Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yet another Shakespeare

Yet another Shakespeare "portrait" emerged the other day in London - this one is the "Cobbes" portrait (detail above). It has a very good provenance - to Shakespeare's period, that is; but any actual connection to the Bard himself seems rather tenuous. But to me, this handsome, intelligent, elegant gentleman will do - at least for several of the plays. This is the Shakespeare who wrote the sonnets, Romeo and Juliet and Love's Labour's Lost, and of course the fairyland of Midsummer Night's Dream.

But it's hard for me to imagine the "Cobbes" Shakespeare writing the entire Folio.

That's why it's lucky there are other portraits. At left is the "Chandos" portrait, from the Folger Shakespeare Library. To me, this is the doomed Shakespeare of Hamlet and Othello and Twelfth Night, the poet of shipwreck and love lost or tempest-tost. Meanwhile, at right is the "Sanders" portrait, unearthed in Canada a few years back. This may actually be my favorite Shakespeare portrait. To me, this is the sly, jaunty Shakespeare who wrote Comedy of Errors and Merry Wives of Windsor, and maybe even Henry IV Part I, and who had a hand in many of the other plays. He takes over from the "Cobbes" portrait whenever the country does battle with the court, as in Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It, for instance.
As for the poor old Martin Droeshout engraving from the First Folio (at left), I suppose we can leave to him the ironies of Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida, and the ingrown intellectualism of Richard II. but it's hard to believe that he - or indeed any of these gentlemen - or anyone, period - could have written the whole canon. And therein lies the mystery that no portrait can ever limn.

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