Monday, March 9, 2009

"God has given you one face, and you make yourself another."

You know Shakespeare, right? (If not, you must have been sleeping through the entirety of your high school English classes.) You probably also know what he looks like--the scant facial hair, the receding hairline, the big Elizabethan collar, etc. But where does that image come from? Mostly we get it from that famous image of Shakespeare that's on the covers of anthologies and collections. But that's an engraving--usually inspired by an original painting. Where's the original?

Stanley Wells, professor emeritus of Shakespeare Studies at Birmingham University, thinks he's discovered an original.

"Wells is convinced that an oil painting on wood panel that has rested for centuries in the collection of an old Irish family was painted from life in around 1610, when Shakespeare was 46. If that's so, it would be only true likeness we have of the greatest writer in the English language."

Shakespeare's such an interesting figure in English literature and history. Without a doubt, he's the best known writer of the English language. (Remember that episode of Duck Tales in which Scrooge and the boys hunt down a lost play by a Shakespeare-esque playwright?) And yet we don't really know much about him. We aren't even sure about what he looked like. That's so different from celebrities today. Of course, I imagine if Shakespeare were writing today, he'd probably be in Hollywood and on the cover of Vanity Fair.

If this is, in fact, Shakespeare, I think he looks a lot better in this portrait than in the engraving. Shakespeare's gotten a 21st century makeover.

Also, if you like Shakespeare and are in Chicago, check out Everything Freezes: Another Winter's Tale. It's based on The Winter's Tale (probably one that you didn't read in high school) and by the awesome people at Sideshow Theatre. Get your tickets now!