The original portrait of William Shakespeare

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ID_NC_MEIS_SHAKE_AP_001 I, for one, find myself both angry at Shakespeare and frightened by Shakespeare. The anger is perhaps easier to explain. He took too much. He took too much literature for himself and that's not fair. He broke some sort of unwritten rule about how much literature goes to each man. I couldn't tell you exactly how much that is, but I can say that Shakespeare took too much, and that it angers me sometimes.

The fear comes from a hazier place. I suppose I simply fear a person who was able to view the human beast so truly. Is there something infernal about the wisdom of Shakespeare, something uncanny that has the taint of the dark arts upon it? Strangely, I am much less afraid of the genius of the scientists, partly because their abstract insights into the nature of reality often go hand-in-hand with an intense befuddlement in the face of human-sized things. That seems a fair trade. To glimpse truths about the nature of the material world, it is required that you renounce any great understanding of the creatures who live within it. But to have the huge insights of Shakespeare, to look so deeply into the human soul, to know its every nook and hidden corner, seems, somehow, to contravene the limits that are given to all men.

Adding to the mystery of Shakespeare is that we’ve never known what he looks like. There are a few paintings and prints and drawings that could be him. But we could never look into Shakespeare’s face and know it was Shakespeare. About two years ago, a portrait that had long been owned by the Cobbe family was firmly identified as the original portrait of Shakespeare, made around 1610, upon which many of the later and less-reliable paintings and prints were based. With reasonable assurance, then, we can say that this is him, the man, William Shakespeare. You can go to the Morgan Library and Museum on 36th Street in New York City right now and stare into the face of William Shakespeare.

I just did so. But I must warn you. It doesn’t help. It only increased my unease.

More here.