King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid
"One nickname for her purblind son and heir,
Young Abraham Cupid, he that shot so true
When King Cophetua loved the beggar maid."
Act 2, Scene 1. Romeo and Juliet.
Nick Jenkins, the narrator of "Books Do Furnish a Room" by Anthony Powell, is reminded of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, when he visits the ground floor flat, in Maida Vale, rented by X. Trapnel and Pamela Widmerpool.Trapnel's beard matches the part of the King. Pamela, however, is, however, described as far from a pre-raphaelite type or maid.
King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid is presented on different levels. The presentation is theatrical, with the prinipal actors seated in a central enclosure. King Cophetua is present as either
- A Christian figure from Medieval Romance,
- A pagan hero with classical Muse.
The Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, in search of an idiom, invests a symbolic message within: he sits at her bare feet in a reversal of their ordinary, social roles. This theme, renunciation of material wealth for an ideal of beauty, relates to concepts that we think of as important in the Victorian era, away, that is, from the Industrial Revolution:
- Existence of an existing social order
- Possibility of change in social position
- Personal enlightenment
It had great significance for artists of the 19th century, who, apprehensive of the erosion of spiritual values by worldly considerations, saw the danger to society and the individual which lay in the total pursuit of wealth.
Burne-Jones used newly available synthetic pigments for this painting, which is combined with the effects of lighting and gaudy costumes, and stage props, such as curtains in royal blue.
- The two figures behind the throne are dressed in scarlet;
- The king, apprears in subfusc clothing;
- The beggar maid wears drab apparel.