The famous picture
engraving, prefixed to the First Folio of Shakespeare plays, is said to
contain many strange clues as to the possible authorship of its content
- often referred to in the web of intrigue surrounding the mystery of
the William Shakespeare as the 'Identity Problem'.
The Engraving Picture
Before you read any further take a good, hard look at the picture of the
engraving at the top of the page. And form an honest opinion of the
opinions have been expressed about the copper engraving picture - and
they are far from complimentary. "Ludicrous" and "Monstrous" are some
terms that have been consistently applied. Sam Schoenbaum the author of
Shakespeare's Lives, wrote the following:
"...a huge head, placed
against a starched ruff, surmounts an absurdly small tunic with
oversized shoulder-wings...Light comes from several directions
simultaneously: it falls on the bulbous protuberance of forehead ...
that 'horrible hydrocephalous development', as it has been called ...
creates and odd crescent under the right eye..." - Sam Schoenbaum
hard, wooden, staring thing." - Richard Grant White
"Even in its best
state, it is such a monstrosity that, I for one, do not believe that it
has any trustworthy exemplar." - C. M. Ingleby
"The face is long and
the forehead high; the one ear which is visible is shapeless; the top of
the head is bald, but the hair falls in abundance over the ears." - Sir
Well, at first glance one cannot help but agree! So what
on earth was Martin Droeshout the engraver thinking of? Surely such an
illustration, on an important 900 page document, commissioned by
the powerful Pembroke family would have been immediately rejected as
quite grotesque? Why did they choose Droeshout as the engraver? Would
they really have entrusted such an important task to a raw apprentice,
apparently incompetent, with no talent and no sense of proportion or
Who was Martin Droeshout?
Martin Droeshout (1601 - 1651) came from a Flemish family of painters
and engravers. His grandfather, Michael and his elder brother, John were
both engravers and his father, John, was a painter. Martin had two
nephews, sons of his brother Michael. The eldest son, John Droeshout
(1599–1652), was also an engraver. Clearly a strong family business and
an artistic family. Martin would have been trained at an early age in
the family business. Martin's family came from Brussels as Protestant
refugees. Martin Droeshout was 22 years old when the First Folio was
published - well beyond the age of an apprentice and in fact reasonably
mature for a role which required natural artistic talent. Shakespeare
died in 1616 and there are no claims that Droeshout had ever met
Shakespeare. It was therefore likely that Droeshout had been provided
with a description of the required picture / illustration which was to
be conveyed by the engraving. Ben Jonson, John Hemminge and Henry
Condell, who were involved in the publication of the First Folio, all
knew William Shakespeare personally and were therefore likely to have
provided the engraver with a description and perhaps an existing
likeness. The Burbages, when writing a letter to the Earl of Pembroke,
referred to Shakespeare as "the man they all knew, the former actor and
businessman from Stratford..."
Other work by Martin Droeshout
Martin Droeshout made engravings of many famous and important people.
These included John Donne, the Duke of Buckingham, the Bishop of Durham,
the Marquis of Hamilton and Lord Coventry. Most significant is that in
1631 Martin Droeshout was commissioned with the second edition of
Crooke's "Mikrokosmographia" this was a massive folio containing over
1000 pages. He therefore must have had an excellent reputation as an
accomplished engraver. So is there may be more to the First Folio
engraving than meets the eye.
Ben Jonson's Commendation of the Droeshout engraving:
To the Reader.
This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for
gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the Graver had a strife
Nature, to out-doo the life :
O, could he but have drawne his wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face ; the Print would then
All, that was ever writ in brasse.
But, since he cannot,
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.
But to gain a
deeper insight into the 'First Folio' we must ignore Ben Jonson's words
Not on his Picture, but his Booke".
A Closer Look
There are many peculiarities about the engraving which have strengthened
the arguments of the Shakespeare Identity and Authorship Problem. The
following comments and speculations have been made by various experts
about the engraving.
is out of all proportion with the body. There is a peculiar line running
from the ear down to the chin. Does this signify that the face is in
fact a mask? The mask speculation was suggested by Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence
(author of Bacon is Shakespeare) who stated that it was a cunningly
drawn cryptographic picture. Could it be an Actor's mask or even
someone's Death Mask? Is it a mask attached to the back of someone's
head? It has also been suggested that the eyes are wrong as they are in
fact two left eyes. So we start the trail of the possible concealed
messages in the Martin Droeshout engraving of William Shakespeare...
engraving on the doublet is quite intricate but on closer inspection it
seems to show according to Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence, author of 'Bacon
is Shakespeare', the front of the right arm is on one side but, 'without
doubt', the back of the left arm on the other side. The picture was
given to two tailoring journals. 'The Tailor and Cutter', March 1911 and
'The Gentleman's Tailor', April 1911 . Both these trade journals agreed
that the figure was clothed in a coat composed of the back and the front
of the same left arm. This was proved by cutting out the two halves of
the coat and showing them shoulder to shoulder.
It has been suggested that the type of collar depicted on the engraving
did not exist. This is not a style of collar that has ever been traced
to any one else during this era, it appears to be completely unique. The
head does not appear to be connected to the body but is sitting on the
collar. We were intrigued by the Droeshout picture. The collar, as
depicted, would have been an impossible part of Shakespeare's apparel -
the collar looks solid, it has no fastenings, how would you put this on?
So we looked at the collar at all angles - if it was not a collar what
else could it possibly be?
The Plot Thickens
The next interesting connection is the strange changes to the Droeshout image of William Shakespeare by the engraver William Marshall on the second edition (1640) of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Please click the link to find out more. Our own research has uncovered some new material and some unique ideas. These are explained in
The Collar Theory. In view of all the speculation about Shakespeare we have also included a section called the
Identity Problem which we hope will guide our visitors through the maze of speculation.
More images of William Shakespeare
Further likenesses of William Shakespeare may be obtained by clicking on: