Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Long Farewell to all Thy Greatness

By Martha Reed

During the stock market turmoil of the last year, my focus has been on researching the news and trying to make product forecasts that now change daily and sometimes twice daily so that my suggestions at breakfast often change before lunch. It’s been a very focused and difficult time and then something pops up on my radar that is so completely unexpected and extraordinary that I have to stop what I’m doing to stare at a headline like a blinking idiot.

Portrait of Shakespeare Unveiled, 399 Years Late
By Robert Mackey
On Monday in London, Stanley Wells, the chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, unveiled what he claims is the only picture of William Shakespeare painted during the playwright’s lifetime.

Okay, so we all grew up knowing what William Shakespeare looked like, right? The Chandos Portrait that looks like someone’s hippy uncle, the guy with long hair, the relaxed collar and the pierced ear?

Or the familiar folio engraving of the poet with a mustache and the big dome forehead?

So what are we to do with this new officially sanctioned portrait of an amazingly robust William Shakespeare in living color, looking very wordly and wise and satisfied with himself and wearing some very expensive clothes? I want to argue with this attribution but it just feels so damn right.

(Plus I keep looking into the lace collar hoping to find some kind of secret message. That seems like a very Elizabethan idea to me).

I don’t mean to sound blasphemous in any way but I was as shocked by this portrait surfacing as if someone had suddenly discovered a true portrait of Jesus Christ. William Shakespeare is such a cultural icon I never expected to see Bill looking so, well, human. Okay, maybe I am a writer nerd, I admit it, but in that one moment this morning, in that one studied glance, this portrait changed my universe – it altered everything I knew of the man and the inhuman genius transmitted to us via his body of work. Up until now I had to try to discern the man through his words – sonnets, mostly, or an occasional couplet from one of his plays. This portrait today changes everything. From this point forward students will see a William Shakespeare with warm, intelligent eyes and just a hint of playful humor around his mouth.

Henry VIII, Act 3, Scene 2, 350-358
So farewell – to the little good you bear me. Farewell? A long farewell to all my greatness! This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth the tender leaves of hopes, to-morrow blossoms, and bears his blushing honors thick upon him. The third day comes a frost, a killing frost, and when he thinks, good easy man, full surely his greatness is a-ripening, nips his root and then he falls as I do.

Here's a nice newscast with even more surprising news about the Earl of Southampton:


Tory said...

Wow, what an amazing portrait! The others seem so bland and lifeless in comparison.

Let scholars argue, but like you, Martha, for me it just feels right.

Word verification: "sustore," a mixture of "sustain" and "store." Topical, indeed.

Joyce said...

The only difference I see is that he has more hair in the newly found portrait. The others just look like an older version of the man.

Martha Reed said...

Or a bad copy. But to think this may actually have been painted from life - the portrait may be as close as we ever get to the real man behind that incredible body of work. It blows my mind, but like I said, I'm a nerd.

Annette said...

I fear I prefer to think of him looking like Joseph Fiennes in the movie Shakespeare in Love. Damn, he was cute.

Anonymous said...

Martha, you MUST READ the book about Shakespeare by Bill Bryson! He de-bunks all kinds of things, and the book is so entertaining as well as fascinating.


lisa curry said...

I love the new portrait, Martha. The receding hairline we are all familiar with could have come later in life, of course, but what I particularly like is that very long, very straight nose.