scotland, the idea for which he derived not from Shakespeare's play but from the bard's Danish source, the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus.

Ophelia Drowning

French painter Paul Albert Steck imagines the drowning of Ophelia, a tragic development that occurs offstage sometime between Act IV, scene v and Act IV, scene vii. Delivering the news to Laertes, Gertrude says:

There is a willow grows askant the brook
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
There on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Hamlet and the Gravediggers

This oil on canvas, painted in the "troubadour style," features the artist himself as the moody Danish prince, along with his friend Gustave Courtois who posed for the figure of Horatio. The sumptuous garments and the noble sentiments of the two principal actors are sharply contrasted with the gnarled gravediggers in the foreground.

Ophelia and Laertes

Standing tall at roughly 9 feet by 12 feet, this painting by American Benjamin West represents a scene from Act IV, scene v, in which Laertes, returning from Paris, comes face to face with his sister's madness. A reviewer for the Examiner (1808) described West's Ophelia as "robed in white; her flaxen locks hang in loose disorder over her forehead and down to her waist; with her left hand extended she carelessly strews around the rue and thyme; her eyes exhibit a wandering mind and delicious indecisiveness, yet she is gentle; rage makes no part of her character." Note the averted eyes of the king and queen.

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