"Now my lot in the Heavens is this;
Milton lovd me in childhood
& shewd me his face.
Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet,
but Shakespeare in riper years
gave me his hand."
William Blake to John Flaxman
(September 12, 1800)
When just seventeen, Blake engraved this design by Stothard for William Enfield's "The Speaker". Kneeling in the foreground, the Duke of Clarence looks over his shoulder
at an accusing spirit chillingly described in Shakespeare's Richard III:
"Then came wandering by,
A shadow like an Angel, with bright hair Dabbled in blood, and he shriek'd aloud:
"Clarence is come, false, fleeting perjur'd Clarence, That stabb'd me in the field by Tewkesbury, Seize on him, furies, take him to your torments !"
William Blake - "Clarence's Dream", 1774
(Shakespeare, Richard III, Act 1, Scene 4)
Although less extensive and well known than his illustrations of John Milton's poems, Blake's water colors based on Shakespeare's plays constitute a significant group of designs. The earliest, dating from c. 1779, is probably one of Blake's illustrations of English history
but nonetheless evokes Shakespeare's King Lear.
William Blake - Lear Grasping a Sword, 1780
From William Shakespeare's King Lear
William Blake - Othello and Desdemona, 1780
(From William Shakespeare's Othello)
William Blake - Juliet asleep, ca 1780
(From Shakespeare's Roemeo and Juliet)
At the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, fairy King Oberon and Queen Titania make friends again, and Moth, Peaseblossom, Cobweb and Mustardseed dance in a ring,
while Puck claps the beat.
William Blake - Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, 1786
From William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
Blake was inspired by lines from Macbeth (act 1, scene 7) in which the title character
imagines the aftermath of his intended murder of Duncan, the king:
"And Pitty, like a naked New-borne-Babe,
Striding the blast, or Heavens Cherubin, hors’d
Upon the sightless Curriors of the Ayre,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That teares shall drowne the winde."
William Blake - "Pity", 1795
Brutus reading by candlelight, looking up at the ghost
standing before him at right and pointing away.
William Blake - "Brutus and Caesar's Ghost", 1806
From William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
This painting depicts Act I Scene 5, when Hamlet encounter his dead father as a ghost.
His father explains to him that he was not able to cross over to Heaven because of
foul play in his death. He tells his son that his brother Claudius (Hamlet's uncle)
was to blame for his death. The Ghost tells Hamlet that he must get
revenge on his uncle, but not on his mother for marrying him.
"I am thy father’s spirit, Doomed for a certain term to walk the night And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part And each particular hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fearful porpentine.
But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list ! If thou didst ever thy dear father love."
William Blake - Hamlet and his Father's Ghost, 1806
(From William Shakespeare's Hamlet)
Blake's picture titled Queen Katharine's Dream is an illustration to lines
from William Shakespeare's play Henry VIII.
As Katharine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry, lies on her deathbed she
reports a dream which she had of the glorious world which awaited her.
No ? Saw you not, even now, a blessed troop
Invite me to a banquet; whose bright faces
Cast thousand beams upon me, like the sun?
They promised me eternal happiness;
And brought me garlands, Griffith, which I feel
I am not worthy yet to wear: I shall, assuredly.
I am most joyful, madam, such good dreams
Possess your fancy."
William Blake - "Queen Katherine's Dream", 1825
llustration to 'Henry VIII'