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THE GREATEST PLAYWRIGHT in the world had a hand in the arts other than stagecraft. Here are works inspired by William Shakespeare, ranging from those of his fellow Elizabethans to artists, musicians, and scholars of our own time. This subject is rich enough to tell in two parts, today and tomorrow.

William Shakespeare, 1564–1616, English poet, playwright, and actor. Engraving by Martin Droehout the Younger, 1601–after 1639, cited in The Annotated Shakespeare as the only authentic likeness of Shakespeare.

Before Shakespeare’s time, the art of portraiture, religious, and mythological subjects predominated. There were exceptions, however.

Mummers and Dancers, from an illuminated manuscript of Jehan de Grise, Romance of Alexander in French Verse…, 1338–1344. Image from National Endowment for the Humanities.

Shakespeare characters appeared in posters and other material illustrating his works in his own era.

Falstaff and other characters featured in The Wits, a 17th-century collection of comic play scenes. Image from

A reproduction of an early 17th-century engraving from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is listed at an unexpected source, albeit currently out of stock.

The Courtship of Titania and Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, early 17th-century engraving, rolled canvas art, 24 in. x 36 in. Image from

Cartoon styles continued to be popular a century after Shakespeare’s time. This next example shows Macbeth and the three witches, two telling him he shall be king, the third suggesting a noose instead.

Etching from Macbeth, Anonymous, c. 18 century. This and the following image from

Famous artists contributed Shakespearean art as well. William Blake, 1757–1827, was an important poet (“Tyger, Tyger burning bright…”) and painter of the Romantic Age. This illustration for Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act 4, Scene 1, displays Blake’s mystical side.

“As if an angel dropped down from the clouds,” illustration of Henry IV, Part 1, by William Blake, 1809.

Eugène Delacroix, 1798–1863, was a French Romantic artist perhaps best known for his Liberty Leading the People commemorating France’s July Revolution of 1830. He also portrayed Shakespeare scenes in lithograph, including this one from Hamlet.

Hamlet tries to follow his father’s ghost, Treize Sujets par Eug. Delacroix, 1843. Image from metmuseumorg.

The invention of photography in the 19th century was to offer artists a new medium in which to explore Shakespearean influences. And then came the 20th-century, with everything from cubism to CD recordings. These aspects appear tomorrow in Part 2.

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays, 2018

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