From our archive | Shakespeare and Scotland

What links Surrealism, Shakespeare and Scotland? The bard was thought to have been born on April 23 in 1564, so to celebrate the day we looked through the special books collection to see what we could find, and discovered Salvador Dalí’s elegant (if grisly) illustrations to Macbeth.

Dalí illustrated Shakespeare’s plays throughout his career. He designed the costumes and sets for Luchino Visconti’s production of As You Like It in 1948 and at the end of his life produced illustrations for Romeo and Juliet (1975).

Salvador Dalí, Cover and illustration for Act V Scene I of Macbeth published by Doubleday, New York 1946.

But our copy of Macbeth dates from 1946, and was published by Doubleday in New York - you could have picked up a copy for $3.

Wolcott Gibbs, a critic at the New York Times, reviewed Macbeth on the 15th of December 1946, and reflected America’s sometimes baffled response to his work: ‘Just why it should have been thought necessary to apply the decorative talents of Salvador Dalí to Macbeth is something of a mystery in spite of the bloody, supernatural and generally complementary nature of the text. However, an enterprising publisher has decided to do so, and all we can do is to investigate the result, in so far as possible with an open mind’.

As you can see in the detail images below, Dalí chose to illustrate some of the more macabre scenes from Shakespeare’s text: Duncan’s ‘beautous and swift horses’ who ate each other (below left), and the three witches brewing their unholy potion (below right). You can see the ‘nose of Turk’ in the bowl in the centre of the image.

Gibbs commended this image in particular: ‘The great picture is one of the season’s most provocative works of art, and in a sense it establishes the tone of the book, though what that is I would scarcely care to say’.

Salvador Dalí, Illustration for Act II Scene IV of Macbeth published by Doubleday, New York 1946.
Salvador Dalí, Illustration for Act IV Scene I of Macbeth published by Doubleday, New York 1946.
8 April 2020