Is This the Earliest Image of Shakespeare?

Daily Mail (London), May 20, 2015 | Go to article overview

Is This the Earliest Image of Shakespeare?


Byline: Rosie Taylor

WITH a flower in one hand and an ear of corn in the other, this laurelwreathed fellow looks like a hero from Roman times.

But in fact, the young man in a toga may actually be William Shakespeare's true likeness.

It is a far cry from the famous and rather sterner depiction of the playwright that we know so well. But the man who found it, historian and botanist Mark Griffiths, claims it is the only image of Shakespeare created during his lifetime. The playwright was born in 1564 and died in 1616.

The image is one of four figures on an engraved title plate of the first edition of The Herball, a 16th-century book on plants.

It took Mr Griffiths three months to work out that the image was Shakespeare by cracking what he called a 'many-layered Tudor code' left in the 1598 work. The code included a letter W for William and the letters OR, the heraldic term for gold, said to be a reference to the coat of arms obtained by Shakespeare's father. It also included the number four combined with an E, which translates as 'shake'; and a spear - together making 'shake-spear'.

Mr Griffiths claimed the fritillary flower and sweetcorn in the figure's hands are oblique references to Shakespeare's earliest poem and play in print: Venus and Adonis, published in 1593; and Titus Andronicus in 1594. …

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