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Ophelia, from the Shakespeare Characters, First Series

18th century
57 cm x 41.8 cm (22 7/16 in. x 16 7/16 in.)

John Hamilton Mortimer (Eastbourne, (East Sussex), 1741 - 1779, London) Primary

Object Type: print
Artist Nationality: Europe, English
Medium and Support: Etching
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of M.K. Hage, Jr. and the Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1996
Accession Number: 1996.281

Ophelia, the rejected lover of Hamlet in Shakespeare's tragedy, is a symbol of innocence gone mad. In the play, Ophelia's father manipulates her into spying on Hamlet. Once she is discovered, Hamlet feigns madness with her and treats her cruelly. Having lost Hamlet's affection and her father whom Hamlet killed, Ophelia goes mad and soon dies. It is uncertain whether her death by drowning was accidental or suicide. The scene of her madness (act IV, scene 5) is one of the best known in Western literature.

Mortimer, one of the leading English artists of the eighteenth century, was known for bringing the Italian Baroque aesthetic sensibility in etching to England. He etched some of the most ambitious and dramatic plates of the period in the vigorous style of his pen drawings. The Shakespeare Characters was his best known series. Ophelia is one of eight from its first part.

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