Here’s to that “Shakespeare” Portrait…

Here are some of the doubts about the new “Shakespeare” portrait, being promoted by Stanley Wells and Alec Cobbe and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (of which Professor Wells is chairman), reported in the fabulous site Mr. Shakespeare’s Blog:

David Scott Kastan in The New York Times:

“…said by telephone that there were reasons to question the Cobbe portrait’s provenance — whether it was in fact once owned by the Earl of Southampton or commissioned by him, as the trust representatives believe — and to doubt whether the richly dressed man in the portrait was Shakespeare.

“‘If I had to bet I would say it’s not Shakespeare,’ Mr. Kastan said. But even if it was, he said, the traditions of Elizabethan portraiture meant that it would be unwise to conclude that Shakespeare actually looked like the figure depicted in the portrait. ‘It might be a portrait of Shakespeare, but not a likeness, because the conventions of portraiture at the time were often to idealize the subject,’ he said.

Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian:

“On the evidence adumbrated so far, it seems to me to be to be highly unlikely that the Cobbe portrait is a true lifetime portrait of William Shakespeare, as widely reported today.

“I’m assuming there’s something that Professor Stanley Wells, who has led the charge towards the identification, has something else up his sleeve – because so far the case seems rather unconvincing… Tempting as it is with portraits of this period to go for optimistic identifications, surely there has to be a bit more evidence on the table than this?”

Andrew Dickson, author of The Rough Guide to Shakespeare:

“The difference this time is that the person making the case for the Cobbe portrait is Professor Stanley Wells, chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and one of the biggest names in the Bard business. Wells called Hammerschidt-Hummel’s findings “rubbish”, and he has been unmoved by other putative portraits. So why go for this one? Jonathan Bate, professor of Shakespeare at Warwick, is cautious.  ‘The case is very intriguing,” he says. ‘It’s a really interesting find, and a really interesting picture. But there are huge ifs.’..

“Michael Dobson, professor of Shakespeare Studies at Birkbeck College in London, believes wish-fulfillment plays a role:

“‘Even scholars can succumb to the craving for Shakespeare biography, some kind of direct contact. We want someone to feel grateful to.’

“Is he a skeptic when it comes to the Cobbe portrait?

‘I haven’t seen it yet, but yes. There’s been such a run of portraits supposedly of Shakespeare that my immediate reaction is to be skeptical. I do think it’s opportune and slightly optimistic – both because of [Shakespeare’s] birthday coming up and the Birthplace Trust being in a position to exhibit it. The whole thing has been very well managed, at the very least.'”

Professor Wells is pushing this portrait while expressing more and more frustration with that annoying “authorship” question.   Here are some of his remarks in The Stage magazine, in reaction to the creation of The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition and its Declaration of Reasonable Doubt about the Identity of William Shakespeare, which now has 1450 signatures:

‘In a career of over fifty years I have constantly read and re-read Shakespeare, studied and taught his life and his works, seen all his plays acted on stage film and television innumerable times, thought and written about their significance, and edited all of them both for Oxford University Press and for Penguin.

“During all this time, though I have never seen the slightest reason to doubt his authorship, I have frequently been confronted with the suggestion that they were written, not by William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, but by, for instance, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford…

“I have taken part in debates on the authorship, broadcast about it on radio and on television, and written about it in newspapers and in my own books. In general I have tried to be rational, courteous, and tolerant…

I hope I can still be rational and (up to a point) courteous about the subject, but the time for tolerance is over. There is no room for reasonable doubt that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote … the works traditionally ascribed to him...”

And now….the portrait!

Who is this Man?

Who is this Man?

Take that, you doubters!  Oh – and this fellow, below, well, we know who he is:

Edward Earl of Oxford - The Man Who Was "Shakespeare"

Edward Earl of Oxford - The Man Who Was "Shakespeare"

Published in: Uncategorized on March 13, 2009 at 3:31 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hank, that’s a nice round up of of doubt about this new claim. I detect not only frustration in Stanley re the authorship debate, but a yearning to enrich the shabby biography of the Stratford man, the real estate dealer, the penny pinching provincial buisnessman, with a likeable face.

    I love this quote, presumably written by Mr. Wells, as to what one gets while looking ad the Cobbe portrait.

    “The face is open and alive. with a rosy, rather sweet expression, perhaps suggestive of modesty. There is nothing superior or haughty in the subject, which one might well expect in a face set off by such rich clothing. it is the face of a good listener, as well as someone who exercised natural restraint.” (Int. Herald Tribune , march 11th)

    How lucky that one can now all that to the Stratford man and just in time for his birthday!

    Personally, if one wants a more convinncing provenance, and a face to like, the Sanders portrait, discovered in Canada, is much more satisfying. A new documentary is coming out soon, exploring the case for the Sanders portrait called, The Battle of the Wills.

    I like the way you juxtapose the image with the Earl of Oxford. They do seem to resemble each other, but does that prove anything more than it’s a very typical idealized aristocratic face?

    As you know, I think the hidden hand behind the Bard is Marlowe and remain in hope of further discoveries to clinch that identification.

    Mike Rubbo, director of Much Ado About Something.

    • Hey, Mike –

      (Note to readers: Mike Rubbo has a great website I urge you to explore: MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING, demonstrating a lot of work accomplished.)

      I appreciate hearing from you, and thanks for sending on that quote from Professor Wells about the portrait. Oh, man, when will they realize that they’ve intertwined two separate entities — the documented history of the printed name “William Shakespeare” and the meager biography of the Stratford man William Shakspere — and have come up with a third entity that is a kind of mermaid, a figure of fantasy? Dream on, Professor Wells! Dream!

      No, I hadn’t meant to suggest that I think Oxford was the original subject of the so-called Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare. Thanks for nudging me to clarify that. I just thought it was a good place to finally get Edward de Vere’s face up onto this blog.

      And thanks for mentioning a new documentary coming out about the SANDERS portrait…. Yikes.

      Congratulations on all your work. What in your mind was the relationship of Oxford and Marlowe? That question has always intrigued me.


  2. Sonnet 24 perfect for the Sanders Portrate:

    Mine eye hath played the painter and hath steeled
    Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart.
    My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
    And pérspective it is best painter’s art.
    For through the painter must you see his skill
    To find where your true image pictured lies,
    Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
    That hath his windows glazèd with thine eyes.
    Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
    Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
    Are windows to my breast, wherethrough the sun
    Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee.
    Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art;
    They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

    • Yeah – nice observation, there! Thanks!

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