From the NY Times: The Bard of Our Dreams

My, my, my…

Here’s the wind-up of a piece by Charles McGrath in the New York Times Week in Review of today, Sunday, March 15, about the new “Cobbe” portrait of “Shakespeare” being promoted by Professor Stanley Wells and the ever-vulnerable Shakespeare of Stratford Empire (with my emphases indicated):

“Even if Shakespeare didn’t actually sit for it, this is probably how he, like any other literary figure of the time, preferred to imagine himself: aloof, sexy, mysterious. And, more to the point, this is how most of us would prefer to imagine him too.

“That Droeshout engraving has always been a bit of a downer; if it is a likeness of Shakespeare, it’s a likeness of the cranky, worn-out Shakespeare who had stopped writing and retired to Stratford to carry on lawsuits. The Cobbe portrait … is of a young man full of himself in the best sense. We can believe he has the whole world stored inside that high, capacious forehead.”

Well, now, we’re back to square one: even with this anonymous portrait from about the year 1610, we have to “imagine” Shakespeare, the Bard of our dreams, the guy who is still the greatest writer of the English language.  So why, why, why is the painting anonymous?

In 1610 the name Shakespeare was at the zenith of its popularity and, regardless of the “disgrace” that the actual writer suffers for real in the Sonnets, there was no scandal attached to it.  So why, if the Earl of Southampton had the portrait in his possession, wouldn’t he label it proudly and display that “high, capacious forehead” for all to marvel at?

Other figures of the time were readily identifiable as well as identified; and in their pictures we find flesh and blood individuals.  For example, below is a portrait of fellow poet-dramatist Ben Jonson, followed by a portrait of fellow actor Richard Burbage.

Why isn’t the “Cobbe” portrait readily identifiable like these two examples below?  You already know the anwer, but I’ll whisper it here anyway:

Because “Shakespeare” was the pen name for someone else, used by a man the government needed to keep hidden, a tragic figure of a man who cried out in the Sonnets: 

“My name be buried where my body is … Your name from hence immortal life shall have, though I, once gone, to all the world must die…!”)

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson

Richard Burbage

Richard Burbage

Published in: Uncategorized on March 15, 2009 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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