For the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Art Institute becomes part of a major, city-wide effort to recognize his ongoing importance for Chicago. On April 11, Supernatural Shakespeare, an installation of three prints of magical doings in the Bard’s plays, opens in Gallery 219A. Elsewhere in Chicago, dance, musical, and theatrical productions for all ages abound, and 38 chefs are preparing the food of love (as inspired by Shakespeare’s 38 plays). There’s even a Shakespeare-themed beer called Puck: The Beer! And it happens to feature one of the prints from Supernatural Shakespeare, a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Aptly named to channel Shakespeare’s frothiest and most ethereal comedy, Puck: The Beer is a petite saison, a type of beer historically produced to be quaffed in the summer months. This type of fizzy and spicy libation duly celebrates a play in which a spate of romantic misunderstandings revolve around Puck, a mischievous sprite, and his anointment of humans and faeries alike with his special potion of flower-based “love-juice.”
Puck himself does not appear in this print, as he is offstage during the scene depicted (Act 3, Scene 1), which illustrates the faerie Queen Titania and her human lover, Bottom (with a temporary ass’s head), as victims of Puck’s magical machinations for the amusement of her estranged husband, King Oberon. If a beverage could deliver the sheer joy of Titania’s recent infatuation and the wonders of her seductive faerie bower, as imagined here by Henry Fuseli, it would be an enchanting brew indeed!
While Shakespearian engravings did not promote beer in the 17th or even 18th centuries, this seductive print increased the commercial appeal of the Bard's growing cult at the beginning of the 19th century. It was made to promote an exhibition of paintings of Shakespeare's plays called the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in central London, many of which were also by Henry Fuseli. Subscribers received early impressions of the full set of reproductive prints after the paintings, and many bound copies survive, several of which are at the Art Institute. Although initially a popular venue in the 1790s, the venture eventually bankrupted its proprietor John Boydell. But because of the staying power of Shakespeare's witches, ghosts, and other mysterious characters, the public has never really fallen out of love with the plays themselves.
To keep the elixir of love flowing, come see the show, and then come back on May 1, when musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will play selections from Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall.
Image Credit: Jean Pierre Simon (French, born 1769), after Henry Fuseli (English, born Switzerland 1741-1825). Titania and Bottom with the Ass's Head, 1796, William McCallin McKee Memorial Endowment, 2000.411.