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The trial scene from Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' (Act IV Scene i) is based on an actual perfomance of the play at Covent Garden in 1768 - 9. All the actors are known. Charles Macklin (c.1699 - 1797) plays Shylock, shown here preparing to plunge his knife into the breast of Antonio, standing on the right, who is played by Matthew Clarke (fl.1755-83). Curiously, the seated figure in scarlet on the extreme left is not an actor, but the actual lord chief justice of the king's bench, Lord Mansfield (1705 - 1793). This unusual mixture of theatre and reality suggests that this portrait group was a special commission, perhaps from Lord Mansfield himself. The painting is unfinished.

September 2004