Will the real Shakespeare please stand up?

It’s not only the authorship of Shakespeare’s works which has come in for scrutiny but also the authenticity of the portraits.

Xensen says, of the different portraits below:


The three likeliest portraits are the Cobbe portrait, which portrays the forty-something Shakespeare as a gallant young courtier; the Chandos portrait, which presents him as a comfortably well-off bohemian; and the Droeshout portrait — the familiar one from the first folio — which is so inempt and cartoonish that it gives little sense of any real person. (A Scientific American article once put forth the bizarre theory that it actually depicts Queen Elizabeth). Brice Stratford has helpfully assembled the three portraits, along with some supporting text, on this page.

Xensen continues:

The Cobbe portrait (left) only came to light recently. It had been in the possession of the Cobbe family for 300 years. They had thought it a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh but it is now believed that it may be a portrait of Shakespeare. It too dates from the right period, and there is at least a tenuous provenance for it, as the Cobbe descent can be traced back to a patron of Shakespeare.

The problem with the Chandos portrait (middle) is that its ultimate provenance is unknown, and the sitter is not identified as Shakespeare.

The problem with the Droeshout portrait (right) is that its young and inexperienced artist never met Shakespeare.

A fourth image [below] is a bust in Stratford-upon-Avon. This one was made by Gheerart Janssen, an artist who lived near the Globe theater during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it was presumably approved by people who knew the playwright well. The problem with it is that the painted features had been removed and then reapplied in the eighteenth century, long after anyone who remembered him was alive.


There are supporters of the Sanders portrait [below].  Analysis of the paper label on the back has been shown to be consistent with materials used at the time.


James Hale=Sanders himself has answered some of the questions regarding this portrait [scroll down his comments for the full text]:

All other paintings have been demonstrated as suspect in some tangible way (if not declared outright frauds). Only the Sanders painting has fully passed every scientific test. Even the Folger library acknowledges the positive facts and its curator has demonstrated great interest.

The claim of any painting can never absolutely prove it is of the Bard during his lifetime but there comes a time when all possible tests have been performed on a subject when one has to acknowledge the painting with the best and most probable claim.

Can any of you experts out there throw any light on this?

3 comments for “Will the real Shakespeare please stand up?

  1. March 18, 2010 at 15:51

    James, I’ve made a couple more morphs incorporating the Sanders portrait and posted them here.

  2. March 18, 2010 at 16:20

    Thanks for that – shall check them out.

  3. MadPiper
    March 19, 2010 at 12:35

    Of course the question is moot if Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford really wrote the plays under a pseudonym.

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