At the age of 88, Chagall produced fifty black-and-white lithographs, illustrating The Tempest. They were printed alongside Shakespeare's play in 1975 in a limited collectors' edition, and are almost unknown even to Chagall scholars. The loose leaves of this unbound volume allow the lithographs to be taken out and framed, as will be done in the Ben Uri Gallery exhibition. Towards the end of the play, Prospero famously gives up his "rough magic" and drowns his book. As this may be Shakespeare's last play, many have read Prospero's abjuration of his "art to enchant" as the playwright's own farewell to writing. Chagall's very personal treatment of the play adds a third story to this expression of the farewell to art by an ageing artist. Far from being Renaissance aristocrats, the figures are Chagall's familiar protagonists, from his own personal mythography. The tempest itself is transformed into the symbolic tempest that engulfed Chagall's life in the first half of the twentieth century, turning the Jewish people into refugees.
Hanna Scolnicov is Professor emerita of Theatre Studies and former Head of the School of Graduate Studies of the Faculty of Arts at Tel-Aviv University, and a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge. She has published books and essays, in English and Hebrew, on Adam de la Halle, Shakespeare, Jonson, Stoppard, Pinter and Chagall. Her writing focuses on the relationship between word and visual image.