Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shakespeare's Face - Book Review

Shakespeare's Face
By Stephanie Nolen
Alfred Knopf Canada
Stephanie's website
LARGE Sanders Portrait on the right

I thought it timely to read this book after the most recent portrait was discovered. (see the large Sanders Portrait link above. The Cobbes portrait is on the left).

But since the Cobbes Portrait has now been identified as actually being Sir Thomas Overbury, then the Sanders Portrait may still be in the running.

This was an excellent book to read. There are some chapters written by Stephanie Nolen and others by other experts who have written about this portrait and why it may or may not be Shakespeare. Stephanie writes about how she discovered the portrait, and she tells the story of the Sanders family who owned the portrait and how it came to be in Canada. Stephanie describes all the testing that was done. Most of it was done by the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa.

The Sanders portrait was painted in 1603 - the year 1603 is painted at the top right hand corner. The wood, and the paint are all dated to the Elizbethan era or before so it is from the right time. The label on the back is the big questions. Since the painting was done in 1603 (Shakespeare would have been 39 that year) there is alabel affixed to the back that states year of birth and year of death, so the label at least was not attached at the time the painting was done. It was attached sometime after Shakespeare died in 1616. This alone is suspicous and may mean that the painting was NOT painted in 1603.

Some of the chapters in this book are written by the experts. Some of them are a little dry, as only experts can be. Other experts chapters are interesting.

The last chapter has summaries by the experts on who they think the portrait may be of. All of them say that this is NOT a portrait of William Shakepeare, because it is so different from the Droeshout print from the first Folio. Only one expert offers a plausible guess as to who the man in the portrait may be.

In 1603, William Shakespeare was aged 39. In that same year, his future writing partner John Fletcher, was just 24. He does have light coloured hair and a receding hairline. This portrait does look more like a young man of 24, and not so much of a man about to turn 40.

Here is another recent review of this same book.

So do YOU think this portrait is of a 39 year old or a 24 years old??

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Timon of Athens- John Mutford's 2nd Review

This is the first Shakespearean play I've read since coming back from seeing his birthplace, the Globe reproduction and his grave. I was wondering how those experiences would affect my reading and while it did provide a little more perspective, I don't think it affected my enjoyment one way or the other.

During the tour of his birthplace, our tour guide briefly mentioned how William's father John had gone bankrupt. In the play, Timon also goes bankrupt. I wondered if Timon shared any personality traits with the bard's father.

Timon basically doesn't know how to hang onto his cash. Surrounded by flatterers and false friends, he ends up giving away everything he has. When his creditors come calling, Timon sends out requests to all those he's helped in the past but, to his bitter surprise, none return the favour. He goes from being a wealthy philanthropic lord to a bankrupt misanthropist, running away from his debts and reviled society to live in a cave. However, at the cave Timon discovers gold. Will he hold onto his wealth this time?

Not at all. Timon gives it all away once again. However, this time it's out of hatred, not love. He hands it out to whores to spread disease, to a banished military captain who plans vengeance on Athens, and the rest to an artist, a poet, and a little left over to some senators who come to visit.
Apparently he's as disillusioned with money as he is humanity.

My first feeling toward Timon was that he was an idiot. One of my faults with the play was the lack of explanation of how a man this stupid and careless with money would have had any to begin with. He has extraordinary luck to happen upon the stash of gold, then blows his one chance to get back on his feet. Unforgivable?

Maybe. Maybe not. The cynical side of me thinks that his disillusionment, especially with money, might have led to the wisest decision of all: getting rid of it. Wishing venereal disease on his fellow countrymen? Well, I don't condone that.

It's a more obscure play but I quite enjoyed it.

(Cross-referenced at the Book Mine Set and The Obscure Challenge.)