Is This the Real Face of Shakespeare?

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William Shakespeare has long been the subject of conspiracy theories about his identity and historians have not known many facts about his life. In fact, historians have not even been sure what he looks like as no paintings were painted of him in his lifetime. However, historian Mark Griffiths now claims he cracked an “ingenious cipher” to discover an etching of Shakespeare done in his lifetime. The etching was apparently done by William Rogers in 1597.

Griffiths gave the exclusive to Country Life magazine, whose editor Mark Hedges said called it “The literary discovery of the century. We have a new portrait of Shakespeare, the first ever that is identified as him by the artist and made in his lifetime.”

The Guardian explains how he discovered the identity:

Griffiths, in the course of writing a book about [horticulturist John] Gerard, tasked himself with discovering who the men might be. To do this, he had to crack an elaborate Tudor code of rebuses, ciphers, heraldic motifs and symbolic flowers, which were all clues pointing to the men’s identities.

The relatively easy ones were Gerard himself, the renowned Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens, and Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister and closest adviser Lord Burghley, who was Gerard’s patron. That left the tricky fourth man, bottom right.

What about all the Shakespeare portraits you’ve seen before? All are believed to have been done posthumously.

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Of course, plenty of scholars are skeptical of this suddenly-found etching. Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, said:

One has seen so many claims on Shakespeare based on somebody claiming to crack a code. And nobody else has apparently been able to decipher this for 400 years. And there’s no evidence that anybody thought that this was Shakespeare at the time.

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