Richard Dadd. The Closet Scene from "Hamlet" (1840).

Oil on canvas, approximately 40 x 34.5 inches. Private collection of Paul Mellon.

Dadd's early work, of which this painting is an example, was, David Greysmith says, "conventional enough, even dull" (75). Patricia Allderidge concurs: "it does not show any outstanding merits within its genre" (102). The painting depicts Charles and Ellen Kean as Hamlet and Gertrude, and it was accompanied at its first exhibition with these lines from Act III, scene iv, when the ghost says to Hamlet,

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.

Allderidge says that the ghost has unfortunately at some time been removed from the painting; we therefore cannot see "Dadd's idea of a haunting presence" in 1840, three years before his "delusions on the subject are known to have begun" (102). The ghost of Hamlet's father must have indeed been effective in the painting, judging from Hamlet's wide-eyed expression, his raised left hand, and his falling backwards. He looks, in fact, with his raised right leg, as if he is about to tumble from the bench he shares with his mother, who wrings her hands and looks in dismay at her son, not sensing the presence of the ghost that confronts him.