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Art notes: Shakespeare at new haven.

Searching for Shakespeare, an exhibition devised by the National Portrait Gallery, London, moves to the Yale Center for British Art from late June to September. Its purpose is mainly to assess the so-called Chandos portrait as a true effigy of Shakespeare. If one mentally eliminates the full beard, bushy hair and disconcerting ear-ring from the Chandos portrait, it is not much unlike the First Folio portrait, although the cheeks are fatter. Like the sly eyes, that may be the fault of an inept painter. The swarthy complexion may be the effect of aged varnish. The First Folio portrait, engraved by Martin Droeshout the Younger before 1623, closely resembles the bust of Shakespeare (c. 1620) on his memorial in Stratford-on-Avon parish church. Both would have been seen by many people, including Ben Jonson, who knew Shakespeare well before his death in 1616.

In spite of its grandiose title, this relatively small exhibition is about Shakespeare's appearance rather than his identity. It utterly lacks the scope and enterprise of Richard Buckle's exhibition at Stratford-on-Avon to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. For that reason, the circumambient display of early editions, portraits of contemporaries, legal documents, and even the coinage and clothes of the time, is irrelevant window-dressing. The whole exposition is encapsulated in the accompanying handbook with 180 accurate reproductions of the exhibits, also called In Search of Shakespeare (National Portrait Gallery Publications. [pounds sterling]35.00. ISBN 1-85514-361-5).

Even if Shakespeare had looked like Caliban, it would not matter. As Ben Jonson wrote of Droeshout's portrait: 'Reader, looke/ Not on his Picture but his Booke'.

D.B.
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Title Annotation:William Shakespeare
Author:Bruce, Donald
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:267
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