The Grafton Portrait of Shakespeare

Status: Art Fake (i.e. it's not Shakespeare)
image The National Portrait Gallery has reported that the Grafton portrait, long thought to depict Shakespeare as a young man, doesn't depict him at all. They don't know who the guy in the painting is. The portrait apparently served as the inspiration for the portrayal of Shakespeare in the movie Shakespeare in Love.

So the Grafton portrait will now join the Flower portrait (revealed to be a nineteenth-century fake earlier this year) in the category of "portraits of Shakespeare that don't actually show Shakespeare." My hunch is that all the depictions of Shakespeare are unreliable. We'll never know what he looked like.

Art Literature/Language

Posted on Fri Oct 28, 2005


Hmm, they say this painting was made while Shakespeare was the same age as the man in the picture, and that they don't know who it really is a picture of, so how can they claim to know that it is NOT Shakespeare's portrait? One of the "experts" said W.S. would have been too poor to buy a silk jacket like the one in the painting. So what? He could have borrowed or rented one.
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas  on  Sat Oct 29, 2005  at  04:21 PM
"My hunch is that all the depictions of Shakespeare are unreliable. We'll never know what he looked like."

Actually, he looked almost exactly like me ...
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas  on  Sat Oct 29, 2005  at  04:22 PM
And we know for certain that he was homosexual.

Or so I am recently informed by a gay friend of mine.
Posted by DFStuckey  on  Sat Oct 29, 2005  at  11:37 PM
I think the whole Shakespeare thing is a hoax. Everything about him, everything we think we know, it's all a hoax. It's the biggest conspiricy of the last millenium.
Posted by Cathy  in  South Dakota  on  Sun Oct 30, 2005  at  11:49 AM
I like what Mark Twain (or somebody) said about Shakespeare-identity theories: "Shakespeare wasn't written by Shakespeare - it was someone else with the same name." (Or something like that.)
Posted by Mr Henderson  on  Mon Oct 31, 2005  at  03:41 AM
Havent you ever heard the theory that Shakespeare's works were actually written by some nobleman of his day, that the real Shakespere was an uneducated peasent? It was in Newsweek a couple years back. Im not sure if I believe it or not, but there does seem to be some compelling evidence. The fact that these pictures are not actually him may be part of the evidence.
Posted by chyca  on  Tue Nov 01, 2005  at  07:07 PM
Okay, enough. The Flower portrait was proved chemically to be from the wrong century; the Grafton portrait showed "no evidence" that it was Shakespeare. They are different points. One is NOT a real portrait of S., one has no evidence as to the subject, though the age and year are right for S. Shakespeare was not an illiterate peasant; his father was a glover, a working man. All the conspiracy theories start with the fact that no working class person could have written the plays. It had to be someone upper class (Oxford), or university educated (Marlowe). The initial presumption, that universities or class prove talent, is crap. For good or ill, to believe these theories you must be a snob. There were no doubts about his identity until long after he was dead. JFK, Elvis, and Shakespeare were all members of the Da Vinci comnspiracy. So tiring. Enjoy yourself making up theories (Can be good fun!), but realize the ACTOR/PLAYWRIGHT William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to the actor/playwright William Shakespeare. The portrait business is just fascinating trivia.
Posted by Tom  on  Thu Mar 16, 2006  at  08:14 AM
It is a good painting of someone who could have been Shakespeare - the actor. The writer was Henry Neville - and the coverup was one of the biggest ever - Elizabeth the Virgin Queen had at least 6 children - at least 3 of her sons, including her first, Oxford, were alive when she died. She had her favorite son, Essex, hanged. Neville was put in the Tower with Southampton, her youngest - her last son - they both took part in the Essex plot.

It needed a good coverup - the whole, very effective, establishment participated.

"To be or not to be" was written while Neville was in the Tower, under sentence of death. King Lear was probably Elizabeth, with everything back to front. She died in pretty miserable circumstances, having killed her favorite son, and put the next two in the Tower.

Conspiracy theorists, get to work! Elizabeth married Dudley in a secret ceremony in 1560 - after he murdered his wife. Queen Victoria chucked the evidence in a fire, saying she must not tamper with history. Southampton was probably fathered by Oxford - his brother!

Elizabeth was not called the Virgin Queen until she was 55. Not surprising really! Neville - Shakespeare - got the two party parliamentary system going, helped set up Virginia - the USA, and wrote the King James Bible. All before he was 53, when he died. A lot more than I have managed!
Posted by George Taylor  on  Mon Jun 11, 2007  at  08:56 AM
I rather take exception to this subject being presented in the context of a "hoax". The painting itself is genuine enough; and no effort was made to falsify it. What we have here is an ongoing debate about the identification of its subject.

That said, I would like to comment on the supposed reason for the Grafton Portrait's 'debunking':

A previous commenter has made a telling point on the subject's clothing: it may not have been his own purchase, but rather the livery of his company. The Queen's Men did, in fact , wear fine scarlet coats issued them by the Crown. (In fact, Shakespeare was the recipient of a new gift of such material in the reign of King James, as documents show.) Furthermore, the Queen's Men are known to have toured the country around Stratford in the 1580's; indeed, they had lost one of their company in a brawl during that time. It is entirely possible that the young Shakespeare could have joined them to make up that deficiency.

So, the objection on account of wardrobe does not necessarily stand. And when one carefully examines the features of the Grafton Portrait's subject, there seem to be certain distinctive points of resemblance between it and, say, the Chandos Portrait (the hairline at the temple,for example; the curve of the brows and nose; the jawline) which, in my opinion at least, suggest it should not be so lightly dismissed. Even some of these likenesses may be discerned beneath the distortions of the First Folio engraving.

But I talk too much. Perhaps it would be wise to recall the line from Joyce's "Ulysses":

-Shakespeare.... is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.....
Posted by W.S.  on  Sat Jul 14, 2007  at  09:23 PM
without a photograph i highly doubt we'll ever know exactly what he looked like.
Posted by shakespeare quotes  on  Sat Feb 13, 2010  at  02:07 PM
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