Hamlet and Ophelia

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1854, 1858


◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 96

◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 36-38

◦ Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 148-150

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 61 (no. 108).

The Pre–Raphaelites [Tate 1984], 275-276.

Scholarly Commentary


“Highly finished drawing . . . illustrating the incident in Act III, Sc. i, of Shakespeare's play where Ophelia, here seated in a small oratory, is in the act of returning to Hamlet the letters and presents he has given her” (Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 61 (no. 108)). See also the related but differently composed early drawing on the same subject, as well as the 1866 watercolour.

Production History

DGR was working on this picture in mid-1854. He described it as “deeply symbolic and far-sighted” in one letter to Allingham, and in another, slightly later, he wrote that it was meant to “embody & symbolize the play without obtrusiveness or interference with the subject as a subject” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 54. 57, 54. 63 ).

The drawing seems to have been intended, at least originally, as one of DGR's contributions to the ill-fated Folio Sketching Club that he, Millais, and some others of their circle proposed in inaugurate in February 1854. The scheme did not come to fruition, however (for the fullest description of this Folio project see Fredeman's note to DGR's letter to William Bell Scott of 24 February 1854 ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 54. 15n ).


“On the stalls are carvings symbolic of Hamlet's self-destruction—the Tree of Knowledge with the inscription ‘ERITUS SICUT DEUS SCIENTES BONUM ET MALUM’ and, on the misericord below, ‘UZZAUS’, the man who touched the Ark of the Covenant and died. On the seat arms are carvings of self-devouring snakes. . . . The intricately involved architecture in the background relates to Hamlet's state of mind. He is racked by doubt and mistrust and his pose echoes that of Christ on the crucifix in the locker beside him” ( Grieve, The Pre–Raphaelites , Tate 1984, 276 ).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s108.raw.xml