Dido in Despair!

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Dido in Despair! (1801) offers yet another problematized image of female vulnerability. Lady Emma Hamilton maneuvers multiple roles, ironic for their discrepant figurative and literal significances: Dido in the print as a aesthetic classical figure, as a symbolic figure for female powerlessness, Emma herself as a portrait model and herself in a real-life double role as an abandoned lover and a wife. Though she exercised her power over both Nelson and her husband, in this print Lady Emma is not only walled within the domestic sphere to suffer her husband’s company, but also, by carrying Nelson’s child, ironically walled in by this relationship as well, even as he sails away across the nation. Once again ironically, caricature’s pictorially satirical license, intended to illicit a large public response, offered a view into Lady Emma Hamilton’s actual human vulnerability that her portraiture by the masters could not achieve.