The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery

Suppliant Women and Monumental Maidens: Shakespeare's Heroines in the Boydell Gallery

by Georgianna Ziegler, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D. C.

"The importance of the female character was not yet acknowledged, nor were women admitted into the general commerce of society [...]. Their tragic heroines, their Desdemonas and Ophelias, although of so much consequence in the piece, are degraded to the back-ground. In comedy their ladies are nothing more than MERRY WIVES, plain and chearful matrons, who stand upon the chariness of their honesty." [1] This comment by Thomas Warton, Oxford don and poet laureate, appears in volume III of his History of English Poetry (1781) during his discussion of Elizabethan literature. One wonders if Warton had ever read all of Shakespeare; what about Rosalind, Viola, and Isabella, and is Cleopatra really "degraded to the back-ground?" In some respects, Warton's comments run against the grain of eighteenth-century response to Shakespeare, but in other respects they are indicative of it.

While this was the century that first developed "bardolatry," expressed pre-eminently in Garrick's "Shakespeare Jubilee" of 1769 and in the Boydell Gallery itself, it was also a period in which a high development of manners, decorum, and sensibility led to a view of Shakespeare's age as unsophisticated and course. Thus, the bluestocking Elizabeth Montagu, though a great admirer of his plays, felt that allowances needed to be made for their having been "acted in a paltry tavern, to an unlettered audience, just emerging from barbarity." [2] The context of Warton's comments makes it clear that what has changed culturally between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries is the admission of women "into the general commerce of society." "The effects of that intercourse," he says, "imperceptibly [spread] themselves in the general habits of style and thought." "The improved state of female education" has given "elegance and variety to life, by enlarging the sphere of conversation, and by multiplying the topics and enriching the stores of wit and humour." [3]

Certainly women were in the vanguard of the movement to resurrect Shakespeare as the great national poet. As early as the 1730's, Susannah Ashley-Cooper, Countess of Shaftesbury, headed a group of women called the Shakespeare Ladies Club. They were ardent supporters of the erection of a Shakespeare monument in Westminster Abbey and encouraged theatrical productions of the plays. In 1726 the Shakespeare editor, Lewis Theobald, had already noticed that "'there is scarce a Poet that our English tongue boasts of, who is more the subject of the Ladies' reading,'" and a bit later Mary Cowper's poem "On the Revival of Shakespeare's Plays by the Ladies in 1738" states that " the softer Sex redeems the Land/ and Shakespeare lives again by their Command." [4] Later in the century, women began publishing critical works on Shakespeare: the novelist Charlotte Lennox in a study of Shakespeare's sources (1754); Elizabeth Montagu with her defense of Shakespeare against Voltaire (1769); and novelist and playwright Elizabeth Griffith on Shakespeare's morality (1775). The Boydell Gallery itself benefitted from the work of three women artists: Angelica Kauffman, one of the first members of the Royal Academy; Caroline Watson, engraver to Her Majesty, Queen Charlotte; and Anne Seymour Damer, sculptress and friend of Horace Walpole.

All of this activity by women in support of Shakespeare did not yet lead to an appropriation of his heroines for the instruction of female morality. That would have to wait for Anna Jamieson, Mary Cowden Clarke and others after the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Hannah More, a writer, moralist, and friend of Elizabeth Montagu, did allow "that in company with a judicious friend or parent, many scenes of Shakespeare may be read [by young women] not only without danger, but with improvement." [5] On the other hand, some eighteenth-century critics actually berated Shakespeare, saying "that he was no friend to the fair sex, but that on the contrary he embraced every opportunity of treating the ladies with the utmost severity, and represented them as often as possible in a disagreeable light to the public." The author of this piece, which appeared in the General Evening Post in June 1772, was probably the editor, George Steevens, who quotes the opposition in order to defend Shakespeare against such an accusation. He calls to mind a host of worthy heroines from the plays, and answers the charge "that as vehicles for dramatic action [Shakespeare's] feminine characters are most insignificant," by stating: "His women are always as important as the nature of his fable requires them, and if in some places his men engross the principal business of a play there are other places where his women have equally the advantage." [6]

Critics in the eighteenth century wrote extensively on Shakespeare's characters, both male and female, as expressive of the passions, the strengths and weaknesses of humankind. Montagu notes, "The talents of Shakespeare were universal, his penetrating mind saw through all characters; and, as Mr. Pope says of him, he was not more a master of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations." [7] It is within this context that we must consider the depiction of Shakespeare's female characters by the artists of the Boydell Gallery.

One of the Boydells' stated objectives in setting up the Gallery was to "establish an English School of Historical Painting," by focusing on the works of the great national poet. [8] In one of his lectures to members of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds distinguishes two styles of history painting, "the grand, and the splendid or ornamental." The first, practiced by Poussin and Le Brun, attempts to simplify, to present what is general and sublime with quietness and a focus on the effect of the whole. The second, exemplified by Dutch painters among others, looks more at the detailed and particular, depicting history as "a portrait of themselves." [9] Shakespeare's comedies seem to lend themselves to the latter, his histories and tragedies to the former. The nature of the comedies, high and low-life, male and female, invoke a style that we would call "genre painting." The histories and tragedies, however, conform more directly with the classical and Biblical motifs used by continental artists for the grand style. Because female characters appear less frequently in these plays, especially the histories, it seems more productive to focus on their depiction in these paintings. What scenes from the histories and tragedies did the artists choose; how many of those scenes depict women; and in what roles are women shown? I will suggest that when women are depicted, it is often as suppliant or victim, occasionally as healer, and supporter, only rarely as heroic. [10]

1. The Histories

The presentation of Shakespeare's history plays on the eighteenth-century stage did not always coincide with their popularity as subjects for paintings. The most frequently produced Richard III, King John, 1 Henry IV, and Henry VIII account for four, three, six, and seven paintings respectively in the Boydell Gallery; while the least produced, the three parts of Henry VI, account for fifteen. Of the other histories, there were six paintings from 2 Henry IV, four from Richard II, and two from Henry V. [11] Of these forty-eight paintings, only sixteen include women in the scene. This number is impressive, however, since "women had no voice" in the historical record of Shakespeare's time, and he writes them into that record, giving them a voice that often opposes and challenges the "historiographic enterprise." [12] Women in these plays are not always refined; they may be loud, belligerent, defiant or seductive, making it difficult for eighteenth-century sensibilities to come to terms with them. Nevertheless, calling Shakespeare "one of the greatest moral philosophers that ever lived," Elizabeth Montagu writes that in his history plays, "the poet collects [...] into a focus, those truths, which lie scattered in the diffuse volume of the historian, and kindles the flame of virtue, while he shews the miseries and calamities of vice. Montagu finds that the lessons taught by history are more compelling when drawn from stories familiar to the audience, than from the Classics. [13]

Figure 22

Four of the paintings depict women in positions of supplication to men. Hamilton shows the Duchess of York leaning forward in her chair, her clasped hands raised in silent supplication to her husband who berates their son, Aumerle, for his involvement in a plot to kill Richard II (Quarto 44. Richard II, V.ii). Again for 3 Henry VI (III.ii), Hamilton paints the petition of Lady Grey to King Edward for repossession of those lands lost to her upon the death of her husband (Fig. 22: Quarto 58). She stands to the left in profile, facing the King who stands above her in front of his throne, on the right. Though the light of the painting focuses on him, it is picked up in the white cap on her bent head and in her right arm, which reaches across the picture plane in a gesture of pleading. Dressed in the dark clothes of a widow, with her hair flowing and her left hand to her bosom, Lady Grey appears at once proud, feminine and subseverient. In the dialogue of the play, she resists Edward to the end, never agreeing to be his mistress or his queen, but Hamilton represents her from the male point of view, much as Edward himself sees her: "Her looks doth argue her replete with modesty, / Her words doth show her wit incomparable, / All her perfections challenge sovereignty: One way or other, she is for a king / And she shall be my love or else my queen. " (3 Henry VI, III.ii.84-88). [14]

Similarly, Smirke softens the teasing persistence of Lady Percy in 1 Henry IV (II.iii. Quarto 46) as she tries to make Hotspur tell her his business, why he rides out suddenly and has kept her from his bed. Her anger does not show in the soleful gaze that Smirke's lady raises to her husband's face, as she rests one hand on his shoulder and with the other holds his arm. This is not the woman who says, "Out, you mad-headed ape! / A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen/ As you are toss'd with. In faith,/I'll know your business, Harry, that I will" (1 Henry IV, II.iii.77-80). In this context, such passion in a woman is unseemly, but it is permitted in the grief over the death of her son that almost maddens Constance in act three of King John. [15]

Constance had become one of the great roles for actresses on the eighteenth-century stage, due largely to the interpretation by Mrs. Cibber. Thomas Davies notes that it was "her most perfect character," and he says further: "The grief, anguish, and despair of a mother are nowhere so naturally conceived." [16] Samuel Johnson analyses the type of grief being depicted:

Distress, while there remains any prospect of relief, is weak and flexible, but when no succour remains is fearless and stubborn; angry alike at those that injure and at those that do not help; careless to please where nothing can be gained, and fearless to offend when there is nothing further to be dreaded. [17]

Figure 23

Johnson understands that Constance's grief can be untamed for she has reached the end of all help. With such interest in the character, based in part on a strong stage tradition, it is curious that more artists did not depict this scene (the blinding of Arthur was more popular). Westall's painting for the Boydell Gallery (Fig. 23: Quarto 41) shows Constance kneeling in the right picture plane, her hands raised to tear at her hair, and her eyes staring in terror at the three men who occupy the left picture plane, King Philip, the Dauphin, and Pandulpho. In his suggestions for an illustrated Shakespeare edition, Samuel Felton spends considerable time discussing the stage depiction of Constance and suggesting a multitude of scenes focusing on her that might be drawn. He remarks, "In Bell's first edition of this play, is a beautiful print of Lady Constance [...] and though it possesses the most sweet grace; yet I forbear to recommend its insertion in any future projected edition, from it's being wanting in that expression of wild despair, which is so essentially required in these lines." [18] It is something of this "wild despair" that Westall manages to capture in his painting of the scene.

It is Westall also who captures the physical weakness but spiritual transcendence of the dying Queen Katherine in Henry VIII (Quarto 65). The light in the painting focuses on her graceful, seated figure; her face looks upward as though contemplating something beyond this world Queen Katherine's vision. Earthly grief is suggested in the bent head of her weeping gentlewoman Patience who leans on the back of her chair, and in the downcast eyes of Griffith. Charlotte Lennox objected to Shakespeare mixing the stories of Wolsey and the Queen in the same play, as she thought it produced "an irregular historical drama." "Queen Catharine," she wrote, "has a higher Claim to give a Title to the Tragedy than Wolsey, since her Quality and Misfortunes are both superior to his." [19]

The other scene from Henry VIII focusing on Queen Katherine was painted by Peters (Cat. II:26) and shows her defending herself to the Cardinals Wolsey and Campeius as they interrupt her among her women. She is the central figure, and the movement of her legs, as though she has just risen, as well as the left hand pointed at Wolsey and her intense look, all evoke her determined defense. In addition to these two paintings with Katherine, a third painting shows King Henry's meeting with Ann Boleyn in the midst of a crowded court scene (Cat. II:25). She turns away from him coyly as he takes her left hand, reflecting the characterization of her bestowed by Charlotte Lennox: "receiving the Honour the King confers on her, by making her Marchioness of Pembroke, with a graceful Humility; and more anxious to conceal her Advancement from the Queen, lest it should aggravate her Sorows, than solicitous to penetrate into the Meaning of so extraordinary a Favour, or of indulging herself in the flattering Prospect of future Royalty." [20]

The three parts of Henry VI, while rarely performed, inspired a number of paintings. Several of the female characters in these plays Joan of Arc, Queen Margaret, the Duchess of Gloucester, and the Countess of Auvergne are problematical as representatives of the "softer" sex. They are feisty, militant and abrasive figures, leading troops, torturing men, and engaging in witchcraft, not given to the finer sensibilities of eighteenth-century women. [21] Charlotte Lennox complained that "Shakespear has given the same inconsistent and improper Manners to all the chief Persons in this Play." She felt that his chief aim, to represent the passion of cruelty, sometimes led him to take liberties with historical "fact." The Queen, she says, had perfectly good motives for taking arms: "the recovery of her Husband's Liberty and Crown, and the restoring her Son to the Rights and Privileges of his Birth." "For the Sake of this shocking Absurdity in the Manners of a Female Character, in so high a Rank," however, Shakespeare "contradicts a known Fact in History" when he has Margaret murder York. [22]

Figure 24

It is instructive to see how the Boydell artists coped with such female figures whom they chose to paint. Four of the paintings are by Hamilton and run much in the style of his depiction of Lady Grey as a suppliant, discussed above. When he depicts Margaret, it is not at all as "a tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide," but as a woman in love, sweetly bending over to kiss the hand of Suffolk (cf. Fig. 22: Quarto 57. 2 Henry VI, III.ii), or as distinctly marginalized, standing at the far edge of the picture plane, her hand slightly raised in mute protest as she watches her son in chains taunt King Edward (Quarto 59. 3 Henry VI, V.v). His fourth painting for these plays, a monumental portrait of Joan of Arc (Fig. 24: Quarto 54), resurrects the despicable figure created by Shakespeare into a mythical representation of France. Dressed in white and helmeted, her cape and long hair streaming in the wind against a stormy sky, Joan raises her left arm in victory, while her spirits, seen here as semi-nude male figures, stream from the clouds at her side. Hamilton's breast-plated, helmeted female warrior owes something to the heroic woman as painted by Tiepolo in "Zenobia Addressing Her Troops," and goes back even farther to the depictions of Penthesalia and other Amazons. [23]

Hamilton's recuperation of Joan follows a critical trend of the century, exemplified in the comments of Joseph Ritson.

It is to be regretted that Shakespeare should have so far followed the absurd and lying stories of his time about this celebrated heroine, whom the French called the maid of God, as to represent her not only a strumpet but a witch. If we may believe the most authentic historians she was no less dintinguished for virtue than courage [...]. And it is not the least praise of our elegant historian Mr. Hume that he has endeavoured to do justice to the much injured charcter of this amiable, brave, wise, and patriotic female. [24]

Ritson refers to David Hume's History of Great Britain (1754-61), which was long accepted as a standard account. In it, Hume devotes a number of pages to a mini-biography of Joan, in which he indicates the charisma and power of persuasion that emanated from her person. One sentence of his might be used as an inscription for Hamilton's painting: "Men felt themselves animated as by a superior energy, and thought nothing impossible to that divine hand which so visibly conducted them." [25]

Two other artists for the Henry VI series choose distinctly opposing ways of depicting female characters. Northcote in his illustration for 3 Henry VI, V.vii (Cat. II:21), works more in the mode of Hamilton when he shows Queen Elizabeth holding her infant son in her arms to be kissed by Clarence and Gloucester at the command of King Edward. In this pre-eminently domestic scene, the focus is on the women: the Queen with child and her two maids supporting her; it is darkened only by the expressions of the men at the margins of the picture. Opie, on the other hand, is the only artist who confronts directly the darker side of the female characters. One painting depicts Marjory Jordan the witch as an old hag, conjuring up the devil as Hume, Southwell, and Bolingbroke look on (Cat. II:16. 2 Henry VI, I.iv). It is curious that he does not include Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, a major supporter of and witness to this conjuring. In his painting for 1 Henry VI, II.iii (Cat. II:13), however, Opie depicts the angry Countess of Auvergne, striding out to taunt Talbot. Her frowning eyes and flowing dark locks, with her right hand raised as though to strike, convey her anger directly, and it is matched and pitted against the fully-armed figure of Talbot who stands next to her.

Opie's paintings are rare, however, among those done from the history plays. As we have seen, the general tendency is to soften and domesticate these female figures; even the violent passion of Constance is allowed as a manifestation of maternal grief. Only Joan of Arc stands apart, allegorized and memorialized as a "monumental maiden" in the tradition of the female personification of the Virtues. Her violence is allowable because it can be safely de-humanized.

2. The Greek and Roman Plays

In eighteenth-century editions and commentary upon the plays, Troilus and Cressida is frequently included among the tragedies. It forms part of a group of plays Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, Troilus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus whose main setting and characters are drawn from classical history, primarily set forth in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, that Shakespeare knew in the 1579 translation by Sir Thomas North. The settings for these plays provided an opportunity for the Boydell artists to create history paintings in the high style recommended by Sir Joshua Reynolds, as practiced by the great continental painters such as Poussin. Unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, the paintings they produced were not much different from their others, and did not reach the "grand style." Nevertheless, there is considerable interest in their choice of scenes, especially those depicting female characters.

Figure 25

Edward Capell, in his Notes [...] to Shakespeare (1780) characterizes Cressida as a "libertine," "the artful one," and a "jilt." [26] Elizabeth Griffith, on the other hand, finds some redeeming features in the young woman, remarking that her speech about Troilus in Act I, scene v "contains very just reflections and prudent maxims for the conduct of women, in the dangerous circumstance of love. What she says, would become the utterance of the most virtuous matron, though her own character in this piece is unluckily a bad one" [27]. The artists who depict Cressida seem equally divided in their interpretations. Like Capell, Kirk (Fig. 25: Quarto 78) paints her as a libertine, leaning casually against a stone pediment, her chiton dishevelled and opening in the front to reveal one bare leg thrown across the other. With her right hand she points to the armed Troilus riding by on a horse; behind her stands a devilish-looking Pandarus in black, giving his counsel. Like the female critic Griffith, the female artist, Angelica Kauffmann, depicts a sweeter Cressida (Cat. II:35), looking up imploringly to Diomed for help as she offers him her sleeve; she is seemingly unaware that an angry Troilus is being held at bay in the background. Kauffmann's painting is actually closer to the "grand style" than many of the others. She was already adept at painting classical themes, and with Benjamin West helped introduce history painting into England.

Kirk's second painting for this play (Quarto 79) is another variation on the suppliant women, such as we have seen in the history plays. A tender Andromache, holding their child, grasps the leg of Hector to plead that he not go into battle. Across from her, the wild Cassandra, hair flowing and arms upraised, makes the same plea. The two rather stolid female servants in the background seem almost to belong to another world, adding a sense of commonplace to this scene of high classical passion. [28] The most striking painting in the Troilus series is Romney's "Cassandra Raving" (Cat. II:34). It belongs to the same genre as Hamilton's Joan of Arc, depicting the nobility of this young prophetess, who holds a laurel wreath on her head, while brandishing aloft a small battle-axe with her other hand. Like Joan, Cassandra is an anomoly; she is a "monumental maiden," larger than life, who seems far removed from the realm of ordinary women, while at the same time her figure draws on "the conventions of the full-length portrait," where eigh teenth-century women loved to be depicted as mythological or classical characters. [29] In this case, Romney used Emma Hamilton as the model.

Dryden's version of Troilus and Cressida was performed in 1679 with some revivals, but it was not a popular stage play during the eighteenth century. Timon of Athens was acted throughout the century in versions by Shadwell, Kelly, Love, and Hull, while the brutal Titus Andronicus, popular for the character of Aaron, disappeared from the stage after 1724. [30] William Richardson, writing in 1783, evinces a detailed appreciation of Timon's descent from humaneness into misanthropy. [31] Only one of three scenes from this play in the Boydell Gallery shows women. Here Timon, who has found gold while digging in the woods, taunts Alcibiades and his mistresses, throwing gold into the aprons of the two women. The picture by Opie (Cat. II:32) focuses on the semi-nude Timon on the right whose hand stretches to fling gold coins into the uplifted apron of Timandra and her fellow-whore, Phrynia, located in the center of the picture plane. Though a minor scene, it was a favorite with artists who used it to illustrate the Rowe (1709), Hanmer (1744), and Theobald (1762) editions of Shakespeare. They may have been influenced by the artistic tradition depicting the rape of Danae by Jupiter through a shower of gold. The sensual overtones of the picture were not noted by the anonymous commentator on the Boydell Gallery writing in Walker's Hibernian Magazine in 1791, but they appear to have been noticed earlier, for Bell's popular edition of Shakespeare, prepared for middle-class consumption, depicts instead a scene with no women present. [32]

The horrors of Titus Andronicus were so great that some eighteenth-century commentators felt the play could not have been by Shakespeare. Nevertheless, it inspired three paintings in the Gallery, all showing women. The least successful of these is by Kirk (Quarto 77), and depicts Aaron, sword drawn, adamantly defending his son, who lies on the lap of a nurse. The characters, especially Aaron, seem wooden, and the painting has more of the feel of an illustration. The other two pieces, however, are more successful. Kirk also paints the scene in IV.i showing Lavinia, dishevelled, one breast bare, running after her nephew in order to find his schoolbook version of Ovid and the tale of Philomel which will signal her own dreadful rape and silencing (Cat. II:33). The handless stumps of her arms are hidden (discretely) in the flowing shawl that blows out behind her, giving her the appearance of a profile on a Grecian frieze. Though compelling, this painting is less powerful than the one by Woodforde illustrating the scene of rape itself.

Figure 26

In spite of his dislike for this "sanguinary" play, Felton considers the most pictorial scene to be this one in the gloomy pit. [33] Woodforde (Fig. 26: Quarto 75) presents the gloom of the forest as a backdrop for one of the most physically dramatic paintings in the Gallery. Lavinia's body, dressed in white, cuts across the picture, her legs to the right, her left hand pushing against Chiron's arm that holds her around the waist. Her head with its flowing blond hair is twisted back to look at Tamora over her right arm extended in hopeless supplication to that stony-hearted woman. Lavinia's robe is torn off, showing her left breast; a knife, indicative of the murder of Bassianus and of her own immiment violation lies between her feet. It is possible that Woodforde may have been inspired by Poussin's "Rape of the Sabine Women," with its thrusting female bodies resisting masculine violence. What makes the scene from Titus so dreadful is the complicity of the matronly Tamora with the male perpetrators.

Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra depict three types of women: the home-loving wife, Virgilia; the strong woman-mother, Volumnia; and the sensual seductress, Cleopatra. Elizabeth Griffith contrasts Virgilia with Volumnia as the "Woman of Nature" versus the "Roman Matron." She explains Volumnia's fortitude by suggesting that because she was left a widow to raise a son, she "soon silenced the tenderness of a mother in her breast, and assumed the spirit of a father, to fulfill her trust." [34] While showing a certain Roman restraint, nevertheless Volumnia's character is similar to those of Queens Margaret and Constance in the history plays. Porter's painting of her in Act I, scene iii might have been made to illustrate Griffith's contrast. Volumnia is shown as a matron, her head covered by a shawl. She is poised a moment in frozen action, her knee bent as though she has just risen from a chair, her left hand clenching the fabric on which she should be sewing; it seems the moment at which she says, "Methinks I hear hither your husband's drum." Virgilia, all in white, sits at her side, her hands clasped to her breast as though in prayer; the drum to her is terrifying for it means blood. Porter was wise to focus on this dramatically charged moment between mother and daughter-in-law, before Valeria (who is seen in the far background) arrives.

Gavin Hamilton's painting for Act V, scene iii of this play (Cat. II:29) adds another to his general theme of "women as suppliants." He forms a touching group of Coriolanus, armed, looking down into the eyes of Virgilia and those of his son, whom she holds; Volumnia who strides forward from the right with her arms outstretched seems strangely cut off from this group, but her volubility will ultimately prevail, winning Coriolanus to make peace. Three other women in the background, instead of the one other in the play, add their bent presence to the supplication. Though one eighteenth-century commentator objects to Shakespeare's handling of the story, his estimation of a revised version seems to fit Hamilton's painting: "Every one [sic] sees to what a beautiful and sublime series of pathetic sentiments this subject would lead; in developing the patriotism of Volumnia constrasted by her maternal affection; in unfolding the different shades of the same patriotism obstructed by the conjugal tenderness of Virgilia. [35]

The sculptress Ann Seymour Damer understands the power of Virgilia's tenderness. In a bas-relief she made for the Gallery, Coriolanus, (Cat. I: Titlepage vignette) crowned with the garland of victory, looks toward his mother and wife, who stand on his left; to his right are three soldiers. Visually and kinetically, the whole movement of the piece ends in the figure of Virgilia who stands weeping to the far right, both hands held up to her face. Although Coriolanus is the central figure, he and three of the other characters look toward her. In the play, Virgilia has no words during this homecoming; Coriolanus speaks for her: "My gracious silence, hail!/ Wouldst thou have laughed had I come coffined home,/ That weep'st to see me triumph?" (II.i.165-167). Yet Damer makes her tearful silence the dramatic moment of this frieze.

Cleopatra has always fascinated from the eighteenth century onward. Opinions of her then ran from "a tinsel pattern of vanity and female cunning," and "irregular, but accomplished," to someone who "well deserves the consideration of our female readers" as "a woman who can diversify the sameness of life by an inexhausted variety of accomplishments." [36] The three paintings in the Gallery depicting Cleopatra were all done by Tresham. The first, illustrating the end of Act III where Cleopatra comes with her maids to apologize to Antony for leading him astray in battle (Cat. II:31), is the most successful. The picture plane is dramatically divided between Antony's angry, seated figure on the right and Cleopatra, drooping and partly-naked, supported by her women on the left. The hand of Eros stretches across the picture plane to bring the two together. Though sensualized, Cleopatra here is made another manifestation of the suppliant woman. Tresham's painting for IV.iv (Quarto 71) depicts Cleopatra the seductress, her body in the classical slung-leg, "S" curve as she embraces Antony while servants try to arm him before battle. Surely Tresham had in mind some of the many depictions of Mars and Ve nus. [37]

His third painting, the death of Cleopatra, was a favorite scene, used to illustrate the Rowe and Hanmer editions (Quarto 72), and also depicted a second time for the Gallery in a bas-relief by Ann Damer (Cat. II: Titlepage vignette). For a death scene, Tresham's picture seems over-active, with its swirls of drapery, and the maid at Cleopatra's head signalling to an armed guard who rushes in from the right. More successful and dignified is Ann Damer's sculpture in the classical style. Cleopatra sits calmly in the center of the panel, with the asp curled around her left wrist. One of her maids lies on the floor, already dead, while the other droops at her shoulder in grief. By contrast with these drooping figures, Cleopatra remains upright, exuding a kind of power even in death, that suggests the strength of her personality.

3. The Tragedies

Next to Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth is undeniably Shakespeare's most powerful tragic heroine. While Shakespeare's Cleopatra was rarely seen on the eighteenth-century stage (preference being given to Dryden's version), the figure of Lady Macbeth was notably performed by Hannah Pritchard and Sarah Siddons. [38] So powerful was Siddons' performance that it influenced discussion of the character well into the next century. The paintings by Westall in the Boydell Gallery that depict Lady Macbeth focus on three of the most popular scenes: her receipt of Macbeth's letter (Cat. I:38, I.v), the banquet scene (Quarto 39: III.iv), and the sleepwalking scene (Quarto 40, V.i). The most compelling of these is the first. It follows in the tradition of Romney's Cassandra and Hamilton's Joan of Arc, all of which draw on full-length portraiture and on classical sculpture to depict powerful women who are larger-than-life. Siddons began her career as Lady Macbeth in 1785, and Hazlitt's later description of her fits Westall's painting perfectly: "Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine; she was tragedy personified." [39] Lady Macbeth's white figure dominates the center of the painting in apparent challenge to the dark world of nature behind her. Her clenched fist seems almost to break through the picture surface as though the energy of her passion were too great to be constrained.

She is still a strong, though not a classical but a medieval queen, in the banquet scene. The architecture and style of dress set it in early Scotland. The title of this painting might well be "Terror," for that emotion is amply reflected in Macbeth's body language as he sits, startled, on the edge of his throne at the appearance of Banquo's ghost. He clings to Lady Macbeth, who puts her arms around him and looks concerned as she tries to quiet his fears. What might be construed as her inherent evil is here domesticated; she is the wife giving comfort to her husband.

The question of how a woman, whose province is "domestic life," could engage in the crimes of Lady Macbeth troubled at least one eighteenth-century commentator. "What could have been the previous life of this 'unsex'd' Lady? by what strange concurrence of events, could the female mind become absorb'd in principles directly opposite to every attribute of the softer sex?" he asks. His answer is that "she is allured by a proposed object, whose splendours dazzle her imagination," but he goes on to say that "there is nothing more effectual in correcting any principle, than to shew its nature and tendency when uncontrouled"; hence Lady Macbeth's madness is the "logical" result and instruc tive consequence of her great passion. [40] Implied here is a warning to women not to let desire for anything get the better of them. In the sleepwalking scene, Westall shows the strong woman ravaged by her own guilty thoughts. While the doctor and gentlewoman look on from the background, she stands very alone in white against the darkness of the castle hall, wiping her hands. The determined, muscular woman who called to the spirits "unsex me here," has retreated into the softer form of a woman tortured within.

Shakespeare's other tortured tragic heroine is Ophelia. Richard Altick notes that "pictures of Ophelia constituted the most popular single subject of English literary painting; more than fifty are recorded." [41] Westall's painting of Ophelia (Quarto 92, IV.vii) moments before her drowning, as she reaches precariously over the stream to hang a garland of flowers on the willow is one of the earliest depictions of this scene. Stylistically it is part of the great Romantic tradition of "man in nature," for Ophelia's white figure shines almost fairy-like against the leafy boughs and trees of this woodland setting. In contrast, West's painting showing the mad Ophelia with Laertes at court (Cat. II:45. Hamlet. IV.v) belongs to the tradition of history painting. He has brilliantly reflected the disburbance caused by her unruly presence in the faces of those around her: Claudius and a male courtier look on suspiciously; Laertes, who holds her wavering white figure with flowing blond hair, looks up to heaven as though for succour; while a female courtier looks sad and Gertrude looks pensive. The reactions of each of the main characters are deeply personal, coming out of their own worries and fears as they see the ultimate effects of their actions on this young woman.

Another painting by Westall for Hamlet is not as successful as these two. Its major aim seems to be to capture the sentiment of "surprise" as reflected in the faces of Hamlet and Gertrude when he sees the Ghost in her chamber (III.iv, Quarto 91). But the pensive sadness on Gertrude's face in West's painting is much more revealing of her character.

Like Ophelia, Cordelia in King Lear is another innocent victim of the evil actions of others. Charlotte Lennox objects to Shakespeare's manipulation of his chronicle sources so that "one Fate overwhelms alike the Innocent and the Guilty." [42] Yet she admires the character of Cordelia, who holds her own against her father's demands for insincere protestations of love: "the noble Disinterestedness of her Answer afforded the strongest Conviction of her Sincerity, and [...] she possessed the highest Degree of filial Affection for him, who hazarded the Loss of all her Fortune to confine herself to simple Truth in her Professions of it." [43] Fuseli depicts this great opening scene of the play (Cat. II:38), showing Lear dramatically rising from his throne in the center of the painting to dismiss Cordelia with a pointing right hand; she casts a loving gaze back at him over her shoulder, while her sisters look on vindictively from across the painting. A smaller and less-crowded painting by Smirke (Quarto 83) has Cordelia hand-in-hand with the King of France as she bids farewell to her sisters. She is dressed in virginal white with her head uncovered; their dark hair is coiffed, and one, probably Regan who says only, "Prescribe not us our duty," sits with a satisfied smirk on her face, her left hand on her hip. William Pressly has pointed out how this painting complements Smirke's other small one for the Gallery, showing Cordelia kneeling next to Lear and reaching up lovingly to comfort him as he awakes in Act IV, scene vii (Quarto 85). The interior setting of both paintings is similar, and Smirke's decision to have Lear sitting on a throne chair instead of on a camp bed in a tent, "suggests the king's still imposing dignity." [44]

Here Cordelia is the woman as comforter, or nurturer; in the other paintings she is the injured victim. Nowhere is her innocent victimization more strongly depicted, however, than in Barry's large painting for the Gallery, "King Lear Weeping over the Body of Cordelia" (Cat. II:40) As Pressly notes, this is a scene that was not seen on the stage during the eighteenth century, where "happier" versions of King Lear by Nahum Tate and David Garrick were preferred [45]. Lear raises one hand to his head, as though madness had come again, as he contemplates the drooping dead body of Cordelia that he helps to support. Edgar, in Roman-style armor, reaches out to her, who is the emblem of the destruction of this kingdom that he must restore.

Five paintings made for the Boydell Gallery illustrate Romeo and Juliet, and all include the heroine. Altick observes that few paintings from this play were done prior to the Boydells, but a whole host of them followed. This may be due in part to the fact that during most of the eighteenth century, the play appeared on stage in adaptations: by Otway, Cibber, and Garrick. [46] In any event, this was certainly a play not "barren of female characters and affecting circumstances"; what could be more affecting than a pair of young star-crossed lovers? William Miller was not an artist who contributed much to the Gallery, but his depiction of Romeo meeting Juliet at the masked dance (Cat. II:41) is conceived in the grand style of Venetian painting. The two of them share a moment together in an antechamber while the swirl of the party goes on behind them. Two of Romeo's friends and Juliet's Nurse look on, but the lovers are oblivious as they gaze intently at each other. Juliet faces us so that we can see her sweet sincerity as she regards Romeo. The scene is reminiscent of Henry VIII's meeting with Ann Boleyn, though there the young woman is coquetishly shy in the company of such powerful male attention.

Smirke's rendering of II.v (Quarto 86) where Juliet tries to cajole her Nurse into telling the result of the Nurse's meeting with Romeo is marred by the awkward drawing of this lady's chin in the air. In spite of that defect, the painting convinces with Juliet's posture; she sits close to the older woman, holding her arm and resting her other hand on the Nurse's bodice, while she looks on caringly, waiting for her to catch her breath.

In his depiction of the balcony scene, Rigaud manages to capture the supreme moment of complete love between Romeo and Juliet (Quarto 88). As Romeo sits on the railing, the rope ladder dangling behind him, he and Juliet hold each other in their arms, their faces almost touching, and oblivious to the calls of the Nurse who comes from the inner room. Allowing that Shakespeare had some of the same intentions as his Italian source, Lennox writes: "Bandello every where shews Juliet so much engrossed by her extreme Passion for Romeo, that all other affections, all Tyes of Consanguinity, all filial Duty and Obedience is swallowed up in the Immensity of her Love [...]." [47] It is this immensity that Rigaud captures so intensely.

From this moment of sublime happiness, the play moves inexorably toward its tragic end. In a scene not frequently painted, Opie shows the family in a crowded bedroom discovering the apparently-dead Juliet (Cat. II:42). Her mother looks on in grim sorrow, comforted by the Friar, while her father leans over the bed, clasping his daughter. Samuel Felton blames the Capulets for Juliet's demise: "we shall find that the brutal insults of Capulet and his lady (with her unconquerable attachment to her husband) have driven [Juliet] to espouse, without shrinking, the dangerous and romantick device of the Friar [...] she will in some of the future scenes, be more the Queen of Terrors, than the Queen of Tears." [48]

Felton's imagined scene for the end of the play, might have been written to describe Northcote's painting (Cat. II:43).

The attitude and expression of the Friar, would be very fine when he sees the lady waking and the wildly pale, and earnest affection with which she cries out, "O comfortable friar!..." this, aided by the terror of the place the dark tomb lightened by the blaze of the torch, which will shew each feature of Juliet's face her dishevelled hair the breathless corpse of her husband, and the County Paris [...] these, will altogether form a scene capable of interesting the passions in a very high degree. [49]

Northcote captures Juliet at the very moment before she sees her dead lover and suitor. Silhouetted in white light against the tomb, she reaches up toward the Friar who holds the torch above her, a happy wonder on her face. It is a moment for the two of them together before the realization of tragedy hits home. The Friar and Romeo, not her father, have been the two most loving men in Juliet's life, and it is appropriate that three of the paintings in this series focus on these relationships.

In the Literary Weekly Intelligencer of February 1791 appeared "Critical Remarks on the Othello of Shakespeare." The author, one "W.&nbspN." remarks:

It has been observed of Shakespeare, that he has not often exhibited the delicacy of female character; and this has been sufficiently apologized for from the uncivilized age in which he lived; and women never appearing upon the stage in his time [...]. But in spite of all these disadvantages, he has shewn that in whatever view he choosed [sic] to behold human nature he would perform it superior to any other. For no where in the writings of Shakespeare, or any where else, have we found the female character drawn with so much tenderness and beauty as that of Desdemona. The gentleness with which she behaves to all with whom she converses, the purity, the modesty, the warmth of her love, her resignation in the deepest distress, together with her personal accom plishments attract our highest regard. [50]

Several other critics of the period express a similar regard for Desdemona, partly in reaction to a very negative piece of criticism published in 1693 by Thomas Rymer who wrote sarcastically that "the Moral [...] of this Fable is very instructive. 1. First, This may be a caution to all Maidens of Quality how, without their Parents' consent, they run away with Blackamoors [...]. Secondly, this may be a warning to all good Wives, that they look well to their Linnen." [51] Charlotte Lennox answers directly Rymer's disparaging view of mixed marriages:

The Character of Desdemona fares no better in Mr. Rymer's Hands than that of Iago; her Love for the Moor, he says, is out of Nature. Such Affections are not very common indeed; but a very few Instances of them prove that they are not impossible; and even in England we see some very Handsome Women married to Blacks, where their Colour is less familiar than at Venice [...]. Courage in Men has always had an invincible Charm for the Ladies; Desdemona admired the Moor for his Valour, and the Transition from extreme Admiration to Love is very easy in a female Mind. [52]

Elizabeth Griffith also takes up the defense, this time with regard to Desdemona as a chaste wife. "It has often surprized me," she says, "to find the character of Desdemona so much mistaken and slighted [...]. In my opinion, she seems to be as perfect a model of a wife, as either this author, or any other writer, could possibly have framed. She speaks little; but whatever she says is sensible, pure, and chaste." [53]

At the core of many such reactions to Othello both positive and negative lies the necessity of coming to terms with the fact of a young white woman falling in love with an older black man. One way of dealing with this fact pictorially is to set it in the context of eighteenth-century orientalism. A vogue developed for novels, mostly sensationalist, set in the near or far East, and orientalism influenced the decorative arts as well, as for example, in some of the designs for Vauxhall. The paintings by Porter (Quarto 94), Graham (Cat. II:47), and Boydell (Cat. II:50) for the Gallery all owe something to this tradition. Porter depicts Desdemona another suppliant woman on her knees before Othello in IV.ii, pleading for his intercession on behalf of Cassio, as he becomes ever more enraged with jealousy. Her white dress, arms folded across her breast, and pleading eyes all bespeak her innocence in face of this dusky Moor, who stands threateningly before her, feet apart, fists clenched. Her fringed shawl and armband and his whole costume with stiletto, earring and turban conjure up the exotic, as do Othello's costume and the tent-like curtains of Desdemona's bed in Boydell's and Graham's renderings of V.ii (Cat. II:50 and 47). This scene of Othello in Desdemona's room when he comes to murder her was one of the most frequently depicted. Boydell, in both of his versions, shows her lying chastely on her back, one hand on her breast, the other relaxed at her side as she sleeps; Graham takes an alternate view of depicting a more sensual Desdemona, her body twisted seductively, the outlines of her legs and torso visible through the covers, one breast bare. These two views correspond, as we have seen, with the conflicted attitudes toward her character; whether, under all that affected modesty, she really was a whore, or whether she was a chaste and loyal wife.

Stothard's painting for the Gallery from II.i (Cat. II:46), showing Othello meeting Desdemona in Cyprus is one of the finest. Based on meeting scenes, such as Tiepolo's "Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra" or Rubens' "Landing of Marie de Médicis at Marseilles," it is art in the grand style. In spite of the crowd of attendants, Othello and Desdemona make a little private space for themselves in the center of the painting, her lighter dress and pale beauty contrasting with his dark armor and complexion. They look at each other tenderly, she holding his hand and he with his other arm around her. Like the paintings by Miller and Rigaud for Romeo and Juliet, this painting depicts an intense moment of intimacy between two people deeply in love. Stothard might well be illustrating W.N.'s comment: "Where, in all the annals of love, do we find so pure and so disinterested a passion supported with so much dignity and nature?" [54]

As we think back over these paintings of Shakespeare's historic and tragic heroines, several trends are apparent in the way the Boydell artists handled their subjects. The feisty women of the history plays are frequently shown in positions of supplication, cajoling, or domestication, as decidedly non-threatening to the men around them. Even the great passion of Constance is domesticated, for her anguish comes from the loss of her child, and the witch-like threat of Shakespeare's Joan of Arc is transformed into an idealized allegorical figure. Only Peters' painting of Queen Katherine defending herself and Opie's depictions of the witch Marjorie Jordan and the angry Countess of Auvergne present something of the determined fire that motivates so many of these women. In the tragedies, the artists often choose scenes of great passion or pathos: the ball, balcony and tomb scenes from Romeo and Juliet, the madness of Lady Macbeth and Ophelia, Cleopatra's love for Antony, the early love scenes between Desdemona and Othello, the tragic deaths of Cordelia and Desdemona. There are also scenes of grandeur in the death of Cleopatra and in Damer's sculpture of Coriolanus and Virgilia, but balanced against these is the ever-present need to domesticate and soften: Volumnia and Virgilia at home with their needlework; Juliet and her Nurse; Cressida looking to the strength of Diomede; and Cordelia comforting her father. Behind so many of the paintings is the assumption voiced by the anonymous critic in The Shakspeare Gallery that "Domestic life is Woman's province: distant far from the contention of jarring passions, from the tempest of public tumult, it furnishes perpetual opportunity for exercise of the milder virtues, and their amiable attendants [...]." [55] The problem that the eighteenth and other centuries have had to face is that Shakespeare's women are decidedly not removed "from the contention of jarring passions" or "the tempest of public tumult," but that is precisely what makes them such vibrant and interesting heroines, with stories worth hearing and seeing again and again.


[1] Warton: The History of English Poetry, III; as quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, pp. 308-09.

[2] Ibid., p. 308.

[3] Montagu: An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakspeare, p. xvii.

[4] A good discussion of this group appears in Dobson: The Making of the National Poet, pp. 146-58. Theobald is quoted on p. 147 and Mary Cowper on p. 150-152. Jonathan Bate also mentions the importance of the "women's movement" in encouraging the production of Shakespeare beginning in the 1730's Bate: Shakespearean Constitutions: Politics, Theatre, Criticism 1730-1830, pp. 25-6.

[5] More: Preface to Tragedies, p. 45. She goes on to say: "Women especially, whose walk in life is so circumscribed, and whose avenues of information are so few, may, I conceive, learn to know the world with less danger, and to study human nature with more advantage, from the perusal of selected parts of this incomparable genius, than from most other attainable sources". More wrote several books of behavior, including Essays [...] for Young Ladies, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, and Hints Towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess. In the latter work, written for the education of Charlotte, Princess of Wales, she writes: "In the hands of a judicious preceptor, many of Shakespeare's tragedies, especially of his historical pieces, and still more such as are rendered peculiarly interesting by local circumstances, by British manners, and royal characters who once filled the English throne, will furnish themes, on which to ground much appropriate and instructive conversation." More: Hints Towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess, p. 176.

[6] Animadvertor [George Steevens], Theatrical criticism in the General Evening Post, 2-4 June 1772; quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 5, p. 498-99.

[7] Montagu: An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakspeare, pp. 43-4.

[8] Boydell: "Preface" 1789 to A Catalogue of the Pictures, &c. in the Shakspeare Gallery, Pall-Mall, p. [iii].

[9] Reynolds: Discourses on Art, pp. 69 and 71-3. Reynolds says, "The general idea constitutes real excellence. All smaller things, however perfect in their way, are to be sacrificed without mercy to the greater." The artist "must sometimes deviate from vulgar and strict historical truth, in pursuing the grandeur of his design" (ibid., pp. 58-9). In a cogent discussion of Gillray's parody of the Shakespeare Gallery, Jonathan Bate shows how the caricaturist mocks the "borrowing" of the Boydell artists themselves from continental masters (Bate: Shakespearean Constitutions: Politics, Theatre, Criticism 1730-1830, pp. 49-51).

[10] In an interesting discussion of how Shakespeare's heroines were "revised" in the Restoration adaptations of his plays, Jean I. Marsden writes: "In effect, virtuous women in these plays, as in pathetic drama, prove their virtue by their ability to suffer, and the adaptations abound with pictures of helpless women, suffering under the oppression of villains." Marsden: The Re-Imagined Text: Shakespeare, Adaptation, & Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory, p. 32.

[11] Altick: Painting from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900, pp. 280-82 discusses the relative frequency of performance and the painterly tradition for these plays, in and beyond the Boydell Gallery. My count is based on the listings in Boydell: A Catalogue of the Pictures, & c. in the Shakspeare Gallery, Pall-Mall and Boydell: The Exhibition of the Shakspeare Gallery, Pall-Mall; Being The Last Time The Pictures Can Ever Be Seen As An Entire Collection.

[12] See the astute assessment of this subject in Rackin: "Anti-Historians: Women's Roles in Shakespeare's Histories." Dorothea Kehler and Susan Baker, eds.: In Another Country: Feminist Perspectives on Renaissance Drama, p. 137.

[13] Montagu: An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakspeare, pp. 37, 35.

[14] The actual quote from the play that accompanies this picture in the 1802 catalog is:
K. Edw. - Widow, we will consider of your suit;
And come some other time to know our mind.
L. Grey - Right gracious lord, I cannot brook delay;
May it please you highness to resolve me now;
And what your pleasure is shall satisfy me.
Unless otherwise stated, quotations are from The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. by Evans, et al.

[15] It is interesting that Horace Walpole appreciates both women and their homespun emotions. He writes: "Lady Percy [in 2 Henry IV, III.ii] exhibits the image of the plain wives of our old barons in that savage age. She regrets the enjoyments of domestic life, recalls the honours paid to her husband, but does not drop a hint of any luxury she had tasted but in him. Constance in King John is precisely such a mother, as Lady Percy is a widow; they dwell on no ideas that are foreign to their grief." Horace Walpole: Book of Materials, 1759-86, unpublished, but printed in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, p. 214.

[16] Thomas Davies: Dramatic Miscellanies: Consisting of Critical Observations on Several Plays of Shakespeare, as quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, pp. 37-316.

[17] Samuel Johnson, ed. The Plays of William Shakespeare, as quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, p. 115.

[18] Felton: Imperfect Hints Towards a New Edition of Shakespeare. Part Second and Last, p. 23. In his poem The Shakspeare Gallery, published in 1791 after the Boydell Gallery had opened, Edward Jerningham has the following to say about Constance that seems to capture some of the feeling of the painting: "Constance approaches! spurning at relief, / Attir'd in all the negligence of grief: / In her fierce grasp she shews her rooted hair, / Presenting well the image of Despair; / And seems to cry aloud, in accents wild, / 'He talks to me, who never had a child!'" Jerningham: The Shakespeare Gallery, p. 16.

[19] Lennox: Shakespeare Illustrated vol. 3, pp. 225-326.

[20] Ibid., p. 230.

[21] The kind of women depicted in these plays doubtless led John Bell in his introduction to the Henry VI plays to assert: "Such pieces as this are also very barren of female characters and affecting circumstances [by which he probably means love scenes and the like], without which the Drama is too defective." Bell: Bell's Edition of Shakespeare's Plays vol. 7, p. 89.

[22] Lennox: Shakespeare Illustrated vol. 3, p. 158.

[23] On the depictions of Amazons see Jackson: "Topical Ideology: Witches, Amazons and Shakespeare's Joan of Arc", pp. 40-65; see also Warner: Joan of Arc: the Image of Female Heroism and Warner: Monuments & Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form. I am indebted to a talk by Natalie Boymel Kampen for calling my attention to Tiepolo's painting and its relation to the depiction of Zenobia in both classical times and the eighteenth century (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 13, 1995).

[24] Ritson: Remarks, Critical and Illustrative, on the Text and Notes of the last Edition of Shakespeare, as quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, pp. 338-39.

[25] Hume: The History of England vol. 2, p. 435. This recuperation of Joan of Arc goes against a strong anti-Gallican trend in the eighteenth century that looked on Shakespeare, the national poet, as a counter to the taste for French culture. See Michael Dobson's discussion of this movement in Dobson: The Making of the National Poet, pp. 198-200.

[26] Capell: Notes and Various Readings to Shakespeare, as quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, p. 245.

[27] Griffith: The Morality of Shakespeare's Drama Illustrated, p .487.

[28] It is worth quoting the portion of Jerningham's poem on "The Shakespeare Gallery" that seems to describes this particular painting (though Jerningham said that he was simply making suggestions for paintings, not describing the ones there): "The hair-dishevell'd Prophetess of Troy / Shall next the Painter's hallow'd hand employ: / She, with bold Divination's meteor-eye, / Pervades the awful secrets of the sky; / the woes of her lov'd country she foretels, / And on her brother's death prolixly dwells. / Andromache, impress'd with tender fears, / At the prophetic strain dissolves in tears; / While Hector's scorn-denouncing looks upbraid / The vapoury day-dreams of the wild'ring Maid." Jerningham: The Shakespeare Gallery, p. 15.

[29] William Pressly draws attention to the relation of this painting to portraiture in Pressley: A Catalogue of Paintings in the Folger Shakespeare Library, p. 108. For a discussion of the vogue for historical portrait painting, see Altick: Painting from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900, pp. 24-5.

[30] See Oliver on the stage history of Timon in Shakespeare: Timon of Athens, pp. 151-53, and Alan Hughes on the stage history of Titus in Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus, pp. 23-5.

[31] Richardson: Essays on Shakespeare's Dramatic Characters, quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, pp. 361-63.

[32] "Remarks on the Exhibition at Shakespeare Gallery in London." Walker's Hibernian Magazine, January 1791, quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6 , pp. 510, 513.

[33] Felton: Imperfect Hints Towards a New Edition of Shakespeare. Part Second and Last, pp. 3, 6.

[34] Griffith: The Morality of Shakespeare's Drama Illustrated, p. 436.

[35] Parr: The Story of the Moor of Venice. Translated from the Italian. With two Essays on Shakespeare, and Preliminary Observations, quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6 , p. 617.

[36] Francis Gentleman in Bell: Bell's Edition of Shakespeare's Plays. Davies: Dramatic Miscellanies, and Steevens: The Plays of William Shakespeare, quoted in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, pp. 101, 379, 596. In his poem The Shakespeare Gallery, Edward Jerningham shows an appreciation of Cleopatra similar to that of Steevens: "Lo! now, advancing on the mimic scene, / Comes forth to view the fam'd Egyptian Queen; / While anxious doubts her Soldier's mind perplex, / Behold her rise instructive to her sex! / Ah, not superior! for the female heart / Endures with fortitude the suff'ring part." Jerningham: The Shakespeare Gallery, p. 12.

[37] Richard Altick points out that the subject of Cleopatra "was one that encouraged artists to emulate the Old Masters at the same time that they might, with good conscience, endow their convases with a fair degree of sensuousness. [...] The death of Cleopatra was the artists' favorite moment." Altick: Painting from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900, p. 320.

[38] For a discussion of the staging of Antony and Cleopatra see Neill in his Introduction to the Oxford edition, pp. 25-8; for Macbeth see Brooke in his Introduction to the Oxford edition, pp. 34-49; see also Rosenberg: The Masks of Macbeth.

[39] Hazlitt: Characters of Shakespear's Plays, quoted in Schoenbaum, ed.: Macbeth: Critical Essays, p. 9. Not all critics were as appreciative of the play. In the introduction to his 1774 edition of the play, John Bell writes: "it records an important point of history, but gives a picture of the human heart rather too horrid; which no doubt is the reason that few female spectators like this piece [...]." Bell: Bell's Edition of Shakespeare's Plays vol. 1, p. 3. Bell's comment, of course, came before Sarah Siddons took the stage!

[40] Anonymous: "Lady Macbeth" from The Shakspeare Gallery; containing a select series of scenes and characters, (accompanied by criticisms and remarks) (London, 1792 [1794]). This set of forty plates from drawings by Singleton and "letter-press by gentlemen of eminence in the literary world," came out as a rival edition to the Boydells.

[41] Altick: Painting from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900, p. 299.

[42] Lennox: Shakespeare Illustrated vol. 3, p. 291.

[43] Ibid., vol. 3, p. 287.

[44] Pressley: A Catalogue of Paintings in the Folger Shakespeare Library, p. 120.

[45] Ibid., p. 10.

[46] Altick: Painting from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900, p. 294.

[47] Lennox: Shakespeare Illustrated vol. 1, p. 91.

[48] Felton: Imperfect Hints Towards a New Edition of Shakespeare. Part Second and Last, p. 114.

[49] Ibid., p. 137.

[50] W. N.: "Critical Remarks on the Othello of Shakespeare", as printed in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, pp. 562-64.

[51] Rymer: A Short View of Tragedy, reprinted in Rymer: The Critical Works, p. 132.

[52] Lennox: Shakespeare Illustrated vol. 1, pp. 131-32.

[53] Griffith: The Morality of Shakespeare's Drama Illustrated, p. 523.

[54] W. N.: "Critical Remarks on the Othello of Shakespeare", as printed in Vickers, ed.: Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage vol. 6, pp. 563.

[55] anon.: The Shakespeare Gallery: Containing A Select Series of Scenes and Characters (1792), p. 32.


Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery betrat die Londoner Bühne am Ende eines Jahrhunderts, das den Zugang der Frauen zum allgemeinen gesellschaftlichen Austausch" erlebte, wo ihr Einfluß in Kultur, Konversationskunst und Stil spürbar wurde. Bei der Darstellung der Heldinnen aus den shakespearschen Tragödien verwendeten die Boydell-Künstler kulturell akzeptierte Geschlechterrollen.

In seinen Historiendramen verleiht Shakespeare den Frauen häufig eine Stimme, die sich in seinen chronikalischen oder sonstigen Quellen nicht immer wiederfinden läßt. Sie können streitlustig, aufsässig oder verführerisch sein, was dem feinfühligen achtzehnten Jahrhundert den Umgang mit ihnen erschwerte. Die allgemeine Tendenz der Boydell-Künstler besteht in der Milderung und Domestizierung dieser Frauenfiguren. Opies Darstellung der beschwörenden Marjory Jordan und der wütenden Countess of Auvergne sowie Hamiltons allegorisierte Johanna von Orléans bilden Ausnahmen von dieser allgemeinen Regel.

Bei Shakespeares griechischen und römischen Stücke zeigen sich in der Art, wie männliche und weibliche Künstler seine Heldinnen darstellen, gewisse Unterschiede. Thomas Kirk etwa malt Cressida als Hure, während Angelica Kauffmann sie als sanfte Frau zeigt, die sich an Diomedes um Hilfe wendet. Die Tragödienheldinnen werden von den Künstlern oftmals in Szenen von großer Leidenschaft oder hohem Pathos gezeigt: so in der Balkonszene aus Romeo und Julia, den frühen Liebesszenen zwischen Desdemona und Othello, der Wahnsinn der Lady Macbeth und Ophelias, die tragischen Tode Julias, Cordelias und Desdemonas. Bei sehr vielen Boydell-Bildern steht die von einem zeitgenössischen Kritiker ausgesprochene Annahme im Hintergrund, das Reich der Frauen [sei] weit entfernt vom Aufruhr schriller Leidenschaft und den Stürmen öffentlicher Tumulte." Das Problem, dem sich das achtzehnte Jahrhundert gegenübersah, ist die Tatsache, daß die Heldinnen Shakespeares gerade nicht aus diesem Kosmos verbannt wurden dies eben macht sie so interessant.