Shakespeare's makeover

As school children we studied  the works of William Shakespeare but until now it’s been a guessing game as to what the famous Bard actually looked like.

Now a British magazine has published an image of a figure that it says is the first and only known demonstrably authentic portrait of  Shakespeare made in his lifetime.

According to Reuters, botanist and historian Mark Griffiths has identified the picture of a young, bearded man wearing a Roman-style laurel crown and holding an ear of sweetcorn.

An image of Shakespeare from a first edition of "The Herball" a sixteenth century book on plants is seen at an office in London

Until now, the only accepted authentic likenesses of Shakespeare, in which he is depicted as bald, have been found in the First Folio of his works and his monument at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, both created posthumously.

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Speaking on the Country Life magazine website, Griffiths said he made the discovery the discovery researching the biography of pioneering botanist John Gerard.

“I began to look at the title page engravings and realised it was full of allusions to people who had been involved in the creation of the book and that four of the figures on the title page were in fact real persons,” he said.

“The fourth figure who was dressed as a Roman and appeared to have something to do with poetry,” he added.

Griffiths also discovered a cipher underneath the cover image containing clues about the fourth man.

“As I worked hard on this fourth figure, I realised it had to be William Shakespeare,” he said.

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Griffiths believes that in the engraving the Shakespeare figure is aged 33 and at the height of his celebrity after writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and shortly before Hamlet.

Previous claims of discoveries of portraits of Shakespeare created during his lifetime have been generally disbelieved by scholars.

But Country Life editor Mark Hedges was in no doubt. He said in a statement: “We have a new portrait of Shakespeare, the first ever that is identified as him by the artist and made in his lifetime.”

What do you think of the new portrait of Shakespeare? Is it what you expected him to really look like?