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Alexander Bassano (1829-1913)

Shakespearean Tableaux: The Merchant of Venice "How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world" 1874

Albumen print | RCIN 2369165

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  • Photograph of a tableau originally performed at 21 Cromwell Road and arranged by James Sant RA (1820-1916) from Act five Scene one of the Merchant of Venice. The actors perform the roles of Portia, probably played by Alice Mainwaring (1852-78) and Nerissa, played by Sarah Fanny Constance Sant (1856-1948), stand in front of a painted backdrop decorated with a balustrade that represents the outside of Portia's house. Portia on the left exclaims "How far that little candle throws its beam, so shines a good deed in a naughty world."

    The candle referred to by Portia is a metaphor for looking ahead to a brighter future having helped Antonio in winning justice against Shylock. The play is set in sixteenth-century Venice and was written between 1596 and 1598. It tells the story of a merchant who is forced to default on a large loan provided by an abused Jewish moneylender. The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh acted as Royal patrons to the performances and with Princess Louise, viewed the performances at 21 Cromwell Street, home to the architect, Charles Freake (1814-84). The proceeds raised by the performances were donated to the National Orphan Home and the Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.


    From an album belonging to Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

  • Medium and techniques

    Albumen print