WHAT DID SHAKESPEARE LOOK LIKE?
If we accept that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him then it might be worth wondering what he looked like. There is a good deal of uncertainty on this and a lot of speculation.
The Droeshot Engraving
This is the one we are all familiar with, by Martin Droeshott. It comes from the first folio of his works, which was not published until seven years after his death thanks to the efforts of John Hemminges and Henry Condell, two actors from his company. It is hardly a work of art but was said to be a fair likeness by Ben Jonson.
The Chandos Portrait
This is a proper oil painting by John (maybe Joseph) Taylor which may have been the basis for Droeshot’s engraving. It was also the first painting given to the National Portrait Gallery by the Duke of Chandos and may once have belonged to William Davenant, a writer who may have been Shakespeare’s godson, maybe even his biological son. There are lots of ‘maybes’ in Shakespeare. I love that earring.
This statue by Gerard Johnson stands above Shakespeare’s grave in the Holy Trinity church and is the tribute to the local boy made good. It was put up soon after his burial in 1616 and was said by Anne Hathaway to have been a good likeness. This Shakespeare has been described as “a self-satisfied schoolteacher” or a pork butcher. It seems a long way from the raffish intellectual of the Chandos.
There are other portraits which have been identified as Shakespeare with varying amounts of guesswork:
The Cobbe and Janssen Portraits (?)
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust claims that the Cobbe is a painting of Shakespeare. It is probably by the same artist who did the Janssen Portrait which, before it was restored, showed that distinctive receding hairline. Possibles.
The Grafton and Sanders Portraits (??)
These have both been dated as having been painted during Shakespeare’s lifetime. As with the Cobbe, there is no evidence that they are of the writer, just wishful thinking. Plenty of that in Shakespeare as well. Possibles – but doubtful.
The Soest Portrait
This was painted by a minor Dutch or German painter Gerard Soest who worked half a century after Shakespeare’s death, so it is an imagined rather than real portrait, although I think it captures him well. No earring, though.
The Garrick Statue
After the Droeshott engraving, this may be the best known image of Shakespeare. It was sculpted by the Francis Roubillac and commissioned by the actor manager David Garrick, who revered Shakespeare, did a great deal to revive his popularity in the eighteenth century and who was the model for the statue. You can see versions of this in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, the British Library and on the old £20 note.