William Hamilton, A Scene from Twelfth Night (c. 1797)

Oil on canvas, size approximately 13.5 x 17 inches, Yale Center for British Art.


In Act V, Scene i, Olivia has married Sebastian, the twin bother of Viola, who is disguised as a young man, Cesario. When Olivia confronts Cesario, whom she thinks she has married, confusion reigns. When Viola/Cesario denies any knowledge of the marriage, Olivia summons the priest who has just performed the ceremony and asks:

Father, I charge thee, by thy reverence,
Here to unfold, though lately we intended
To keep in darkness what occasion now
Reveals before 'tis ripe, what thou dost know
Hath newly pass'd between this youth and me.

The priest answers that he has indeed married Olivia and a young man:

A contract of eternal bond of love,
Confirm'd by mutual joinder of your hands,
Attested by the holy close of lips,
Strengthen'd by interchangement of your rings;
And all the ceremony of this compact
Seal'd in my function, by my testimony:
Since when, my watch hath told me, toward my grave
I have travell'd but two hours.

Hamilton captures this intense but comic confrontation; on the left the Duke Orsino looks on in bewilderment.

Hamilton's painting was engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi in 1797, but this preliminary oil sketch differs significantly from the finished engraving. John Christian suggest that the final version of A Scene from "Twelfth Night"is the larger painting in the Maugham Collection of the National Theatre in London. Hamilton also painted for Boydell three smaller pictures based on scenes from the play; one is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the other two in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington (173).


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