The Gothic Whimsy of Kenny Meadows: Victorian Illustrator

puckThis beautiful illustration is by (Joseph) Kenny Meadows, a successful and popular Victorian illustrator. His whimsical and imaginative pictures were much sought-after for children’s books, Punch and Christmas numbers of the Illustrated London News. His great ambition was to produce an illustrated edition of Shakespeare which was published in serial parts followed by a 3 volume edition from 1839 to 1843, edited by Barry Cornwall.

His illustrations are very different from those of the near contemporary Knight’s Pictorial Edition featuring quirky details, unusual viewpoints and an imaginative interpretation of the plays.

Meadows used both the conventional sentimental cupid figure (which Stuart Sillars called ‘almost terminally cute’) and also Gothic demons, dragons and serpents to produce some very dark imagery such as this illustration for the Romeo and Juliet prologue.


His work draws on the Victorian revival of the emblem tradition so we see a snake in the grass at the end of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and a winged serpent’s tail parting bed curtains on the list of characters in Othello.

He also depicts unusual groupings of characters or original viewpoints such as this view of the mechanicals’ rehearsal.


MerchantThe illustrations do far more than simply depict the events of the plays but offer a commentary, full of insight, for example this from the end of Act 4 of The Merchant of Venice.

The Shakespeare Institute Library holds a later edition of the illustrated works at qPR 2753.C6 and Meadows’ work can also be seen in Pearls of Shakspeare at PR 2768.

Kate Welch, Information Assistant


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