Mariana, by Sir John Everett Millais
This work, created in 1851, was painted by Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) depicts the sorrowful Mariana, as told in Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure,’ and Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem of the same name. In these sources, it tells the feelings of isolation and despair which she suffers after being rejected by her fiancé, when her dowry was lost in a shipwreck. His rejection does not take away the love she has for him however and she is in constant grief waiting for him. Within the poem, she constantly cries out for death: “I would that I were dead!”
The painting and Tennyson
Interestingly the painting shows Mariana taking a moment away from her embroidery to stretch, autumn leaves are scattered around her. It’s a rather ordinary moment at first glance, but there are clues which tell of the story behind it. These tell of the passage of time and her deep longing for love. The waiting is felt in her posture, her activity, in the season. Every part of the painting represents the scene set in Tennyson’s retold work.
When the painting was first exhibited, Millais accompanied the piece with an excerpt of said Tennyson’s poem (which was published in 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!”
The piece is currently in the collection of the Tate.
- Millais, J. E. (1851). Mariana. Retrived from: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-mariana-t07553
- Tennyson, A. (1830). Mariana. Retrieved from: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45365/mariana