Shakespeare’s Faces

Posted by on Mar 5, 2014

The book lay open to the title page with the engraved portrait of Shakespeare, the one that gave him a wandering eye, a Humpty-Dumpty brow, and a head set so awkwardly on his ruff that it looked oddly decapitated, resting on a half halo. “Mr. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARES COMEDIES, HISTORIES, & TRAGEDIES,” large letters proclaimed above the picture. “Published according to the True Originall Copies.” Below the picture, it read “LONDON. Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed. Blount. 1623.”


Interred With Their Bones


William Shakespeare, The First Folio portrait (1623)

Engraved by Martin Droeshout


Soul of the Age!
The applause! Delight! The wonder of our Stage!
Thou art a Monument without a Tomb,
And art alive still, while thy book doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
—Ben Jonson


Everyone knows the iconic portrait of Shakespeare from the First Folio – the first collected edition of his works, published in 1623. But there are others. The most beautiful is the Chandos Portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in London:

Thanks to the BBC, you can see a selection of the earliest and best portraits here.

There’s no way to be certain that any of them, however, are good likenesses — not even the First Folio engraving, which dates from seven years after Shakespeare’s death.

For more, check out:

  • To Be or Not to Be Shakespeare” by Doug Stewart (Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2006)
  • Searching for Shakespeare by Tarnya Cooper. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2006


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