The Future of History

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Shakespeare's Face (3)

We're looking at Shakespeare's face - more specifically, at certain unusual features in the portraiture.  We're doing this for a reason: to try to determine whether or not the so-called Cobbe Portrait deserves to be considered an actual likeness of Will Shakespeare.

So far, we've looked at the inside edge of the left eye socket and the left cheek (previous posts), comparing the strange lines, scars and markings visible on the portraits, the death mask and the skull.  Today, we move up the head a little, to consider the left brow and outer edge of the left eye socket.

Here's a detail of the brow from the Cobbe Portrait:

 
 
Two things to note here.  First, there is some slightly odd shading around the corner of the eye and the outer edge of the eyebrow.  Secondly, above that, across the temple, there appear to be two grooves or shallow depressions (they look a bit like fingermarks descending the forehead above the corner of the left eye).  These are distinguishing features which, if the Cobbe Portrait really is of Shakespeare, should be visible in the other Shakespeare portraiture - and, potentially, on the death mask and the missing skull of Shakespeare.
 

Here's the same part of the face, taken from the Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare (National Portrait Gallery):


No doubt about it: there's something similar going on here.  Clearly, a depression of some kind is visible on the forehead, above the corner of the eye, and there is peculiar shading around the outer edge of the eyebrow.  In fact, look closely and you'll see thin but distinct jagged lines around the edge of the eyebrow, coming round to the lower side of the eye socket (one of these lines continues down the cheek - see previous post).


This detail from the Droeshout engraving (First Folio, 1623) clearly shows some kind of abnormality around the outside edge of the left eyebrow and the corner of the left eye.  And, if you look up a bit, there is also the suggestion of a depression or two running down the forehead above the eye.

We find much the same features on the Davenant Bust of Shakespeare (Garrick Club):


The depression(s) running down the forehead has/have clearly been replicated here, and there is some abnormality visible on the outside of the eyebrow: a peculiar hollow, just above the very end of the eyebrow, and the hint of a jagged line on the outer edge of the eye socket.

So - the Cobbe Portrait shares these features with the established Shakespeare portraiture.  I have argued in Who Killed William Shakespeare? that the Chandos Portrait, Droeshout engraving and Davenant Bust were all created using the death mask of Shakespeare (now in Darmstadt Castle) as a model, so we should now look at the left brow of the death mask:


There's clearly a depression or two of some sort coming down the forehead above the left eye.  There's also a dip or hollow above the very outer edge of the eyebrow - as with the Davenant Bust - and the trace of a jagged line running beneath the end of the eyebrow in towards the eye socket.  In other words, these features seem to have been faithfully reproduced in the Shakespeare portraiture - including the Cobbe Portrait - more or less as they appear on the death mask.

So the next question is - what does this part of the skull which resides in the crypt beneath the Sheldon Chapel at Beoley church in Worcestershire look like?

 
 
The older photo of the Beoley skull (taken in about 1939) clearly shows a jagged end to the bone at the edge of the left eyebrow.  The damage to the eye socket/left eyebrow is even clearer in the more recent photo, taken in 2009:
 
 
The jagged edge of the bone at the end of the eyebrow creates both a kind of overhang and a sharp protruberance underneath.  Where the skin tissue relaxed to the side of this, the effect became one of a dip or depression immediately above or beside the end of the eyebrow.  Because the skin had relaxed, after death and before the death mask was made, the jagged outline of the broken bone here showed through, and was indicated on the portraiture, both as shading and as thin, ghostly lines.
 
Equally noticeable are the depressions in the skull above the left eye socket.  On the one hand, we see these as natural features - the two depressions running down the forehead, looking a bit like fingermarks - although there is also a distinctive scratch in the skull which forms a sort of elongated oval shape.  It is unclear whether this scratch was related in any way to Shakespeare's death.
 
What is evident, though, is that damage to the outside of the left eye socket, and the edge of the eyebrow, is readily apparent on the Beoley skull (identified in the 19th century as the "VERITABLE SKULL OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE") and also appears on the mask, now in Darmstadt, Germany, but similarly identified in the 19th century as the death mask of Shakespeare (the plaster of Paris mask was inscribed with the date "1616" and a little cross, to indicate that this was the date of the subject's death; William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616).
 
Furthermore, these features - damage to the region around the end of the left eyebrow and left eye socket, and depressions running down the forehead above the left eye - were faithfully reproduced in the posthumous portraits of Shakespeare: the Chandos Portraint, the Droeshout engraving, the Davenant Bust ... and, it would seem, the Cobbe Portrait.
 
The left side of the face in the Cobbe Portrait does bear comparison with the better known Shakespeare portraits and the death mask and the skull (it should be noted that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which has happily accepted the Cobbe Portrait of Shakespeare, refuses to acknowledge the death mask or the skull).  These comparisons show undeniable correspondences between the various representations of Shakespeare's left eye (inner eye socket, outer eye socket, eyebrow), Shakespeare's left cheek and the left side of his forehead.  The peculiar features visible in these parts of the portraits can be traced straight back to the death mask and the skull.
 
Next time, we'll consider another aspect of the Cobbe Portrait, to see if we can get closer to an understanding of its Shakespeare connections.



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