The Future of History

Saturday, 20 April 2013

CSI Shakespeare

The title of this post was inspired by a conversation with my editor at The History Press.

Discussing the forthcoming publication (Who Killed William Shakespeare?) in advance of a sales meeting, my editor let slip that someone at the publishing house had described the book as "CSI Shakespeare".

Now, I'm not really a follower of the CSI franchise - but I have to say I rather liked the reference.  The book does involve literary criticism and biographical analysis, sure.  But there's also the forensic element. 

How did Shakespeare die?  You might be surprised at the evidence which is available to help us answer that question.

It's not yet the right time to explain too much.  With the book due out this summer (it's already available for pre-order on Amazon), I'm not that keen on exposing too many secrets just yet.  But that doesn't mean I can't put up a little taster.

What you see above is the famous "Chandos" Portrait of William Shakespeare.  It was the first item acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in London, and has been seen by millions of people over the years.

As far as I'm aware, though, nobody has ever queried the strange lines which can be seen running down Shakespeare's cheek.  They're clearly visible in this detail of the portrait:

One of the lines is very distinct, but there's another jagged line running to the left of the most obvious one.  These peculiar lines are part of the portrait - they haven't been added on by me.  So what are they?  Nobody ever seems to have mentioned them or wondered why the artist took the trouble to paint these darker lines down the cheek of the subject.  But that doesn't mean that those lines don't exist.  They're there, and they demand an explanation.
In fact, the explanation is very simple.  What we can see in the portrait are the outlines of Shakespeare's broken maxilla (upper jaw).  And when you see his skull, you'll understand why those lines are there.

Watch this space, folks.

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