Hamlet and Horatio in the Cemetery 1859 painting

This picture titled Hamlet and Horatio in the Cemetery 1859 (pretty creative, right?)  was painted by Eugene Delacroix in 1859. It is an oil on canvas painting and is held at Musee de Louvre in Paris, France.

The painting represents the passage when Hamlet picks up random skulls and contemplates their former life on earth.

Hamlet, V.i.70-103 :

Throws up a skull

HAMLET     

That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once:
how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were
Cain’s jaw-bone, that did the first murder! It
might be the pate of a politician, which this ass
now o’er-reaches; one that would circumvent God,
might it not?

HORATIO     

It might, my lord.

HAMLET      

Or of a courtier; which could say ‘Good morrow,
sweet lord! How dost thou, good lord?’ This might
be my lord such-a-one, that praised my lord
such-a-one’s horse, when he meant to beg it; might it not?

HORATIO     

Ay, my lord.

HAMLET      

Why, e’en so: and now my Lady Worm’s; chapless, and
knocked about the mazzard with a sexton’s spade:
here’s fine revolution, an we had the trick to
see’t. Did these bones cost no more the breeding,
but to play at loggats with ’em? mine ache to think on’t.

First Clown   

[Sings]
A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade,
For and a shrouding sheet:
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.

Throws up another skull

HAMLET      

There’s another: why may not that be the skull of a
lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets,
his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? why does he
suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the
sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of
his action of battery? Hum! This fellow might be
in’s time a great buyer of land, with his statutes,
his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers,
his recoveries: is this the fine of his fines, and
the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine
pate full of fine dirt? will his vouchers vouch him
no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than
the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The
very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in
this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?

First of all, I like the attention to detail and the mixture of colors used to portray the mood the painting represents. In the background it is easy to identify Ophelia’s coffin, the castle, and the other gravedigger which enriches the setting. When picturing this scene, this is a close representation of what appeared in my mind; Hamlet and Horatio strolling, the gravedigger casually listening to their conversation. The only difference would be the supply of skulls which, in the written version, had me believe there was an endless amount spread randomly on the ground. In addition, Hamlet has a questionable, pitied look on his face which seems accurately demonstrated given the tone in his speeches and the number of question marks used. Even though the features on their face are not closely detailed, there is enough detail to confidently say this is not a particularly “happy” moment in the play.

I think what drove me to pick this picture along with the placement of the characters is the colors. I really like how the colors are arranged to fix the mood accurately. I also appreciate the fact that Delacroix put a little of everything from this scene in to make it easier to understand what is happening; other pictures I saw conveyed what I thought was the wrong expression on Hamlet’s face, not the right positions of the characters or not much background detail. I like that Delacroix hit the spot for each of these factors.

 

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