Ophelia, the popular heroin in Shakespeare's Hamlet, was frequently depicted by Pre-Raphaelites and by Dicksee, who produced several versions of the portrait during the 1860s in which he resorted to the same model. The picture recreates a scene from the third act of the drama in which Ophelia is used by the king and by his father, Polonius, with the intention of spying on Hamlet. Polonius hands Ophelia a book so that she may act naturally when Hamlet appears; in the meantime, he and the king will remain hidden. Dicksee depicts the moment Ophelia interrupts her reading as she listens eagerly to her beloved Hamlet reciting his famous monologue, "to be or not to be". When he rejects her, distraught by his lack of affection and by the fortuitous death of her father at the hands of her beloved, she commits suicide.
Thomas F. Dicksee, a brother and father of painters (the most prominent of whom was his son Frank), pursued his artistic career in England during the Victorian age. The prevailing taste for legendary and historicist scenes enveloped in drama, mystery and emotion, alongside his delicate work as a portraitist of English high society, secured his artistic reputation in the mid-19th century. It was at this time that he began to introduce some of the Pre-Raphaelite concerns into his works: literary Symbolism, a taste for details and ideal presentations of women with unavoidable destinies, often taken from Shakespeare (Miranda, Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona) and linked to a Romantic view of the Middle Ages. [J.N.G]
Christopher Wood. The Dictionary of Victorians Painters. Woodbridge Suffolk : Antique Collector's Club, 1978, p. 127. (Referencia de Javi Novo).
Javier Novo González. De Goya a Gauguin : el siglo XIX en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao: Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2008, pp. 179-181, n.º 23, ad vocem.
Javier Novo González. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 106, n.º 73, ad vocem.