John Austen’s Hamlet


The 1922 edition of Hamlet “decorated” by British artist John Austen (1886–1948) is a lot more visible today than it was a few years ago, thanks to a reprint by Dover Publications in their Calla Editions series. The scans here are from an original printing at VTS. Austen’s Hamlet is often rated as his chef d’oeuvre, and with good reason, he manages to lend some visual splendour to a play whose concerns are a lot more introspective than the usual illustration standards of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Masks, swords and skulls are recurrent symbols. Yes, the drawings owe a great deal to Harry Clarke’s example—all those manga faces, spiny fingers and swathes of black—but that’s no bad thing if you can pull it off. If you’re going to borrow a style then you may as well take from the best.





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