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Sculpted Likeness of Shakespeare Revealed

By Lori Perkins


Scholars had thought that no real-life portrait of Shakespeare had been made during his lifetime and that the two paintings of him that we have were actually done after his death. Fans of the playwright were told that we really have no accurate depiction of what he looked like.


But recent scholarship surrounding a painted bust of the author above his grave in Trinity Church in Stratford upon Avon has now concluded that the likeness of the dramatist was most likely commissioned by him during his lifetime, and that he posed for it. Lena Cowen Orlin, a professor of English at Georgetown University in the US, told The Guardian, “It is highly likely that Shakespeare commissioned the monument. It was done by someone who knew him and had seen him in life. We can think of it as a kind of life portrait, a design for death that gives evidence of a life of learning and literature.”

Dr. Paul Edmondson, the head of research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) in Stratford-upon-Avon, said: “This is truly significant. We can therefore say that is how Shakespeare wanted to be represented in our memories. This is massive. It is compelling new light on what he looked like and how he operated.”

However, the half torso bust of Shakespeare holding a quill and dressed in Oxford robes, although he did not study there and never even went to university, is considered less than flattering. It shows a balding, middle aged man with what some have seen as a self-satisfied smirk that the 20th-century critic John Dover Wilson once referred to it as that of a “self-satisfied pork butcher.”