Tuesday, March 24, 2009

About that new Shakespeare Portrait

The Cobbe Portrait from 2 weeks ago, said to be that of Shakespeare.

Well the truth is out at last.

The Jacobean painting from the family collection of art restorer Alec Cobbe was thought to be the bard because it closely resembled the engraving in Shakespeare's First Folio. It is also noticeably similar to another painting believed to be the playwright owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

Dr Tanya Cooper, the sixteenth-century curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London, believes the portrait bears a greater likeness to Sir Thomas Ovebury. She told The Times: “if anything, both works, the Folger and Cobbe portraits, are more likely to represent the courtier Sir Thomas Overbury".

This means the Folger library in Washington DC has been deliberately committing a fraud for a number of years, by showing a picture claiming it to be Shakespeare. BUT they could not be bothered to pay a little money for an airfare and actually go visit the National Gallery in UK and see for themselves that their portrait is a fraud.

This portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury is in the National Gallery of England.

The Cobbe family claimed their picture to be Shakespeare because it was the same as the picture in the Folger library. That is an error that an amateur art historian might make. BUT NOT for a professional library like the Folger.

Sir Thomas Overbury (1581 - September 15, 1613) was the son of Nicholas Overbury, of Bourton-on-the-Hill, and was born at Compton Scorpion, near Ilmington, in Warwickshire.

He was also an English poet and essayist, and the victim of one of the most sensational crimes in English history.

Just look at those dates. Overbury was born 16 years after Shakespeare and would have been aged 32 when he died. Remember how I remarked that the portrait did not look like a man of 46 years in that era? I was right.

And now experts believe the elaborate lace collar and gold embroided doublet are too grand for the playwright. Which is exactly what I said!!!!

According to the BBC, the Jansson Portrait of Shakespeare, which was painted in 1610, is also considered to be that of Sir Thomas Overbury, and not Shakespeare.

Painted around 1610, (the Jannson) work emerged as a compelling candidate as a life portrait of Shakespeare in the later 18th Century. Now, however, the sitter is believed to be the courtier and author Sir Thomas Overbury (1581-1613), while Cornelis Janssen (1593-1661) is no longer accepted as the artist.

How interesting that the Cobbe picture was also painted in 1610. Would Shakespeare have been able to afford to commission TWO portraits of himself in the same year? I seriously doubt it.

So, what does all this mean? Well I personally think this whole mess means that the Sanders portrait found in Canada is most likely still the only true likeness of William Shakespeare. Cobbe portrait on the left, Sanders portrait on the right. I must read the book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shakespeare: The World As Stage

Yesterday I read Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson. In this very small book, Bryson says he sums up all the real facts that we have about Shakespeare. There aren't many. We know the date he was christened but not the exact date of birth. We know when he married, how many legitimate children he had, what property he bought and sold, but not the first performance dates of the majority of his plays or what order his sonnets should be in. And we know almost nothing about his personality. Bryson tries to avoid extrapolating Shakespeare's personality and character from the text of the plays but he does talk about other analyses that do have some validity. He mentions the reason that Shakespeare had to know some Italian is because a few of his plays are cribbed from Italian works that had not been translated to English.

Bryson devotes a chapter to the "other author" theories and i have to say he's pretty convincing that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Apparently there was no controversy at all until the 1850's when an American woman, Delia Bacon, wrote a book implying that Francis Bacon wrote the Shakespeare plays. She came up with this idea by traveling to Bacon's hometown and picking up mental vibes. Ugh. He writes about the various conspiracies that would have to be in place for others besides Shakespeare to write the plays.

Overall this book is a nice overview of what we know, or don't know, about Shakespeare.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Shakespeare Portrait Found

One of the books I was planning to read for this Shakespeare Challenge is called Shakespeare's Face about the Sanders portrait found in Canada.

But today there is news that another new portrait has been identified and has been claimed to now be THE DEFINITIVE portrait of Shakespeare.

The first thing I said to myself when I saw this portrait was - too upper class. Just look at the neck collar. Only the rich wore those and Shakespeare was NOT rich.

And at aged 46 - I would have thought that in that era Shakespeare looked a lot older than this person does. This fellow has a full head of hair. The Droushout portrait from the First Folio shows a definite receding hairline, making the man look older.

In fact I think it's Henry Wriothesley. He does have a moustache as well. You cannot see the long hair that Wriosthesley had. But then, with such a dark background, you cant tell if this fellow has any hair either.

It is interesting that the family who held onto this portrait for so many generations, was distantly related to the Wriothesley Family. And now conveniently they wish to cash in in these hard economic times.

The portrait has been in the Cobbe family for generations. The family is distantly related to Shakespeare's only known literary patron, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton.

Another possibility is Sir Henry Neville - who is one of the possible candidates to be the author of the plays.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt

Much of the life of William Shakespeare is a mystery. He carefully did not keep a diary nor send love letters to his wife. Shakespeare, the prolific writer who, in just over 50 years wrote an almost unbelievable number of remarkable poems and plays, did not leave many personal details of his life beyond public records (which are spotty 400 years later). There was not a market for biographies of famous playwrights in the 1600s, and many details of his life were not written down until he was long gone.

Yet, in Will in the World, Stephen Greenblatt attempts to explain Shakespeare’s life by reading what he did write: his plays. In a truly remarkable way, Greenblatt ties the Bard’s life into the context of Victorian England by visiting the context of his plays.

Despite being an English major, I am not very familiar with most of Shakespeare’s work, let alone his life. I found Greenblatt’s look at Shakespeare’s life through his plays be utterly fascinating. Even if none of the suppositions Greenblatt provides were true, understanding the cultural context of the plays will help me in my future studies of the plays. I loved this “literary” biography, and I’d highly recommend it to those interested in the cultural context of the Bard.

A more detailed review of Will in the World is on Rebecca Reads. This is my first read for the 2009 BiblioShakespeare challenge.