Oil on canvas, 85 x 108 inches. London, Tate Gallery.
The image of Titania and Bottom can be viewed at the Tate Museum's website; clicking on the image will enlarge it. Be sure to visit the "display caption" if one appears on the page. There you will find notes written by the staff of the Tate Museum and they will supplement my remarks. The Tate asks also that you visit its homepage.
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The source is A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act IV, scene i. Bottom now wears the ass's head, and Titania says to him,
Come, sit thee down upon this flow'ry bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk-roses in they sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.
The two halves of the painting in fact contrast interestingly with one another. On Titania's right hand (our left side of the painting) is a well-lit scene with an attractive grouping of young women and a young girl in the lower-right hand corner. Contrasted to her is the waxen, gnomish little figure sitting in the lap of a hooded figure in the opposite corner. In opposition to the two figures smiling suggestively out at us on the right are the two women with hands outstretched on the left. Immediately to the left and behind Titania is another woman with arms folded, and she is duplicated on the right; the right-hand figure, however, is cast in shadows and her features are partially obscured. Is Fuseli suggesting to us something of the nature of the fairy world, with a lighter and untroubled scene on Titania's right hand and a darker, shadowy scene on her left hand, an iconographical presentation of the two sides of human nature? Again, this symbolic interpretation of the painting reflects some of the themes in Shakespeare's play.
Harry Rusche, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
This page was last revised: April 06, 2000