The above is Hamlet in the Queen’s Chamber William Salter Herrick. It is oil on canvas, painted in 1857, and as far as I was able to determine, it is held in the Royal Academy in London.
This painting seems to be quite clearly from the scene in which the ghost visits Hamlet, which we can see in lines 117 – 157 of Act 3, Scene 4:
HAMLET A king of shreds and patches,
— Enter Ghost
Save me, and hover o’er me with your wings, You heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure?
QUEEN GERTRUDE Alas, he’s mad!
HAMLET Do you not come your tardy son to chide, That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by The important acting of your dread command? O, say!
Ghost Do not forget: this visitation Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose. But, look, amazement on thy mother sits: O, step between her and her fighting soul: Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works: Speak to her, Hamlet.
HAMLET How is it with you, lady?
QUEEN GERTRUDE Alas, how is’t with you, That you do bend your eye on vacancy And with the incorporal air do hold discourse? Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep; And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm, Your bedded hair, like life in excrements, Starts up, and stands on end. O gentle son, Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?
HAMLET On him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares! His form and cause conjoin’d, preaching to stones, Would make them capable. Do not look upon me; Lest with this piteous action you convert My stern effects: then what I have to do Will want true colour; tears perchance for blood.
QUEEN GERTRUDE To whom do you speak this?
HAMLET Do you see nothing there?
QUEEN GERTRUDE Nothing at all; yet all that is I see.
HAMLET Nor did you nothing hear?
QUEEN GERTRUDE No, nothing but ourselves.
HAMLET Why, look you there! look, how it steals away! My father, in his habit as he lived! Look, where he goes, even now, out at the portal!
The aspect of this painting that initially drew me to it were the eyes of the two characters portrayed in it. To me, their eyes pop out. Hamlet’s eyes display his inner confusion and concern in addition to his intense focus on the ghost. Gertrude’s seem to portray her deep fear at the madman she thinks her son has become and there is the indication that they also portray her sense of “what the heck are you doing” to Hamlet. It is fascinating that two small circles on a person’s head can sum up his or her feelings at the time, and Herrick’s use of this fact to effectively portray his subjects is even more intriguing.
Another thing to note is Hamlet’s attire, which is consistent with what Claudius pointed out: it is all black. This blackness perfectly characterizes Hamlet’s emotions throughout the play and in this painting, they nicely complement the darkness of the room.
Yet another excellent facet of this painting is the placement of the ghost in the front right corner. This gives us a perfect perspective of the room while not letting the ghost obstruct the viewer’s vision of the queen and Hamlet, because the ghost is out of the way in the corner. It also allows the viewers to see the queen and Hamlet’s front, so that we can gather all of their emotions.
The last thing I would note is Hamlet’s left hand. It is highly reminiscent of the common gesture in Catholic faith shown below of blessing. Although this is actually probably just a coincidence, because that gestures is always made with the right hand, and it involves bending the ring and pinky fingers while keeping the others straight, which Hamlet is not exactly doing. That said, if it was intentional, it could have something to do with Hamlet recognizing the ghost’s authority as an important figure in his decision making and as the only remnants of his father’s will.