Mariana is an 1851 oil-on-wood painting by John Everett Millais. The image is based on the solitary Mariana from William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, written between 1601 and 1606. In the play, Mariana was to be married, but was rejected when her dowry was lost in a shipwreck.
When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, the display caption contained lines from Tennyson’s “Mariana” (1830):
She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,’
I would that I were dead!
Mariana is one of my favourite paintings. Here we see, I think, a needlewoman with her embroidery or tapestry on a stretcher frame, working in front of the window to catch the best light. She has been enjoying a quiet, peaceful afternoon, stitching and meditating without interruption! Now she is taking a break to stretch her back and shoulders. I think. But this could be wrong. I have just discovered a different context for the image.
Tomorrow my husband and I are going to Stratford Ontario to see Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure at the Festival Theatre… an authentic reproduction of the thrust stage used in Shakespeare’s theater. It is fascinating to see any drama performed ingeniously “in the round” on this tiny stage and in this intimate setting.
But the drama we see tomorrow, while maintaining the blank verse of the original drama, has been set in Vienna, after WWII. So I watched the full BBC production, in an Elizabethan setting, on YouTube (with Kate Nelligan as Isabella)!
Imagine my surprise to hear the line about Marianna at the moated grange! I had forgotten that both Millais and Tennyson were referencing Shakespeare’s character!
Going to Stratford is always a very exciting summer treat. Here is more about their season.