Friday, May 9, 2014

Shakespeare's mortal—and immortal—remains

I'm still soaking up the coverage in various media of the 450th birthday of the Bard (and wishing I'd be around for the big 500!). Our offerings on the man and his era continue in this Spotlight, which is well worth taking a look at.
Among Shakespeare's hundreds of word coinages is "bedazzled," which Katherina uses in The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene V: "Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, that have been so bedazzled with the sun that everything I look on seemeth green."
The Folio Society is preparing a lavish letterpress edition of the complete works by "the man who not only crafted the most translated, adapted and performed plays of all time, but who did so whilst creating such evocative phrases as ‘in my mind's eye’, ‘a sorry sight’ and ‘be-all and end-all’." The Guardian trotted out a creditable list of 10 novels inspired by Shakespeare, including a Ripley opus by the always spooky Patricia Highsmith.
Now to the rather sly-looking image that appears at the top of this post. The inscription on the back formerly read as follows: Shakespere / Born April 23=1564 / Died April 23-1616 / Aged 52 / This Likeness taken 1603 / Age at that time 39 ys.  This label was transcribed in 1909; today the text is not legible. It's called the "Sanders Portrait," and purportedly depicts our man William in the prime of his life. It was named for the person that owned (and perhaps painted) the image, John Sanders, whose family has had it for more than 400 years. (You can read about the work's history is fulsome detail here.)
In an April 28 New Yorker essay called "The Poet's Hand: Why Do We Still Search for Relics of the Bard?", Adam Gopnik wrote that all attempts at authentication thus far have not disproved the portrait's age and provenance per se. He does suggest that wishful thinking (or longing) may play a part in people's desire to behold vestiges of the great poet/playwright's mortal life. (He also discusses in detail a 16th-century dictionary that two rare book dealers believe was annotated by Shakespeare himself.)
Antony and Cleopatra by Anne Seymour Damer (bas relief)
Going off on a tangent as usual, I also found these rather wonderful illustrations from various plays. They were commissioned for a Shakespeare Gallery created by 18th-century engraver and publisher John Boydell, as well as for an illustrated edition of the plays. Joshua Reynolds' Puck (1789) is modeled after Parmigianino's Madonna with St. Zachary, the Magdalen, and St. John.
The scene from Act I of Hamlet is by Henry Fuseli, while the murder of the princes from Richard III (Act IV, Scene 3) was engraved by James Heath in 1791, after a painting by James Northcote.

If you enjoy speculation about the Bard, you won't want to miss Bardolatry or Brouhaha: Shakespeare's Identity Problem, an insanely popular post from the past by the very witty guest blogger Karen Mulder. Or you may wish to revisit this gallery of Shakespearean thespians.


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