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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Hamlet Attempts to Kill the King

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; first state of three
Image: 10 3/8 x 7 1/16 in. (26.3 x 17.9 cm) Sheet: 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (29.9 x 21 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, in act 3, scene 3, the prince pulls back from revenging himself upon his uncle. He reasons that since his potential target is at prayer, killing him would send his soul straightl to heaven, whereas his own murdered father was dispatched "unshriven"–without confessing his sins. 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 tente de tuer le roi

Signature: Signed and dated in the stone: "Eug. Delacroix.1843"

Inscription: in stone, bottom: "Lith. de Villain"; in stone bottom center: "A présent je puis le tuer facilement ... mais quoi! le surprendrais-je au milieu de ses prières, au moment oû il purifie son âme! non, non. - Ô conscience plus noire que la mort! âme engluée dans le crime! je ne puis prier!... mes paroles s'adressent là-haut, mes pensées demeurent ici bas." [Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; / And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven...No! No!...And that his soul may be as damn'd and black / As hell, whereto it goes...[King Claudius]: My words fly up, my thoughts remain below...]
Delteil 110 i/iii; Delteil/Strauber 110 i/iii
Adolphe Moreau Eugène Delacroix et son oeuvre. Librairie des Bibliophiles, Paris, 1873, cat. no. 83.

Alfred-Ernest Robaut L'Oeuvre complet d'Eugène Delacroix: Peintures, Dessins, Gravures, Lithographies. Paris, 1885, cat. no. 585.

Loys Delteil "Le Peintre-Graveur Illustré: Ingres & Delacroix". Vol. III, Paris, 1908, cat. no. 110 i, np.

Loys Delteil, Susan Elizabeth Strauber Delacroix: The Graphic Work : A Catalogue Raisonné. San Francisco, 1997, cat. no. 110 i, p. 270.

Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel Die Shakespeare-Illustration (1594–2000). 3 vols., Wiesbaden and Mainz, 2003, vol. III, pp. 899, 1194, no. 2394, 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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