The penultimate blog in the Shakespeare in 100 objects series by Richard Hemming who is an AHRC doctoral researcher in History at the University of Birmingham.
‘Up, up, and see
The great doom’s image. Malcolm, Banquo,
As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites
To countenance this horror.’
Macduff, Macbeth Act 2, Scene 3, 76-79
Death is an inevitable part of the human life-cycle that has led all cultures to contemplate their ultimate fate. Medieval Christians understood their destiny, following death, within a clearly defined framework related to biblical concepts of judgment, salvation and damnation. This nineteenth-century print is based on a drawing of a late-fifteenth century wall painting that once adorned the chancel arch in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Guild Chapel. The painting was recorded by English antiquarian, Thomas Fisher, following its rediscovery during restoration work in 1804. The scene would have been familiar to medieval Christians: Christ is enthroned at the centre of the image, in judgment of the souls that are rising from their earthly tombs. To His right are the saved, entering the kingdom of heaven; and to His left is a much more chaotic arrangement of various fiends ferociously delivering the damned into the gruesome mouth of hell. The image depicts the Day of Judgment, or ‘Doom’, as described in the Book of Revelation (20:11-15). It was among the most commonly depicted scenes in medieval parish churches, providing a vivid reminder of the desperate fate awaiting the damned, and to prompt the viewer to reflect on their performance as a Christian in preparation for the inevitable Day of Judgement.
Before the Reformation, church walls were adorned with paintings, stained glass, carvings and alabasters, providing ordinary people with a point of reference to inform their visualisations of the Christian message. Reformers sought to purify worship through the removal of such visual and material aides. In 1563, John Shakespeare, as chamberlain of Stratford-upon-Avon, supervised the “defacing” of images in the Guild Chapel, removing all traces of the scene depicted in the print.
It would be wrong, however, to view this kind of Reformation iconoclasm as an abrupt and complete spurning of traditional visual piety. While certain images were removed, like the painting in the Guild Chapel, many remained, and many more were recreated in different contexts, formats and media
The title page to John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (popularly known as the Book of Martyrs), for example, depicts a scene that is very similar to the one that was covered up by John Shakespeare in the Guild Chapel, and was published in that very same year.  Christ presides at the top the page, situated centrally. To His right are the saved, destined for heaven; and to His left are the damned, being assisted in their journey to hell by hideous devils. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the pro-Protestant nature of the publication, below the damned on Foxe’s title page, there is a depiction of the Catholic Eucharist, showing the pageantry and excessive materiality of Roman Catholic ritual and piety. There is also a small devil depicted between the frames of the two images. The arrangement leaves no room for doubt as to the associations of hell and Antichrist with Catholicism. The image follows the familiar organisation of the Doom as depicted in the drawing of the Guild chapel painting, but reworked to reflect the polemical and political message of Foxe’s anti-Catholic tome. Here, the binary alignment of the saved against the damned in traditional scenes of Judgement is emphasised in confessional terms: the saved are clearly Protestant, and the damned are Catholic.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564, the year following the whitewashing of the Doom painting in the Guild Chapel. While he could never have experienced the vibrant and extravagant wall decoration that would have been familiar to his parents, his familiarity with the scene’s key attributes and format is clear in a number of his works, and particularly explicit in the quotation above. ‘As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites’: although typical of many church Dooms, Shakespeare could have been describing the scene in the chapel that his father had covered the year before he was born. His reference to the ‘great doom’ was informed by what he read and heard, but also by his encounters with visual representations of the concept, many of which were created during his lifetime and would have utilised the visual vocabulary established by earlier depictions, such as those detailed in this printed record of the Guild’s painted Doom.
 This was just one of several prints of drawings recording a wider scheme of imagery in the Chapel. A fascinating online article outlines an extensive research project in which historical archaeologists at the University of York digitally restored the paintings at the Chapel.
 John Foxe, Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes touching matters of the Church, wherein ar comprehended and decribed the great persecutions [and] horrible troubles, that have bene wrought and practised by the Romishe prelates, speciallye in this realme of England and Scotlande, from the yeare of our Lorde a thousande, unto the tyme nowe present (London, 1563).