Hamlet in the Queen’s Chamber

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This is Hamlet in the Queen’s Chamber, which is oil on canvas and was created by William Salter Herrick in 1857.

This painting resembles the scene at the end of Act 3, when the Ghost appears while Hamlet is visiting Gertrude in her room. Here is the section of the play that describes the image:

Hamlet, III. iv. 102-137

HAMLET

A king of shreds and patches,–

[Enter Ghost]

Save me, and hover o’er me with your wings,

You heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure?

QUEEN GERTRUDE

Alas, he’s mad!

HAMLET

Do you not come your tardy son to chide,

That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by

The important acting of your dread command? O, say!

GHOST

Do not forget: this visitation

Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.

But, look, amazement on thy mother sits:

O, step between her and her fighting soul:

Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works:

Speak to her, Hamlet.

HAMLET

How is it with you, lady?

QUEEN GERTRUDE

Alas, how is’t with you,

That you do bend your eye on vacancy

And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?

Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;

And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm,

Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,

Starts up, and stands on end. O gentle son,

Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper

Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?

HAMLET

On him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares!

His form and cause conjoin’d, preaching to stones,

Would make them capable. Do not look upon me;

Lest with this piteous action you convert

My stern effects: then what I have to do

Will want true colour; tears perchance for blood.

QUEEN GERTRUDE

To whom do you speak this?

HAMLET

Do you see nothing there?

QUEEN GERTRUDE

Nothing at all; yet all that is I see.

HAMLET

Nor did you nothing hear?

QUEEN GERTRUDE

No, nothing but ourselves.

HAMLET

Why, look you there! look, how it steals away!

My father, in his habit as he lived!

Look, where he goes, even now, out at the portal!

[Exit Ghost]

 

This painting seems to be an accurate depiction of this scene, as the artist obviously paid careful attention to details from the entire scene. For example, Polonius lies dead in the back, his body partly concealed by the tapestry that he was hiding behind before Hamlet stabbed him. Also, the Ghost is faintly painted on in a manner that requires one to look hard for the character whose existence is questionable, as only Hamlet can see and communicate with it and Gertrude is completely oblivious to the ghost of her former husband. Furthermore, the details that can be identified of the ghost closely resemble a figure of kingly stature, as the ghost appears to be wearing long robes and a crown. This helps mark the Ghost as the late King Hamlet.

My favorite part of this piece is definitely Gertrude’s expression, which reveals her baffled and horrified state that she is in as she observes Hamlet’s crazed interaction with what he claims is a ghost. The face that she is making is a face that many kids see their parents make often when they are utterly shocked by something their child has done. It is a look that transcends time and probably brings a little bit of amusement to most viewers.

I also find it interesting that there is a crucifix that sits on the table that Gertrude is at. I cannot decide what it symbolizes, but I imagine that it is meant to imply something, because it gold color stands out against the dark background ands it is carefully detailed among some of the more simple structures present in the painting.

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5 thoughts on “Hamlet in the Queen’s Chamber

  1. Stephanie was having trouble posting her comments, so she sent me her comment for this post:

    I think the ambiguity of this painting is what interests me the most. Like you said, the figure of the king is very faint so that the viewer has to look closely before they see him. Also, for me, it’s difficult to tell if the queen’s horrified expression is directed at her son or the ghost, so that makes it even more ambiguous as to whether or not the king’s ghost is actually there or if Hamlet is going mad. The crucifix is an intriguing detail as well, although I can’t tell why it’s there. Maybe it’s for an ironic effect since so many terrible and “un-holy” things are going on? But either way, it’s an interesting touch.

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  2. I really like this painting! If I had done this scene for my post, I would definitely have chosen this painting; it is a perfect representation of what I imagined while reading the play. Every detail is featured and the face expressions are priceless. After many discussions of whether the queen is refusing to see the ghost or actually cannot see it, this painting makes that even less clear and maintains the mystery. Since the ghost is drawn very faint, like you said, it could all be in Hamlet’s head or the queen just isn’t looking hard enough. From this painting, I don’t think the queen is refusing to see the ghost, I think she is keeping her eyes on Hamlet because she doesn’t want to find out if the ghost is there or not. As for the crucifix, it seems ironic with the ghost. I, too, think its there for an ironic effect. It seems the queen is trying to hold onto her sanity by failing to recognize the ghost and the cross is there to emphasize this feeling. If she waits long enough, the ghost will eventually disappear; she is holding onto that possibility. Although she’s not physically holding the cross, it emphasizes the impurity of the scene.

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  3. For some reason, I never came across this painting in my searches for this post, but, as you mention, the details are quite impressive. I didn’t even notice big Hamlet’s ghost at first, and the crucifix is certainly an interesting and kind of baffling inclusion. To me, this painting seems to be screaming Hamlet’s insanity: his facial expression looks somewhat crazed, and his mother is reacting, as you mentioned, to Hamlet rather than the sight of a ghost. Gertrude’s light colored clothing and proximity to the cross further suggest to me that the artists thinks that Gertrude is innocent and sane while Hamlet is something of a lunatic.

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