xxx xxx

The Flaying of Hamlet (page 279) — ninth hand-coloured lithograph (above, left) for Charles Dickens's Great  Expectations, first published as the twelfth black-and-white lithograph in the Robson and Kerslake edition (1885), Chapter XXXI. 9.8 cm high by 7.6 cm wide (3.75 inches by 3 inches), vignetted, facing p. 246. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

The Passage Illustrated: Backstage with Mr. Wopsle

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Wopsle, “I am proud to see you. I hope, Mr. Pip, you  will excuse my sending round. I had the happiness to know you in former times, and the  Drama has ever had a claim which has ever been acknowledged, on the noble and the  affluent.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Waldengarver, in a frightful perspiration, was trying to get himself out of his princely sables.

“Skin the stockings off Mr. Waldengarver,” said the owner of that property, “or you’ll bust ’em. Bust ’em, and you’ll bust five-and-thirty shillings. Shakspeare never was complimented with a finer pair. Keep quiet in your chair now, and leave ’em to me.”

With that, he went upon his knees, and began to flay his victim; who, on the first stocking coming off, would certainly have fallen over backward with his chair, but for there being no room to fall anyhow. [Chapter XXXI, pp. 278-279]


The once surpremely self-confident church clerk has become the lead actor in an unlicensed theatre of the type that Dickens frequented in his youth, when his day job was acting as a parliamentary reporter for the True Sun. Here Dickens reverts to the satirizing of the early Victorian theatre that he embodied in the actor-manager Vincent Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39).

In a Cruikshankian manner, Pailthorpe impresses his own particular brand of character comedy upon the backstage scene by the terrified look that he has placed on Wopsle's face. All bluff and bravado with his distinguished young visitors, the ham act seems genuinely afraid of his dresser's harming him in removing his tights. The ex[pressions on the faces of the onlookers, Pip and Herbert, give a comic turn to the scene. Behind the former village clerk Pailthorpe has placed a theatrical poster promoting Wopsle's performance in Hamlet.

Other Artists' Renderings of the Ham Actor before and behind the Scenes, 1867 and 1910

Left: Harry Furniss's Charles Dickens Library Edition illustration of Wopsle behind the scenes, Pip enters Wopsle's Dressing Room (1910). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Diamond Edition version dual portrait of two of the novel's amusing (and exasperating) humbugs: Pumblechook and Wopsle (1867). Right: Harry Furniss's portrait of Wopsle on stage in his Shakespearean role: Wopsle as Hamlet (1910).

Related Material

Other Artists’ Illustrations for Dickens's Great Expectations

Scanned images and text by Philip V. Allingham and George P. Landow. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Allingham, Philip V. "The Illustrations for Great Expectations in Harper's Weekly (1860-61) and in the Illustrated Library Edition (1862) — 'Reading by the Light of Illustration'." Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 40 (2009): 113-169.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Illustrated by John McLenan. [The First American Edition]. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Vols. IV: 740 through V: 495 (24 November 1860-3 August 1861).

______. ("Boz."). Great Expectations. With thirty-four illustrations from original designs by John McLenan. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson (by agreement with Harper & Bros., New York), 1861.

______. Great Expectations. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. Rpt. in The Nonesuch Dickens, Great Expectations and Hard Times. London: Nonesuch, 1937; Overlook and Worth Presses, 2005.

_____. Great Expectations. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Junior. Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. XIII.

______. Great Expectations. Volume 6 of the Household Edition. Illustrated by F. A. Fraser. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876.

______. Great Expectations. The Gadshill Edition. Illustrated by Charles Green. London: Chapman and Hall, 1898.

______. Great Expectations. The Grande Luxe Edition, ed. Richard Garnett. Illustrated by Clayton J. Clarke ('Kyd'). London: Merrill and Baker, 1900.

______. Great Expectations. "With 28 Original Plates by Harry Furniss." Volume 14 of the Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.

_____. Great Expectations. Illustrated by Frederic W. Pailthorpe with 17 hand-tinted water-colour lithographs. The Franklin Library. Franklin Center, Pennsylvania: 1979. Based on the Robson and Kerslake (London) edition, 1885.

Harmon, William, and C. Hugh Holman. "Picaresque Novel." A Handbook to Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000. Pp. 389-390.

Paroissien, David. The Companion to "Great Expectations." Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.

Created 26 February 2007

Last modified 24 October 2021