A Shakespeare by any other face would be even more lucrative it would seem.
You couldn’t make it up…except they seem to be doing just that. William Shakespeare is obviously the most famous playwright and poet in history. But we have very little in the way of biographical details of the man from Stratford upon Avon to whom the greatest literary works of all time have been attributed.
There are no letters that we know of – this alone is quite interesting as you would have thought, at least, that he wrote to his family in Stratford whilst he worked in London. He left none of his books in his will when he died and we have no portraits of him when he was alive, despite him being present at court and a successful playwright. The famous balding image we have of William Shakespeare is from the first folio that was created after his death.
So it is no wonder that when a portrait emerged that could have been a portrait of Shakespeare that was created during his lifetime, people from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust were interested. After a few years of examination, they announced to the world in 2009 that it was indeed genuine.
Yet there was immediate opposition from academics and critics. The portrait was said to be of courtier and poet, Sir Thomas Overbury and other portraits of him exist.
These seem to have been mostly ignored by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust which has prominently used the controversial image as their favourite Shakespeare pinup. It is easy to see why this is a much preferable image for the author of Romeo and Juliet as the man in this image is more handsome than the image in the first folio.
Some are even reporting that any critique of the Trust’s behaviour on this matter is being met with the threat of litigation. At the end of the day, it is all about money; a handsome, young, full-colour Shakespeare looking a bit like Joseph Fiennes, who played Will Shakespeare in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’, is going to bring in more money for the Stratford tourist machine than an older, plump balding one. This article from The Guardian newspaper website suggests that the new portrait was worth around £15 million to the Trust in terms of tourism.
This may turn out to be one of these cases where the untruth becomes so widespread that it simply becomes the truth. What are your thoughts? Are you shocked that The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is presenting a controversial portrait as Shakespeare? Do you dismiss it as just yet another lie that we are told on a daily basis by people in power? Or do you think the portrait is genuine and this is the true likeness of William Shakespeare? Please leave your comments below.
Images: Public Domain, Canva