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Shakespeare at the Morgan.

March 30, 2011 \pm\31 5:45 pm

The Morgan Library is showing a portrait which may be the only contemporary depiction of Shakespeare. It surfaced in 2009, after hanging unnoticed for centuries in an Irish country house belonging to the Cobbe family. I visited this painting three times this week. It’s almost photographic — though the elaborate lace collar is unrealistically flattened. The subject of the painting is not certain, however. Shakespeare looks too young to be 46 (as he would have been in 1610), with too much hair. (On the other hand, Elizabethan artists often flattered their subjects.)

William is nothing like we picture him, most of his images deriving from the strained engraving by Martin Droeshout at the frontispiece of the Folio (a copy of which accompanies the Cobbe portrait). He glows with vitality, looking neither intellectual nor “literary.” A gleam in his eye suggests the desire for sex or money. This Shakespeare resembles an actor — or a young dot-com millionaire. Women, and men, have offered themselves to him. In his near-smile is the thought: “I am taking the world for a ride!”


One Comment
  1. March 30, 2011 \pm\31 8:09 pm 8:09 pm

    ha, i liked this post. wish i could see the real thing. feel like literature is at some basic level for delight therefore vitality and desire seem as crucial to it as intellect. i.e. he looks like someone i’d ‘totally party with to the max’ (shout out to the previous post!)

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