Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Play-Within-A-Play

Hamlet, Treize Sujets Dessinés par Eug. Delacroix [Hamlet, Thirteen Subjects Drawn by Eug. Delacroix], Gihaut Frères, Paris, 1843
Eugène Delacroix (French, Charenton-Saint-Maurice 1798–1863 Paris)
Villain (French, active 1822–53)
William Shakespeare (British, Stratford-upon-Avon 1564–1616 Stratford-upon-Avon)
Lithograph; second state of three
Sheet: 13 5/8 x 10 7/8 in. (34.6 x 27.6 cm) Image: 9 3/4 x 12 11/16 in. (24.8 x 32.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1922
Accession Number:
Not on view
In 1834 Delacroix began a series of lithographs devoted to Hamlet, creating moody images that mirror the troubled psyche of the prince. Choosing key scenes and poetic passages, the artist's highly personal and dramatic images were unusual in France, where interest in Shakespeare developed only in the nineteenth century. Here we see the famous episode in act 3, scene 2, where Hamlet arranges for visiting players to perform a drama about fratricide, in order to prick his uncle's conscience. During the performance, the prince remarks offhandedly, "Tis a knavish piece of work, but what of that? touches us not...He poisons him...for his estate." Tones that range from deepest blacks to pale grays subtly underscore the king's guilty discomfort. Gihaut frères published the artist's thirteen-print set in 1843, with a second expanded edition of sixteen issued by Bertauts in 1864. Cooly received at first, the prints eventually were recognized as one of the artist's most significant achievements.
Hamlet fait jouet aux comédiens la scène de l'empoisonnement de son père

Signature: in stone bottom right: "Eug. Delacroix 1835"

Inscription: in stone, bottom right: "Lith. de Villain"; in stone, bottom center: "C'est une intrigue scélérate, mais qu'importe? Votre Majesté et nous avons la conscience libre, cela ne nous touche en rien ... vous voyez : il l'empoisonne dans le jardin pour s'emparer de son / royaume ... l'histoire est réelle, écrite en bel italien." [... 'tis a knavish piece of work: but what o' / that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it / touches us not ... He poisons him i' the garden for's estate... the story is extant, and writ in / choice Italian...]
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," September 11, 2000–December 4, 2000.

Delteil 109 ii/iii; Delteil/Strauber 109 ii/iii
Adolphe Moreau Eugène Delacroix et son oeuvre. Librairie des Bibliophiles, Paris, 1873, cat. no. 82.

Alfred-Ernest Robaut L'Oeuvre complet d'Eugène Delacroix: Peintures, Dessins, Gravures, Lithographies. Paris, 1885, cat. no. 583.

Loys Delteil "Le Peintre-Graveur Illustré: Ingres & Delacroix". Vol. III, Paris, 1908, cat. no. 109 ii, np.

Jacob Bean, Lee Johnson, William M. Griswold Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863): Paintings, Drawings, and Prints from North American Collections. Ex. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1991.

Loys Delteil, Susan Elizabeth Strauber Delacroix: The Graphic Work : A Catalogue Raisonné. San Francisco, 1997, cat. no. 109 ii, p. 268-269.

Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel Die Shakespeare-Illustration (1594–2000). 3 vols., Wiesbaden and Mainz, 2003, vol. III, pp. 893, 1193, no. 2379, ill.

Maria Grazia Messina "Shakespeare and Romantic Painting in Europe" in Shakespeare in Art, published on the occasion of the exhibition, Dulwich Picture Gallery. Jane Martineau, 2003, pp. 174-179 (opinions of Shakespeare in France, stage productions and paintings made in response by Delacroix and Chasseriau).

Peter Whitfield Illustrating Shakespeare. British Library, London, 2013, pp. 65-66.

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