Shakespeare, is that you?
March 9, 2009 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Is this a portrait of William Shakespeare? The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has just announced the identification of the sitter in a portait as William Shakespeare, painted from life. Is it really him? Or just some other dude in a ruff? More about Shakespeare portraits here.
posted by Man-Thing (38 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh great, another ironic Bacon post.
posted by DU at 10:25 AM on March 9, 2009 [18 favorites]

It's pretty clearly Andrew Jackson. I know it's hard to recognize him without his gorgeous mane of windswept hair.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:25 AM on March 9, 2009

I got your "Shakespeare" portrait for you...
posted by Joe Beese at 10:37 AM on March 9, 2009

All those guys looked like Joseph Fiennes, so it's impossible to tell which is which anyway.
posted by GuyZero at 10:41 AM on March 9, 2009

I believe that's Weird Al Yancovic. You know, the other Bard.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:43 AM on March 9, 2009

Could Time have links of any less relevance at the ends of their paragraph? (Read more about failed business models.)
posted by DU at 10:46 AM on March 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Good grief, I hate the way Time (read about newsmagazines) keeps interrupting the flow of the story (for more on plot, check this out) with quasi-related hyperlinks (click here to learn about bad design).
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:46 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

At the very least it does appear to be his disembodied head, floating on a magic carpet.
posted by mannequito at 10:51 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

"A lot of people have the wrong image of Shakespeare, and I'm pleased that the picture confirms my own feelings — this is the portrait of a gentleman."

Oh, there's some rigorous science at work here.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:52 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Didn't Time proclaim we were all Shakespeare a couple years back?
posted by Bromius at 10:52 AM on March 9, 2009

They also miss opportunities for significant links. Annoying indeed. But an interesting post.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:52 AM on March 9, 2009

Looking at it, Cobbe felt certain the Folger painting was a copy of the one in his family's collection. He asked Wells, an old friend, for his help in authenticating it. (See the top 10 literary hoaxes.)

The two men arranged to have the Cobbe painting subjected to a battery of scientific tests — tree-ring-dating to determine the age of the wood panel, X-ray examination at the Hamilton-Kerr Institute at Cambridge University and infrared reflectography. The tests produced convincing evidence that the panel dated from around 1610 and was the source for the Folger painting, among others.

Do you people not understand?!? He felt certain, and if there is anything the last ten years has taught us, it is that certainty trumps evidence.

I can grasp that tests might be able to date something to "around 1610", but I fail to see how these same tests might show it was the source for another painting. I do enjoy how these two points are connected by a simple and, though. "Close examination of historical records has shown that Richard III and Leonardo da Vinci were both born in 1452 and knew each other in school."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have a portrait of our graduationn class, and in my class there was a guy we called Billy Shakes. I seem to recall his real name was William Shakespeer or Chakispeer and he loved poetry and playing dress ups...That pic look like the guy, though somewhat older. perhaps he is on Facebook.
posted by Postroad at 10:56 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I thought I read somewhere -- and now I can't remember where -- that in old portraits, rosy cheeks were the polite way of showing that the subject had pox marks (from surviving smallpox). Anyone else heard that?

The CNN article brought it to mind.
posted by sbutler at 10:56 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, if you look at what until recently was thought to be Shakespeare it seems pretty clear that the new portrait is at least supposed to be the same person and that if one was copied from the other, the second is probably the original.
posted by DU at 10:57 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes officer, that's him.
posted by Elmore at 10:58 AM on March 9, 2009

History records that, before or after he died, he found himself before God and he asked: "I, who have been so many men in vain, want to be one man – myself."

The voice of God replied from a whirlwind: "But I, too, am not one self; I dream the world as you dreamed your work, dear Shakespeare, and among the shapes of my dream are you.”

“You, like me, are many persons—and none."
posted by thebergfather at 11:10 AM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

They've also uncovered the foundations of Shakespeare's first theatre (before it was dismantled and moved to build The Globe), and discovered a piece of pottery with a mysterious portrait (which no one seems to have a picture of and it's making me craaaazy).
posted by steef at 11:18 AM on March 9, 2009

It looks like him.
posted by ob at 11:24 AM on March 9, 2009

perhaps he is on Facebook.

well, it's kinda likely considering the inscripton on the painting translates to something like "OMG!! BFF 4-ever!!"
posted by sexyrobot at 11:35 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Of course he's on FB. He's done the 25 Things note.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:46 AM on March 9, 2009

The Sanders portrait was painted by one of The Globe scenery painters and seems just as likely to be Shakespeare as the one featured in the story (but of course, it doesn't happen to be in England right now)
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:54 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes officer, that's him.
Show me on the cognitive model where the poet touched you...
posted by Abiezer at 12:00 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

steef, is this it?
posted by effwerd at 12:05 PM on March 9, 2009

Looks like it is. This is from the Museum of London just today.
posted by effwerd at 12:08 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Huh, that looks more like Guy Fawkes (or an old pretzel).

Thanks, effwerd!
posted by steef at 12:25 PM on March 9, 2009

Wow, that article was so very painful... tons of awful, distracting links that have nothing to do with the article, and failure to link the items that do. Talk about the engraving, but don't include the image? Talk about the Earl of Southampton and his portrait, but don't include a link to the portrait or at least more info (after going so far as to suggest they were lovers)? Yet make sure to link to "the 100 best novels of all time" and "the top 10 literary hoaxes"? I'm surprised they managed to squeeze in an image of the portrait under question. Not to mention linking "the bard" to an article about whether Shakespeare was the true author of the works, something that Time seemed to consider a new thing. In 2007! Terrible. Terrible all around.

not your post, Man-Thing - just the Time piece itself.
posted by taz at 12:40 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this. As a lover of the Bard (no, not a lover), I always get a chill up the spine when tantalising evidence of his life is unearthed.

And thanks, effword, for the MoL link.
posted by Artaud at 4:40 PM on March 9, 2009

The third link answers most of the questions raised in this thread, and actually makes it sound pretty possible that this could be legit. The Wriothesley connection is certainly suggestive.
posted by yoink at 5:15 PM on March 9, 2009

I have an affinity for conspiracy theories dealing with famous people who never actually existed. Jesus is the top dog in this field, but there's a fair amount of conclusive evidence that Shakespeare, while an acutal person, was just a front for the writings of Sir Francis Bacon (and probably his inner circle of writer/poet friends).
posted by zardoz at 6:05 PM on March 9, 2009

Um ... why would they need a front?
posted by RavinDave at 12:10 AM on March 10, 2009

ahem. no mention of the Chandos portrait? that's my favorite, though apparently unprovable to be certain.
posted by RedEmma at 1:54 PM on March 10, 2009

From the Time article:

"The Cobbe portrait will show people a man who was of high social status," says Wells. "He's very well dressed. He's wearing a very beautiful and expensive Italian lace collar. A lot of people have the wrong image of Shakespeare, and I'm pleased that the picture confirms my own feelings — this is the portrait of a gentleman."

OH FOR MOTHRA'S SAKE. "The wrong image?" So he wore his best collar to sit for the portrait. That marks him as a successful playwright and owner of a share in a company of players with royal patronage. It doesn't make him upper class. Shakespeare was granted a coat of arms by the crown in 1596, but the note on the design still says "Shakespear ye player." Or as the man himself put it:

"I know you are now, sir, a gentleman born."
"Ay, and have been so any time these four hours."
--A Winter's Tale, V.ii

We know that Shakespeare wrote as easily in the voice of a gravedigger as of a prince; we also know what Shakespeare thought of social climbers and glory-whores (see: Osric, Hamlet; Parolles, All's Well That Ends Well; Lucio, Measure for Measure; Malvolio, Twelfth Night; and so on and so forth.) But obviously this art historian's "own feelings" carry more weight than that.

(See also ricochet biscuit, above)
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:56 PM on March 10, 2009

But obviously this art historian's "own feelings" carry more weight than that.

The art historian's "feelings" played no part in the argument for the authenticity of the portrait.

As to Shakespeare's hatred of "social climbers"--well, who hates arrivistes more than those who have only just "arrived" themselves?

I'm not sure what you mean by "upper class." Clearly Shakespeare was not a peer of the realm, and nor is Wells claiming that he was. He says he was of "high social status." You say that Shakespeare was a "successful playwright and owner of a share in a company of players with royal patronage." Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. The owner of a share in a company of players with royal patronage is a man of "high social status." Below the thin top layer of the peerage, Shakespeare's position wass decidedly "high" compared to the majority of his fellow countrymen.

More, to say "so he wore his best collar to sit for the portrait" is to miss Well's point. He's not suggesting that this is a snapshot of how Shakespeare got about during a normal working day. He's saying that it's important that Shakespeare chose to present himself in this way to the world.

If this portrait is in fact a portrait of Shakespeare it really says a lot about his social status at the time. That someone would commission a reasonably accomplished artist to paint this large and elaborate portrait speaks volumes about the playwright's social position. If he'd been regarded as little more than a skilled craftsman/businessman, he wouldn't have been given the chance to show off his "best collar" to posterity.
posted by yoink at 3:15 PM on March 10, 2009

Shakespeare scholar Katherine Duncan-Jones has cast some doubt on the portrait: "An authentic portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury (1581–1613) was bequeathed to the Bodleian Library in Oxford in 1740. This picture bears a startling resemblance to the “Cobbe” painting (and its companions). Features such as a distinctive bushy hairline, and a slightly malformed left ear that may once have borne the weight of a jewelled earring, appear identical. Even the man’s beautifully intricate lace collar, though not identical in pattern, shares overall design with “Cobbe”, having square rather than rounded corners."
posted by beingdaddy at 9:40 AM on March 18, 2009

Hmmmm...looking at the pictures and reading that article, I think Duncan-Jones may have successfully debunked this 'find.' That or started a new line in the "who was Shakespeare really?" wars. Thomas begins your reign as England's Greatest Playwright!
posted by yoink at 10:04 AM on March 18, 2009

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