In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the character Prospero boldly proclaims, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded in a sleep.” Truly, the Bard’s works often are tales tinged with the fantastic and the phantasmal. In light of this, it seems only fitting that an exhibit celebrating the life and achievements of England’s national poet gives a gracious nod to his affinity for the supernatural.
The Art Institiute of Chcago (111 S. Michigan Ave.) is showcasing a Supernatural Shakespeare exhibit to pay homage to the meddling witches, conniving fairies and other eerie elements that appear in Shakespeare’s writing. The exhibit includes three compelling atmospheric engravings depicting scenes from the playwright’s most famous works. The Art Institute of Chicago set up the exhibit in Apirl, as part of the city’s Shakespeare 400 Festival that marks the 400th anniversary of the writer’s death, but it ends Oct. 10.
It also features imitations of several paintings by Gothic artist Henry Fuseli. Created by various artists during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the works act as a testament to Shakespeare’s remarkable artistic ability to combine the supernatural with dramatic storytelling.
In James Caldwall’s engravings titled “The Witches Appear to Macbeth and Banquo” (1798), Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is commemorated through a spooky illustration of Macbeth, a Scottish general and his encounter with a mischievous trio of witches. Perhaps Caldwall’s dramatic contrast between light and dark reminds viewers of the guilt and paranoia that eventually overcomes Macbeth. This particular piece clearly commemorates the play’s paranormal elements.
In his engraving, “Titania and Bottom with the A–’s head,” Jean Pierre Simon creates a piece similar to English Engraver Henri Museli’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1796). Simon’s piece depicts the love between the faerie queen Titania and her human lover, Bottom. In choosing to work with one of Shakespeare’s most widely read plays, the Frenchman takes care to not only lay out the story’s plot, but also to make the individuals in his work appear as capricious as the fairy Puck, who seeks to shake up and smooth out the course of true love with magic. Like the story itself, Simon’s engraving is enchanting and provides viewers a closer look at the fantastic side of the Bard’s famous play.
While both Caldwall and Simon convey the supernatural in Shakespeare’s plays, Moses Haughton II incorporates the paranormal in his portrait of the playwright as a infant in “The Nursery of Shakespeare” (1810). In the company of personified comedy and tragedy, the young writer appears to be born with his immense talent standing right before him, begging to be shared with the rest of the world. This sentiment is seemingly conveyed through Haughton II’s work, as he also incorporates light and dark contrasts to evoke an eerie feeling within the piece.
When viewed as a token of the three artists’ appreciation for the spooky sides of Shakespeare’s works, the pieces on display at the Art Institute show just how strongly the Bard’s wisdom has endured over the centuries.
Plan to check out these spectacular pieces at the Art Institute of Chicago before the showcase ends on Oct. 10. Tickets can be purchased online at www.artic.edu or at the museum itself. Loyola students get in for free, but general admission tickets start at $14 and include access to the Supernatural Shakespeare exhibit.