John Hamilton Mortimer. The Poet, 1775.

Pen and ink, oval drawing approximately 11 x 13 inches. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.

One of "Twelve Heads" depicting characters from Shakespeare. Other heads include Edgar, Lear, Caliban, Richard II, Shylock, and Ophelia. In Act V, Scene i of A Midsummer Night's Dream Theseus reflects skeptically on the story the lovers Demetrius, Helena, Hermia and Lysander tell of the night's happenings. Mortimer's "The Poet" illustrates and was accompanied by several lines from the opinions of Theseus:

More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!