Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Is This The "True Face" of Shakespeare?

You may have heard by now of the earth-shattering claim made by world-renowned academic journal Country Life that they have identified the only true likeness of Shakespeare, created when he was 33 years old and in the middle of writing Hamlet (having just knocked out Midsummer Night's Dream).

My first thought was, "Meh, I've been fooled by these before." My second thought was, "It's a line drawing. It's not even a portrait." He looks a bit Dionysian(?) with a laurel wreath atop his full head of curly hair. In other words, entirely generic.

Then my Read It Later feed, which tracks Shakespeare references from various sources, blew up. Could this be real news? Or just a carpet bombing press release?  Probably the latter, but I had a moment and chose to investigate.

There's this engraving in this botany book, that has four people in it.  One of them is holding an ear of corn.  Bingo bango, that's clearly a reference to Titus Andronicus, and obviously this is a picture of William Shakespeare.


I mean, I'm sure there's more to it than that, but if that's the kind of "evidence" we're going to be working with, then I think these guys need to get back in line behind the other hundred years of supposed discoveries.

The topper that makes me believe this is all a joke comes from what I think is the actual Country Life website:
Next week, as a result of this discovery, Country Life will reveal a new play by Shakespeare and how his career was launched.
Yeah.  That's how the magazine article *ends*.  Just, "We're talking about the portrait this week, and oh yeah by the way, next week, we have a new play too."

What I'd like all these "code crackers" to answer is, why?  Why, when Shakespeare is just 33 years old, a few years post- Greene's Groat's-Worth of Wit and with the best part of his career ahead of him, would this dude writing a botany book decide to hide his picture?

For bonus points, apparently one of the other four figures is Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's treasurer.  So the true revelation is clearly that the real identity of Shakespeare is hidden behind the clue of Lord Burghley, who many believe was the model for Polonius. Lord Burghley is the father in law of?

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. 

[mic drop]


[Re-enter SG]

Just so we're clear, I made that last part up.

Friday, May 01, 2015

How Old Does Microsoft Think Shakespeare Is?

Twitter is all abuzz playing with #HowOldRobot, Microsoft's new toy. You upload a photo of a face and then it guesses your age.  So of course I had to do Shakespeare, it's kind of my thing. Since nobody really knows when the portraits were done, maybe Microsoft can bring some new data to the field.

First we'll start with the Droeshout:

Ooo, tough break HowOldRobot. Shakespeare died when he was 52.  Although, since the First Folio did not come out until 7 years after his death, are we left to wonder if this is what he would have looked like had he lived that long?

Ok then, how about Chandos, the one I tend to use whenever I need a likeness?

Ok, better. Thought to have been created in 1610, during Shakespeare's lifetime,  the subject would have been exactly 46.

I've never really liked the Flower portrait - is it even legit, or is it a forgery?  Regardless, how did it fare?

Oh, something I haven't mentioned yet is that HowOldRobot also attempts to guess gender. And apparently Shakespeare looks like a woman in this one.  A relatively young woman, in fact.

Then there's the new kid on the block, Cobbe. When this one made the news I remember people commenting that this was the first one that made him look like a handsome young man.

Apparently HowOldRobot agrees!  Of course, back then they were making the argument that it was likely painted in 1610, making Shakespeare 46 at the time. I wonder which is more accurate?

Finally, for accuracy and since I had it laying around (hey, who doesn't?) here's Edwin Booth as Iago. This picture I can specifically date, so we can use it as a baseline for how good the guesses have been.

This picture is dated circa 1870.  Booth was born in 1833, making him approximately 37 at the time. Allowing a few years for the "circa" thing and the fact that he's made up for the stage, it's actually a pretty good guess.

Oh, what the heck, one more.  How old is Hamlet?

 In Branagh's 1996 Hamlet, he would have been 36 years old in real life.

In David Tennant's 2009 version, the actor was 38 in real life. 
Mel Gibson was actually 34 in his 1990 version. 

Kevin Kline also did Hamlet in 1990 (though it was overshadowed by Mel Gibson's version). Funny, though, that Kline is older than Mel Gibson and would have been 43 in this picture.

Putting Kline to shame in the "looking younger than you are" category is Sir Derek Jacobi in his 1980 Hamlet, when he would have been 42 - 13 years older than HowOldRobot thinks he is.

And then there's Ethan Hawke, who was actually 30 when his movie came out in 2000, making him the actual youngest Hamlet on our list. Even though Jacobi looks it. :)