Who knew that what the world really needed was a nightmarish empty-eyed Anglo-Saxon/Medieval blend production of Hamlet?
Edwin Austin Abbey did, apparently.
Or so The Play Scene in Hamlet, which he painted in 1897, evinces.
It combines a number of Abbey’s interests, as he (the Encyclopædia Britannica writes) “specialized in large literary and historical works encompassing the various period revivals then in fashion: [including] medieval, [and] Shakespearean….”
Its subjects maintain more humanity than do those in Daniel Maclise’s more traditional take, and their reactions speak more tellingly.
But that isn’t the only difference in Abbey’s scene.
We, dear reader, seem to be the play.
Claudius stares us down (evenly, stoically—but certainly tensely). Gertrude shrinks away from him as much as from the players. Polonius stares proudly in…entirely the wrong direction? Well, never mind him.
Ophelia seems a little glazed. But I’d be distracted by Hamlet’s carryings-on, too. Sitting on a heap of wolf furs, he seems less interested now in the lap he so insisted upon claiming than his uncle—a gaze shared by Horatio, who stands guard-like at the side with one hand on the hilt of his sword, to see how Claudius responds to this enactment of his guilt.
Meanwhile, one of the gravediggers has crashed the party, crouching beside the usurping king.
Everyone else peers out at us with flat affects and black eyes.
Including, disconcertingly, a child with a hunting horn.
I’ve always liked this weird, weird painting.
Especially Hamlet’s purple tights. Purple tights are awesome.