Not currently on display at the V&A

'Macbeth' at Covent Garden

Oil Painting
1760s (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This small oil sketch depicts Macbeth and Banquo's encounter with the witches in the second scene of Shakespeare's play. The action takes place down stage of the proscenium arch by the light of the candles in hanging chandeliers and there is no artificial division between actors and audience. The only indication of location comes from the dimly lit moorland scene on the backdrop.

Macbeth and Banquo both wear 18th-century dress. Audiences expected to see their Shakespearean heroes in contemporary clothing and frock coats, breeches and tricorne hats were the fashion of the day. Although a form of Highland dress was worn in plays set in Scotland, it was not until 1773 that Macbeth appeared in plaid. Here the only indications of nationality are the round Scottish shields (targes) carried by both men, a reference which would be spotted by audiences that had not forgotten the Battle of Culloden of 1746.

The two uniformed men on either side of stage are grenadier guardsmen. Eighteenth-century theatre audiences could be rowdy and sometimes violent and the soldiers acted as a deterrent to riot. Their presence was accepted by the spectators and was rarely commented upon or depicted.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on board
Brief Description
Oil painting, A performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth on stage at Covent Garden. Unknown artist, ca.1765.
Physical Description
A view of Shakespeare's Macbeth on stage at Covent Garden, mid 1760s. Macbeth and Banquo, wearing 18th-century dress and carrying swords and targes, meet the witches downstage. At the rear, behind the proscenium arch, is an indistinct backdrop showing moorland. The platform stage is lit by candles in chandeliers. A grenadier guardsman stands at either side of the stage.
Dimensions
  • Height: 6.5in
  • Width: 8.5in
Marks and Inscriptions
A 20th-century typewritten note on the back of the painting records that it was presented to the Drury Lane lessee, Frederick Balsir Chatterton by Joseph Arnold Cave, an author, actor and manager. (The note was written by the painting's previous owner, Professor Allardyce Nicoll)
Credit line
Purchased with financial assistance from the estate of Jack Reading
Object history
The painting depicts the interior of the Covent Garden theatre around.1765 and is likely to date from this period. It was presented to Frederick Balsir Chatterton (1834-1886), the lessee of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, by the actor, manager and author, Joseph Arnold Cave.

Professor Allardyce Nicoll (1894-1976), Director of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, bought the painting and S.502-2006 from Ifan Kyrle Fletcher in 1965. Both are illustrated in Nicoll's posthumously published book, The Garrick Stage (Manchester University Press, 1980), where S.503-2006 is discussed in detail. They remained in the possession of Nicoll's widow until sold at auction on 11 May 2006 when they were purchased by the Theatre Museum for £600
Literary Reference<i>Macbeth</i>
Summary
This small oil sketch depicts Macbeth and Banquo's encounter with the witches in the second scene of Shakespeare's play. The action takes place down stage of the proscenium arch by the light of the candles in hanging chandeliers and there is no artificial division between actors and audience. The only indication of location comes from the dimly lit moorland scene on the backdrop.



Macbeth and Banquo both wear 18th-century dress. Audiences expected to see their Shakespearean heroes in contemporary clothing and frock coats, breeches and tricorne hats were the fashion of the day. Although a form of Highland dress was worn in plays set in Scotland, it was not until 1773 that Macbeth appeared in plaid. Here the only indications of nationality are the round Scottish shields (targes) carried by both men, a reference which would be spotted by audiences that had not forgotten the Battle of Culloden of 1746.



The two uniformed men on either side of stage are grenadier guardsmen. Eighteenth-century theatre audiences could be rowdy and sometimes violent and the soldiers acted as a deterrent to riot. Their presence was accepted by the spectators and was rarely commented upon or depicted.
Bibliographic Reference
Nicoll, Allardyce, The Garrick Stage: theatres and audience in the eighteenth century, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980, vii. 184p..; ill.; 25cm. ISBN0719007682.
Collection
Accession Number
S.503-2006

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record createdOctober 17, 2006
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