As will be clear from other documents at this site, the Hamlet Art Database exists in more that one form:
(a) the fully-searchable version that sits on my personal computer and that, because of copyright issues relating to the digital images, cannot be made available to other users,
(b) the versions available through MIT’s Shakespeare Electronic Archive, one of which has restricted access, and the other of which (the “Ramparts Project”) offers public access but only to material related to Act 1, scenes 4 and 5.
As noted elsewhere, the full version of the database on my PC was an indispensable tool for the preparation of my planned book on “Hamlet and the Visual Arts, 1709-1900.” It was also of major assistance in the preparation of several essays, two of which have been published, and two of which will be published in 2001. In addition, the current editorial team for the New Variorum Hamlet, led by Bernice Kliman, hopes to create an electronic edition of their work to complement the print version. The electronic version would include an extended essay on “Hamlet and the Visual Arts.” I have already completed a draft of this essay.
During the period that the database was under development, I was assisted at different times by two very able students, who helped with data entry, with background research, and with enquires and correspondence directed to various museums, libraries, art galleries, and private art collectors. Both wrote theses that made use of research they were able to conduct using the Hamlet Art Database. Lindsay Bell wrote an Honours thesis on Harriet Smithson’s Ophelia and the impact of her performance upon French culture, and Paul MacDonald wrote an M.A. thesis on the performances of the Play Scene in Hamlet involving three different nineteenth-century Hamlets: William Charles Macready, Henry Irving, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
Knowing of the database, a number of colleagues have from time to time sent me queries. I now regret that I never kept a record of the various questions that I have received. I recall, however, one person asking for the location of visual records of set designs. Another asked for suggestions for an image suitable for a book jacket. Several questions from students and academics concerned the location of images of Ophelia, while others have involved searches for images of specific actors. Not long ago, Denis Salter (McGill University) asked if I had come across any visual records of Edmund Kean, not as Hamlet, but as Honorary Huron Chieftain Alanienouidet. Two colleagues, both of whom are members of the New Variorum Hamlet team and both of whom have from time to time helped me with my research, have made use of the database for their own work, communicating with me both electronically and by surface mail. Hardin Aasand (Dickinson State University) used the database chiefly for research but incorporated material into his teaching as well. In a recent letter to me, he explained his work:
As one of the co-editors on the New Variorum Hamlet, I asked [you] to assist me in gaining access to images of Ophelia in her final appearance in the play (in Gertrude’s elegy), and [you gave me information concerning] key images from editions and independent illustrations [….] The virtue of the database is the manner in which it made available the important visual records of illustrations and engravings from the play. I can attest to the importance of this database for the role it has played in helping me to produce essays reflective of the images and for the role it will play for the New Variorum Hamlet. The images provided my students with glimpses of Ophelia from a visual, transhistorical perspective, reminding them of the role played by the interpretative act in conceiving characters and their physical presence. The images allowed them to see that Ophelia was an important touchstone for many critics during the 18th and 19th centuries, though textually she is often ignored or relegated to the periphery. [*this passage from Professor Aasand’s letter has been slightly edited]
Another member of the New Variorum team, Nick Clary (St. Michael’s College, Vermont), has also kindly written at my request to record of his use of the database:
Over the past several years, as you well know, I have had occasion to make use of your Hamlet art database. The first extensive use I made of it was in preparation of a paper for your session at the 1995 SAA meeting. The
paper (now an essay with John Manning’s forthcoming collection, The Iconography of Hamlet) is titled “Daniel Maclise’s The Play Scene in Hamlet: Its Intertextual and Intratextual Affinities.” For this paper you supplied information concerning a considerable number of images from the play scene for my analysis. Based on this rich resource, which included paintings, engravings, and book illustrations as well as newspaper images, I was able to draw a number of significant connections between Maclise’s painting and the stage performance of the play by William Charles Macready, enough to intimate a collaborative rapport between these two important exponents of Shakespeare. More recently I have used the art database in connection with research I was conducting on the closet scene in Hamlet: “Pictures in the Closet: Properties and Stage Business in Hamlet 3.4.” In this instance, you furnished information concerning an excellent array of images that permitted me to illustrate the broad range of alternative possibilities there were for representing the two pictures to which Hamlet alludes in this scene. A section of my essay was specifically devoted to pictorial illustrations as a complement to other sections devoted to editorial and scholarly commentary on the text and trace reports of stage performances of this scene. Having used your art database productively in these two projects, I know that there will be many more occasions when I will make use of this valuable resource. [*this passage from Professor Clary’s letter has been slightly edited]
With regard to the MIT’s Shakespeare Electronic Archive and its “Ramparts” Project, it is difficult to know about the activities of users. Neither site has a counter, and no track is kept of who uses the material, what parts of the material are accessed, or how often. Concerning the Art Database sections of these sites, I can supply a certain amount of anecdotal evidence of the value of the sites to both researchers and teachers. Ann Thompson (King’s College, London), who is co-editing Hamlet for the Arden Shakespeare (3rd Series) with Neil Taylor, wrote to tell me that she used the Shakespeare Electronic Archive at the Folger Shakespeare Library in October/November 1999 to search for illustrations for the edition:
This turned out to be very useful, and a great saving of time (both for us and for the Folger staff), compared with calling up illustrations from the vaults one at a time. It also presumably saved wear and tear on delicate items in the collection. We were able to draw up a list of illustrations that were relevant to what we needed, and to judge from the reproductions in the database whether they would work well enough in a small black-and-white format. Of course, it would have been even more useful if we had been able to access the Database from London, but I understand that for copyright reasons this is not likely to be possible.
As examples of items found in the database that may be used in the forthcoming edition, Thompson then referred to two items from the cartoon/caricature tradition:
TLN 630 (1 of 2) caricature of Edwin Booth as Hamlet with the Ghost represented by his (dead) father, Junius Brutus Booth. This will illustrate a discussion about the “anxiety of influence” for actors of Hamlet.
TLN 1710 ( 5 of 9) cartoon of Irving “To Beecham or not to Beecham”: relatively early example of “Hamlet and commercial culture/advertising.”
A teacher who has used the Shakespeare Electronic Archive is Linda McJannet (Bentley College), For her Literature 353 class in Spring, 2000, students were provided with full online access to the Archive and were assigned a series of tasks involving textual issues, video materials, and the art materials. With regard to this last, students were asked to
Pick a likely line, move the cursor there on the text side, and click on Art for visual images related to that line. (“Alas poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio” in Act V.i takes the prize, I think, with 95 related images.) Other lines will have many fewer, but they will convey different perceptions of the moment or the characters. Try Ophelia’s description of the “mad” Hamlet, or images of the Ghost, or the Mousetrap scene (the play within the play), or Gertrude’s account of Ophelia’s drowning, and see what you can find of interest.
Janet Field-Pickering (Folger Education Department), who has worked with Peter Donaldson in providing lesson plans for the “Ramparts” site, explained in a letter to me that she “created an elementary level lesson plan ‘Giving up the Ghost: Ways of Seeing the Ghost in Hamlet’ that directs teachers to have their students explore the images on the database or discuss five specific images in depth.” In the Fall, 2000, she also conducted one two-hour class session with the Folger Library’s High School Fellows (a group of 16 students, ages 17-18) where she directed them to explore the Hamlet on the Ramparts site and they visited the section devoted to art. In addition, she tells me, “I have recommended the site to secondary and elementary school teachers all over the U.S., and I think the art database is an important part of the site’s appeal to teachers and their students.”
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The examples above of the use of the Hamlet Art Database in its various forms are, I hope, a small indication of its value as a research and teaching tool. As is noted in many places in the materials on this web site, the primary problem is finding the means of providing researchers, teachers, and students with access to a complete version of the database, complete with digitized images. Given the financial, technical, and legal issues that are involved in solving this problem, it is perhaps fitting that one note the extraordinary achievement so far of Peter Donaldson and his MIT colleagues in their attempts to make the Shakespeare Electronic Archive as widely accessible as possible. Any discussion of electronic tools for research and teaching cannot avoid tangling with problems of access. I look forward very much to discussion of these matters when the members of Seminar #14 meet in Valencia.