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Shakespeare in Painting

Jorge Sette By Jorge Sette Published on April 18, 2016

This year’s WORLD BOOK DAY, celebrated on April 23rd, also marks the 400th death anniversary of one of the most famous and influential writers humanity has ever produced: William Shakespeare, also known as the Bard of Avon.

Shakespeare, who lived in the Elizabethan era, wrote some 38 plays and 154 sonnets. Among his most beloved works are the following tragedies: Hamlet, Macbeth, Otello and Romeo and Juliet.

In this post, we have decided to show you how famous painters throughout history have depicted key moments and the main characters of these well-known plays. Here are a few paintings we carefully selected for you.

Hamlet tells the story of a Danish young prince psychologically tortured by the marriage of his widowed mother to his father’s brother, Claudius, who’s suspected of having murdered the King to replace him. Hamlet sees the ghost of his dead father, who clamors for revenge. Hamlet’s love interest is the sweet Ophelia, whose father Polonius is accidentally killed by Hamlet while eavesdropping a conversation between the prince and his mother. In unbearable pain, Ophelia loses her mental health and drowns, while picking flowers in the fields.

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Self Portrait as Hamlet by Delacroix, Eugène. 1821

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Ophelia by Millais, Sir John Everett. 1851-52

Macbeth. Despite being praised for his bravery in fighting for King Duncan, Macbeth is told by three witches that he himself will become King of Scotland. As a result, Macbeth, with the help of his ambitious wife, plots to kill Duncan, succeeds and becomes a tyrant, eliminating everyone that stands in his way. That includes his friend Banquo, who, being told by the same witches that he’d father a line of kings to replace Macbeth, becomes a menace.

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Macbeth Consulting The Vision Of The Armed Head by Fuseli, Henry. 1794

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Lady Macbeth by Fuseli, Henry. 1784

Othello is a cautionary tale against the dangers of jealousy. Othello, a dark-skinned Moor and a praised Venetian general is happily married to the fair Desdemona, daughter of the Venetian senator Brabantio. Having been passed over for a promotion by captain Cassio, Othello’s ensign, Iago, decides to take revenge. Iago plots to make Othello believe that his friend Cassio and Desdemona, who were quite close, are having an affair. Falling in the traps set up by the cunning and lying Iago, Othello, driven insane by jealousy, kills his wife.

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Othello and Desdemona in Venice by Chassériau, Théodore. 1850

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Othello and Desdemona by Frith, William Powell. 1840-56

Romeo and Juliet. Who doesn’t know the story of the young Veronese couple whose love is made impossible by the feud between their aristocratic families: the Montagues and Capulets? The romantic story ends tragically with the deaths of the young lovers.

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 Romeo and Juliet by Brown, Ford Madox. 1868-71

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Romeo and Juliet. The Tomb Scene by Wright of Derby, Joseph. 1790

Why not celebrate World Book Day by picking any of these wonderful works to read?

Jorge Sette.

Jorge Sette is Bookwitty's Regional Ambassador for South America. He represents the company, writing relevant content for the region, recruiting contributors, contacting partners and ... Show More


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