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Shakespeare Studies: Shakesperean Images

A guide for students and professors interested in the study of Shakespeare's life and works

Art and Shakespeare

William Shakespeare has left his legacy, not only on the stage and in print, but also within the art world.  Before the advent of photography, depictions of Shakespeare's plays were created in ink and oil.  Artistic renditions of Shakespeare's plays can serve as inspiration for costume and stage design as well as thesis ideas for a research paper.  This page will help you to find images of Shakespeare's works (and of the man himself) in a variety of mediums. 

Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive

The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive is a PhD project created by Michael John GoodmanIt contains over 3000 illustrations from four of the most significant illustrated editions of Shakespeare's works in the Victorian period. All images have been tagged bibliographically and iconographically and there are numerous pathways through the archive. 

Theatrical Images - Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York is pleased to announce that over 15,000 images of theatrical production are now freely accessible online through the Museum’s Collections Portal (http://collections.mcny.org).

Thanks to generous support from the Institute of the Museum of Library Services, the Museum is currently engaged in a project to digitize and make available 30,000 photographs documenting over 5,000 Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

The Folger Digital Image Collection offers access to tens of thousands of high resolution images from the Folger Shakespeare Library, including books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, and art. Users can show multiple images side-by-side, zoom in and out, view cataloging information when available, export thumbnails, and construct persistent URLs linking back to items or searches. 

Furness Image Collection

The Furness Image Collection comprises more than 2,000 prints and photographs. The majority date from the nineteenth century, but the Collection also holds earlier and later images. These images illustrate and interpret Shakespeare's works and also document theatrical performers and performances of Shakespeare and other dramatists.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Flickr Photostream

Harvard Theatre Collection

Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as you may not have imagined it before

Henry Fuseli 1741-1825
Titania and Bottom circa 1790

Oil on canvas, 2172 x 2756 mm
Presented by Miss Julia Carrick Moore in accordance with the wishes of her sister 1887.
Fuseli first read Shakespeare's plays as a student in Zürich. This painting illustrates the scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream in which the Fairy Queen Titania is punished for her pride by her husband Oberon. He casts a spell which makes her fall in love with Bottom, whose head has been magically replaced by that of an ass. Here Titania orders her fairies to serve his every whim. Shakespeare's enchanted realm held a special appeal for Fuseli, allowing him to explore the supernatural world. This painting was commissioned by the publisher John Boydell as part of his 'Shakespeare Gallery'. This work is currently on display at the Tate Britain.

Lady Macbeth striking a pose

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth  1889
John Singer Sargent  1856-1925
Oil on canvas
support: 2210 x 1143 mm frame: 2500 x 1434 x 105 mm
Presented by Sir Joseph Duveen 1906.
The famous actress, Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928), is shown here in the role of Lady Macbeth. At the first performance in 1888, Sargent was struck by Terry's appearance and persuaded her to sit for a portrait. Terry's costume for the role was sewn over with real green beetle wings! The artist invented her dramatic pose, which did not occur in the production. Oscar Wilde, who saw Terry's arrival at Sargent's Chelsea studio, remarked, 'The street that on a wet and dreary morning has vouchsafed the vision of Lady Macbeth in full regalia magnificently seated in a four-wheeler can never again be as other streets: it must always be full of wonderful possibilities.'  This work is currently on display at the Tate Britain.

Images via Databases

Don't forget that many of the theatre companies, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Globe Theatre to name but two, also have a photo archives on their websites.  If you are looking for images from a particular play or performance, check the website for the theatre company too!  Visit the "Shakespeare in Performance" tab for a listing of many national and international Shakespeare companies.

Shakespeare in Art

What Jane Saw

A great example of Digital Humanities at work, the website “What Jane Saw” digitally re-creates a retrospective exhibit of works by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) visited by Jane Austen in 1813. In addition to an interesting visual interface, the site includes a catalog of works in the exhibit, as well as a floor plan, a video recreation using SketchUp,  and a bibliography.

As the site’s authors explain, “No visual record of this show is known to have survived, although it attracted hundreds of daily visitors during its much-publicized three-month run. However, many details of the exhibit can be reconstructed from the original 1813 “Catalogue of Pictures,” a one-shilling pamphlet purchased by visitors as a guide through the three large rooms where hung 141 paintings by Reynolds. Armed with surviving copies of this pamphlet, narrative accounts in nineteenth-century newspapers and books, and precise architectural measurements of the British Institution’s exhibit space, this website reconstructs the Reynolds show as Jane Austen (as well as any Jane Doe) saw it.”