Illustrated Shakespeare: representing Ophelia

Emory’s Shakespeare Illustrated collects 19th century British artists’ renderings of scenes from the Bard’s plays. A few of French artist Eugène Delacroix’s Hamlet paintings and lithographs are included.

Professor Harry Rusche notes that the lithographs were inspired by an 1827 English production of Hamlet in Paris, with Harriet Smithson in the part of Ophelia. (Hector Berlioz saw the same production and “fell instantly in love with Smithson and later married her.”)

I’m partial to the “The Death of Ophelia” (above), though Elaine Showalter has argued that the image, like Ophelia herself, embodies the reductionistic Elizabethan view of women’s madness.

Hysteria, says Showalter, was seen as the very product of the woman’s body — and treated, in contrast to male insanity, as emotional rather than intellectual in nature.


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