Hunt made a speciality of theatrical subjects peopled by children, and this is a version of a composition he repeated several times, illustrating the 'play scene' in Hamlet (Act III, Scene 2). A larger version, measuring 18 x 26in. and dated 1868, is in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; it was included in their exhibition Shakespeare and British Art, 1981, no.88, although the date was then read as 1863 and the picture was identified with a work entitled 'The Play's the Thing, etc.' - Hamlet shown at the Royal Academy that year. Another small version is said to have been with the Fine Art Society in 1972.
Other works by Hunt in the same vein include The Banquet Scene: 'Macbeth' (R.A. 1864, no.276) and The Trial Scene: 'Merchant of Venice' (R.A. 1868, no.388), which was sold in these Rooms 24 October 1975, lot 102. In My 'Macbeth' (Forbes Magazine Collection) the artist is seen showing his R.A. picture of 1864 to his wife and son, with a copy of the Art Journal which had praised the picture lying prominently in the foreground.
We are grateful to Mrs Vera Brooker for her help in preparing this entry.