Costume worn by David Suchet as Shylock
The Merchant of Venice, 1981
Directed by John Barton
Designed by Christopher Morley
'Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?... If you prick us do we not bleed?'
The Merchant of Venice is a play about prejudice, love, loss and gain.
In his production John Barton wanted to suggest a Venice where women and Jews were oppressed. Shylock is a traditional and opulently dressed, cigar smoking, businessman on stage. He is seen confidently moving through the crowds of Christians - sure of his superiority.
David Suchet won an Olivier award for his performance.
Costume worn by Gary Waldhorn as The King of France
All’s Well That Ends Well, 2003
Directed by Gregory Doran
Designed by Deirdre Clancy
Shakespeare can be set in a variety of places and times. Although Shakespeare’s plays were written in Elizabethan England some directors decide not to set their play in this time period. In fact it is more likely that one of our directors sets their play outside of Elizabethan England and designs the play to reflect more modern times.
This version of the play, however, stayed true to the time in which the play was written. Doublets and breeches were the typical choice for men in the 1500s.
The black and gold in this exquisite costume accents the character’s royal status.
Costume worn by Lisa Dillon as Desdemona
Directed by Gregory Doran
Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis
This production created a predominantly male, militaristic society in which women were either romanticised or treated as whores.
In her role as Desdemona, Lisa Dillon portrayed a fragile, loyal and loving woman who wanders into the world like a rose waiting to be crushed.
Stephen Brimson Lewis reflects these traits in Desdemona’s costume which is light, flowing and beautifully printed with bright flowers.
A Sculptor’s Workshop, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1617
Painted in 1857 by Henry Wallis (1830-1916)
This painting shows an imaginary scene of the sculptor Gerard Johnson working on a bust of Shakespeare. Through the window is a view of the River Avon and Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried, and where the bust is to be placed. In the picture the playwright Ben Johnson offers the sculptor Shakespeare’s death mask as a guide.
King John, Act IV, Scene 1, Hubert and Arthur
Painted in 1789 by James Northcote (1746-1831)
This painting was one of nine works by the artist created for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, London. John Boydell commissioned the leading artists of the day to paint scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. The Gallery opened in 1789 and had approximately 170 paintings. James Northcote was a largely self-taught artist who became an assistant to Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Macbeth, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters
Painted around 1783 by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)
This painting depicts the moment Macbeth encounters the three Weird Sisters who foretell his fate. At the time this was painted, these characters would have been played on stage by male actors. The Swiss artist Henry Fuseli developed a highly theatrical style with dramatic contrasts of light and shade and exaggerated features – a style which made him famous.
The Tempest, Act I, Scene 1, the Shipwreck
Painted in 1793 by Philip James de Loutherberg (1740-1812)
This painting shows a scene described at the beginning of The Tempest. Ariel has conjured up a storm on the orders of Prospero and the shipwrecked Ferdinand swims ashore. The artist Philip de Loutherbourg was commissioned by the actor David Garrick to design scenery and costumes for the Drury Lane Theatre in London.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act V, Scene 5, Falstaff Disguised as Herne with Mrs Ford and Mrs Page
Painted by Robert Smirke (1752-1845)
Shakespeare’s comedies have been as rich a source of inspiration for artists as his tragedies. The Merry Wives of Windsor was a particularly popular choice of subject and this is one of four paintings by Robert Smirke in our collection that show scenes from this play. Robert Smirke was an English painter and illustrator who specialised in small paintings showing subjects taken from literature.
Peggy Ashcroft as Juliet, London, 1935
Painted around 1935 by Ethel Leontine Gabain (1883-1950)
This paintings shows actress Peggy Ashcroft as Juliet in a London production of Romeo and Juliet. She had been cast in this role by the actor John Gielgud. Ethel Gabain trained as a printmaker and turned to oil painting when the print market collapsed in the late 1920’s. It was through her actor son, Peter, that she gained commissions to paint some of the leading female actors of the period, including Flora Robson and Edith Evans.
Priscilla Horton as Ariel
Painted by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870)
Priscalla Horton was a well-known actress and singer. In 1838 she played Ariel in The Tempest at the Covent Garden Theatre. This production, under the management of the actor William Charles Macready, is significant for being the first production since the seventeenth century to use Shakespeare’s original text from the First Folio.
Sir Michael Redgrave as Hamlet, Stratford
Painted in 1958 by Bryan Kneale (b.1930)
Michael Redgrave, pictured here as Hamlet, was fifty when he played the role in this production directed by Glen Byam Shaw. His performance gave a maturity to the character, whose age according to the play text is supposed to be thirty by the close of the play. The artist Bryan Kneale began his career as a painter before turning to sculpture, becoming the first abstract sculptor to be elected to the Royal Academy.
The Actor (David Warner)
Painted in 1964 by Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton (1904-1980)
This painting of actor David Warner was based on a photograph of him taken by Cecil Beaton. At the time Warner was playing Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Warner was aged 24 when he was chosen for the role. The decision to cast him was thought unusual because Hamlet was almost always played by older and more experienced actors. The director, Peter Hall, explained his choice by saying 'I believe that Hamlet is trembling on the point of full maturity'.
The Flower Portrait of William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Painted around 1820-1840 by an unknown artist
The Flower Portrait was once considered to be an original portrait of Shakespeare. We now think that it is based upon an engraving by Martin Droeshout which appeared as the frontispiece in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. Analysis of the paint suggests that it was painted in the nineteenth century over an earlier fifteenth century painting of a Madonna and Child.
The Trial of Queen Katherine, Henry VIII, Act II, Scene 4
Painted in 1831 by Henry Andrews (1794-1868)
The painting shows the actor Charles Kemble as Henry VIII and his daughter Fanny Kemble as Queen Katharine. Cardinal Wolsey was played by Charles Young. It is believed to have been painted during Kemble's management of Covent Garden, on 21st October 1831. The painting is unusual in that it shows the interior of the theatre and the relationship between actors and audience.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
2011 by Tom Hunter (b. 1965)
This image is part of a series of nine photographs we commissioned in 2011. Tom Hunter chose to respond to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and has set the play in the area of Hackney, East London, where he lives. The characters in the photographs are local people and include samba dancers and a band. Many of the scenes, including this one, are set in a Hackney social club.
Costume worn by Harriet Walter as Helena
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1981
Directed by Ron Daniels
Designed by Maria Bjornson
A Midsummer Night's Dream is probably Shakespeare's best known and most fantastical comedy. It is set in an enchanted forest and the characters include humans and fairies. This costume helps represent the formal and constrained world of the court in contrast to the magical and free world of the fairies. Costume design often accentuates aspects of a character or the mood of the play.
Design for costume worn by Peggy Ashcroft as Rosalind
As You Like It, 1957
Directed by Glen Byam Shaw
Designed by Motley
For the majority of As You Like It, Rosalind is disguised as a man. For the final wedding costume, however, she is dressed as a woman. Designer Motley creates a very feminine dress to draw contrast with Rosalind's male clothes. The pastel peach colour and light silky materials perfectly evoke the rural spring-like feelings of this pastoral comedy.