The Original (Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare’s Face )
Pictures can help us organize our ideas, and a picture of a writer can help us organize our ideas about the writer. The tight-drawn line of TS Eliot’s mouth, the broad bare chest of Ernest Hemingway, the Druid-tweeds look of Robertson Davies—all of these are with you in your imagination as you read. Is this a face we can take into our reading of Shakespeare? In particular, how does it relate to what we know of the man and his work in 1603? In particular, how does it relate to what we know of the man and his work in 1603? I stress 1603 because while the Droeshout portrait in the Folio is Shakespeare in black and white, dead and collected, setting his stamp on a posthumous anthology or his work, the Sanders portrait is Shakespeare alive, in colour, in mid-career. The Droeshout face is for book buyers; the Sanders face is the one you might have encountered if you were hanging around the Globe Theatre.
Since pictures can be organizational tools, a writer’s portrait can assist us in thinking about a writer by helping us construct notions about him or her. We imagine the look of TS Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, or Robertson Davies from their photos as we read their work. Is the new portrait of Shakespeare in 1603 more fitting with what we know about him? While the earlier Droeshout black and white portrait seems to have marked the image and work of Shakespeare for all time, the new colour Sanders portrait seems more in keeping with the lively figure we conjure up from Shakespeare’s work. One image seems lifeless, while the other represents someone who was very much alive.