“Every Portrait Painted with Feeling is a Portrait of the Artist, not of the Sitter” – Oscar Wilde

It seems almost everything is likely to summon up some reflection upon the nature of Shakespeare, man and artist.  For example, this weekend in our town of Nyack, NY we paid a visit to Hopper House, the birthplace of artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967), and noticed a sketch he had made at the age of nine.  It’s a portrait of himself viewed from behind (an unusually sophisticated perspective for such a young boy), and the feeling it conveyed was one of isolation, aloneness, loneliness amid the vastness of beach, water and universe:

Hopper Boy

Then we looked at some of Hopper’s mature work, which immediately made us realize that his portraits of other people conveyed that same isolation and aloneness.  Ah, yes, of course, we thought – he was drawing and painting others, but in some fundamental way they were all (again and again) portraits of himself:

hopper manAnd so, too, I thought, Shakespeare’s “portraits” or characters created for the stage must have reflected aspects of himself – some more fully than others, but all of them parts of his own makeup.

In our public library we took out a few books, among them Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker by Thomas Kunkel (2015), and on a separate page before the table of contents was a quote from Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

Then the next day, Sunday, we looked at The New York Times Book Review and its front-page review of Bearer of Witness: The Complete Works of Primo Levi, edited by Ann Goldstein, and saw that the reviewer, Edward Mendelson, quoted Levi as saying, “If I hadn’t had the experience of Auschwitz, I probably would not have written anything.”  He emerged from Auschwitz with a “need to tell,” to bear witness, because the memories “were burning inside me.”

Such is not the traditional conception of the Stratford man as Shakespeare, given that his life as actor-writer is free of virtually any record of interactions with others.  On the other hand, such would have been very much the case with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, given the multitude and diversity of his recorded experiences with others.  Only a man with a “need to tell” would have written the Shakespearean tragedy of Hamlet, I thought, and in many ways the character of the noble Prince must have been a portrait of his creator.

Such were some Bard-musings of the weekend…

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