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William Shakespeare

(1564-1616)

Shakespeare, William (1564-1616), great English dramatist, man of theatre, and poet.
Hamlet is a tragedy, written in 1599-1601. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, on learning about the death of his father, the King, returned from the university and found that his father's brother, Claudius, had married his widowed mother, Queen Gertrude, and became the king. The ghost of his father came to Hamlet and told that Claudius had murdered him in sleep by pouring poison in his ear, it asked to avenge. Hamlet started to act, he simulated madness and had to repudiate his beloved Ophelia, daughter of a courtier Polonius. While Polonius was spying on Hamlet in his mother's chamber, Hamlet, thinking that there was Claudius, killed him. Ophelia went crazy and drowned herself. Ophelia's brother Laertes gave an oath to avenge his father and sister. Claudius organized their duel, but being interested in Hamlet's death, he gave Laertes a poisoned foil and prepared for Hamlet, just in case, a cup with poisonous wine. An exchange of weapons during the duel resulted in the deaths of both combatants, but not before Gertrude had drunk a cup with poisoned wine and died and mortally wounded Hamlet killed Claudius.
See: Eugène Delacroix The Death of Ophelia, The Death of Ophelia. Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard. Hamlet: ‘Alas, poor Yorick!- I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of most infinite jest…’ (act V, scene I).
Sir John Everett Millais Ophelia.
Mikhail Vrubel. Hamlet and Ophelia, Hamlet and Ophelia.

Measure for Measure is a tragi-comedy, written probably in 1604. The Duke of Vienna started on a journey and left the power to his deputy Angelo, who enforced strict laws against sexual liberty and immediately sentenced to death Claudio, a young gentleman, for breaking the law. Claudio's sister Isabella, novice to a convent, came to Angelo to plead for brother's life. Angelo agreed to spare Claudio's life if she agreed to be his mistress, but Isabella refused. The duke, who had not left the city, but watched Angelo's ruling in disguise, devised a way to save Claudio's life. In accordance with his plan Isabella agreed for a night date with Angelo, but her place took Mariana, who was betrothed to Angelo and loved him. The date took place, still Angelo proceed with Claudio's execution. The duke simulated his return to Vienna and saved the situation - forgave Claudio, made hypocritical Angelo admit his fault and marry Mariana, and himself proposed to Isabella.
See: William Holman Hunt Claudio and Isabella.
The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1853, with the following quotation from Measure for Measure
by Shakespeare:
Claudio: Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
                      ‘Tis too horrible!
              The weariest and most loathed worldly life,
              That age, penury, and imprisonment
              Can lay on nature is a paradise
              To what we fear of Death.                                   (Act III, Scene I)

The subject of Mariana by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is taken from the opening of Act IV of Measure for Measure. Mariana, suffering from rejection by her lover, Angelo, is engrossed by the boy’s song ‘Take, O take, those lips away’, which Rossetti inscribed on the frame. Model was Jane Morris.

Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy, written probably around 1595. Athenian Eugeus wanted his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius. But she loved Lysander. Demetrius, in his turn, loved another girl, Helena. Eugeus  asked the Duke of Athens Theseus to use the law against his daughter, according to which the children must obey their parents under penalty of death. Hermia and Lysander decided to run away, the same decision took Demetrius and Helena. All four at night found their way to the forest near Athens. The forest was a favourite place of fairies. King and Queen of fairies, Oberton and Titania, quarreled. Oberton ordered his servant, Puck, to bring a certain magic flower, the juice of which put in somebody's eyes, made the latter to fall in love with the first person met. Oberton planned to use it against his wife, Titania; but overhearing as Demetrius was reproaching Helena for following him, he ordered Puck to put some juice into the eyes of Demetrius. Puck mistook Lysander for Demetrius and put some juice into his eyes, as Helena was the first person Lysander saw after the magical procedure, he fall in love with her. Understanding his mistake Puck put some juice in the eyes of Demetrius as well, and now both men deeply in love with Helena start to fight, while Hermia and Helena started to quarrel.
Meanwhile Oberton placed magic juice in the eyes of his wife Titania, and when she woke up the first man she saw was an actor Bottom in a mask of an ass. She immediately fall in love with the him and started to caress the 'amiable cheeks' and 'fair large ears' of the ass. Oberton caught her on the scene and she in her confusion surrendered.
Puck at Oberton orders threw fog on the forest and brought them all together, they all fell asleep and Puck applied magic juice on their eyes so that when they awake they would return to their former loves. Theseus, the duke, and Eugeus, the father, arrived, the runaways forgiven, and the couples married.
See: Sir Edwin Landseer Scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream": Titania and Bottom.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy, written probably around 1592. Two gentlemen of Verona are two friends Valentine and Proteus. The later is in love with a girl Julia. Valentine leaves for Milan where he falls in love with Sylvia, the daughter of the duke. Meanwhile Proteus also travels to Milan and also falls in love with Sylvia, Julia forgotten. And friendship also forgotten: trying to get rid of his rival, Proteus reports to duke about Sylvia and Valentine. Valentine is not duke's idea of the son-in-law, so the young man is banished. He becomes a leader of the outlaws in the neighboring to Milan forests, while Proteus continues to court Sylvia. Julia, tired of waiting for her unfaithful sweetheart, starts for Milan herself in disguise of a boy. In Milan she enters Proteus's service as a page. Sylvia, to escape unwanted marriage with her father's choice, Thurio, runs away and is captured by the outlaws. Proteus rescues her and presses with his advances, but here Valentine appears. Proteus's feelings of remorse is so great, that deeply touched Valentine is ready to give Sylvia to him to much indignation of both girls (Sylvia and Julia). Julia faints and then is recognized by Proteus, who falls in love with her again. The duke arrives on the scene and forgives everyone - his daughter, her suitors, and the outlaws.
See: William Holman Hunt. Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus.

The Tempest is a romantic drama, written around 1611. Prospero, Duke of Milan, was forced out from his throne by his brother Antonio, and put with his baby-daughter Miranda in a boat, which was cast on a lonely island. The island had been the place of the witch Sycorax. By the time Prospero and Miranda cast on its shores, Sycorax had died. Prospero, who had studied magic, released various spirits (including Ariel) formerly imprisoned by the witch, and they now obeyed his orders, he also took in his service the witch's ugly son Caliban. 12 years passed. By the magic art of Prospero a ship with usurpator Antonio, his ally Alonso, King of Naples, his brother Sebastian and his son Ferdinand wrecked on the island. Prospero made it so that the passengers were saved, but scattered, Ferdinand was thought by the rest to be drowned and vice versa. Thanks to Prospero's artful design Miranda and Ferdinand met and fall in love with each other, Antonio repented and returned Prospero the throne, Alonzo re-united with his son Ferdinand, Prospero gave freedom to Ariel, and all the humans returned on magically repaired ship to Italy.
See: Sir John Everett Millais Ferdinand Lured by Ariel.
 

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