Charles Leslie began his career as an apprentice to a local bookseller. This experience, which instilled in him a strong interest in literature, contributed to his later fame as a painter of subjects from Shakespeare and other English writers. Although he produced most of his work in London, Leslie found a receptive market for his small-scale 'cabinet' pictures in Philadelphia, a city renowned for its theatrical culture. Leslie was also a favorite artist (and brother-in-law) of the Philadelphia art collector and patron Edward L. Carey, who bequeathed his notable art collection to the Academy.
While studying with Benjamin West at Britain's Royal Academy, Leslie pursued his love for Shakespearean theater as both an entertainment and a subject for his art. This painting of a dramatic scene from "Henry VI" (Part III) was Leslie's first important painting made in England. It depicts the death of the young Rutland, son of the Duke of York, at the hands of his father's enemy during the War of the Roses. The painting's exaggerated emotionalism is typical of English romantic painting of the period, also apparent in the work of West and Washington Allston, another of Leslie's mentors. The Academy owns two other Shakespearean paintings by Leslie: "Olivia in 'Twelfth Night,'" and "Touchstone, Audrey, and the Clown in 'As You Like It.'"