Shakespeare and Art

A Bloody Good Combination

This semester I’m taking a Shakespeare class, and I’m not going to lie, I was extremely intimidated to try and approach his work. Sure, everyone knows he’s the most influential figure in the history of literature, but has anyone actually read one of his works without the NoFearShakespeare translation pulled up next to it? I do beseech thee to try it, it’s not easy.

However, reading Richard III had me wondering… what kind of visual art has been produced that is inspired by his work? This week, I thought it would be interesting to investigate this further.

Let’s start with my favorite Shakespeare character (so far).

Richard III

William Hogarth, David Garrett as Richard III, 1745

Painted in 1745, this depiction of Richard III shows him awakening from a frightening dream he had on the night before battle. It is here that we see him just moments after the ghosts of his victims have all appeared in his dream to curse him and wish him ill luck. He is dressed lavishly in the royal garb of the 15th century, however Hogarth’s depiction of Richard does not necessarily match Shakespeare’s intention. Richard III was portrayed as a hunchbacked “toad” in the play, a deliberate quality of his that is supposed to add to his persona of evil incarnate. Also, I think it is interesting to mention that this is a painting of the actor David Garrett, a famous thespian of his day. Imagine a classical painting of Brad Pitt dressed as Richard III… doesn’t necessarily match Shakespeare’s description.


Rodolfo Amoedo, Desdemona, 1892

Desdemona, the late wife of Othello, is depicted here moments after her smothering in Othello. There is a heavy use of soft light in the painting, most likely representative of Desdemona’s innocent and loving nature. We see traces of the violence through the ruffled bedspread, the scattered objects on the floor and her open blouse. Desdemona is also one of the few Shakespeare characters that is entirely innocent, acting virtuously on every occasion during the play. The deep reds used throughout the painting seem to be representative of her love and passion for Othello, albeit cut short by his deeply flawed character.


Edward Austin Abbey, Cordelia’s Goodbye, 1897-1898

One of the Bard’s most artistically inspiring plays (historically), King Lear is certainly wrought with contentious drama… it’s so thick you could almost wipe it with your finger. Here we see a captured moment of the opening scene (which is climactic in itself) where Cordelia has been disgraced and disowned by her father, King Lear, whose back is to Cordelia on the right. Her two wretched sisters, Goneril and Regan, look on with condescension in their expressions as the King of France kisses her arm. It seems obvious enough who is good and who is evil here, as Cordelia and Lear are the only two wearing white, with Cordelia’s outfit lit up like a Christmas tree in comparison to the outfits of the others. Lear also shares a similar look, which signifies his eventual awakening and redemption as a good man and a loving father.

Featured image is The Chandos Portrait
of William Shakespeare
by (presumably) John Taylor c. 1600s.

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