The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.237 Friday, 22 May 2015
Date: May 22, 2015 at 11:59:09 AM EDT
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER: Lifetime Portrait?
The discussion concerning the uncovering of an alleged new portrait of Shakespeare on the cover of a book about plant life is most interesting. The question is whether it is indeed a portrait of the poet.
In his discussion on our list, John D. Markel, who is familiar with the book by John Gerard on botany, accepts that the two figures on the left side of the cover of Gerard’s book represent Gerard and his mentor, Rembert Dodoens, another great botanist. But then, when John shifts his gaze to the two figures on the right side of the cover, he thinks, unlike the two others, they are possibly earlier historical or allegorical personalities.
The right side figure above, John assays is possibly Dioscorides or Pliny, ancient compilers of plant life, although John acknowledges that it may be pictured with the face of Burghley, the queen’s senior minister. Perhaps, as John tells us, it was because Burghley had greatly assisted in making Gerard’s book possible. This is suggested since Burghley was the first one listed in the book as dedicatees.
This would make three of the figures shown on the book cover as representations of real persons. If so, why conclude that the fourth figure is purely allegorical, allegedly Apollo, as John proposes?
Since the Burghley figure is rendered in classical garb, connoting an allusion to historic earlier botanical compilers, why not conclude that this is the mode through which the fourth figure is represented, a contemporary garbed in symbolic attire? Accordingly, the second right hand figure could very well be another contemporary personality.
Thus, classically dressed and with the laurel about his head, the figure could allude to an earlier man of letters or even to Apollo, a god of poetry. And if so, why not, as in the case of the Burghley figure, a representation of Shakespeare who was contemporaneously acknowledged as a great poet? The case is made stronger by the fact that, as Mark Griffiths alleges, the decoded cipher on the pedestal below this figure indicates that it reads W. Shake-speare.
The question then is why was the poet considered so relevant that he was worthy of representation on the cover of a book on botany?
Could it be that Gerard was grateful to the poet because he helped in the writing of passages in the book? Or maybe it was because the poet had conspicuously mentioned the names of flowers in his narrative poems and plays, focusing public attention on the beauties of plant life?
Also, what changes when we learn what the poet might have looked like in his youth? Why would this be ruled out as unworthy of representation, unless those who would speculate that another writer had written his work would find themselves checkmated by the new finding?
Along with John Markel, I too await for more information “identifying Shakespeare as the model for the fellow at bottom right, look forward to reading the argument, including why a fritillary and an ear of corn (maize) appear together.”