I heard Professor Stanley Wells discussing the Cobbe portrait with Sir Roy "codswallop" Strong on the radio this morning. Wells is convinced that the portrait is not only Shakespeare but painted from life; not sure who Strong thinks it is but another Shakespeare critic, Katherine Duncan-Jones, thinks it is Sir Thomas Overy.
Now Katie Duncan-Jones taught me a bit at Cambridge when she was a research student and I was an undergraduate. I daresay we have both come on a lot since then.
But what interests me is why so many people, including me, want this to be what the great writer looks like, rather than the Martin Droeshout engraving in the Folio. I'm reading Peter Ackroyd's biography of Shakespeare at present and he says he reckons the bust in Stratford church, which has been described as "looking like a pork butcher" is probably closer than even the Chandos portrait (the swarthy one with the gold earring). He says "why shouldn't a great writer look like a pork butcher?" which is a fair question. (Mind you, if you look at PA's author photo, you might consider it special pleading)
The thing is, we DO want people to look like their books. I'm sure Shakespeare's intelligence, subtlety and wit would have illuminated even the stodgiest of countenances but, since we'll never know, we hope he might have been objectively as attractive as his writing.
Why else are author photos on jacket flaps or back covers usually at least ten years old and taken from the writer's best side?
Happy birthday, Will. Handsome is as handsome does, which makes you a stunner in my book.
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