Shakespeare's glamour shot

Our view: People love a Bard who's young, hip and movie-star handsome

March 11, 2009

Were William Shakespeare, the most famous English writer, to reappear on the streets today, chances are no one would have a clue who he was.

That's because, 400 years after his death, our impressions of what the Bard really looked like remain wedded to a few images created years after his death, in an outmoded style that makes it hard to even imagine the author of the great comedies and tragedies as a flesh-and-blood human being.

So this week's unveiling, in London, of a hitherto unknown portrait of Shakespeare - painted during his lifetime, then squirreled away for centuries in the private collection of an aristocratic family who had no idea what they had - comes as a revelation.

The dapper, mustachioed man with a wisp of beard who peers out from the Cobbes family's portrait wearing a green brocade tunic and fancy white lace collar is movie-star handsome, seeming less the towering literary lion than the playful, stage-door hipster of actor Joseph Fiennes' lusty portrayal of the poet in the movie Shakespeare in Love.

It's an image for our time worthy of Annie Liebovitz; we've already swooned over this fellow's knowing good looks in a hundred Hollywood costume dramas.

Scholars doubtless will continue to debate the picture's authenticity for years to come, but the public is likely to find it instantly irresistible. If Shakespeare didn't look like this, he certainly should have.

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