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Is this the ‘true face’ of Shakespeare?

Is this William Shakespeare? A British botanist says it is. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

What did Shakespeare look like? A debate that could have gone without an answer until the ‘last syllable of recorded time’ may have finally been answered.

British magazine Country Life has published what it says is the ‘true face’ of William Shakespeare – “the first and only known demonstrably authentic portrait of the world’s great writer made in his lifetime.”

The purported portrait was discovered by botanist Mark Griffiths on the cover of a 400-year-old botany book and shows the playwright with a full head of curly hair and a hipster moustache.

The book features four hitherto unidentified figures on the cover.

But Griffiths was apparently able to “decode” the symbols surrounding the figures to conclude they were the author of the book John Gerard, a French botanist Rembert Dodoens, Queen Elizabeth’s treasurer Lord Burghley, and the playwright.

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According to the BBC, the engraving shows Shakespeare holding a “fritillary and an ear of sweetcorn” – an apparent reference to his poem Venus and Adonis and his play Titus Andronicus.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 19: A copy of The Herball book shows what is thought to be the first authenticated living portrait of William Shakespeare at The Rose Theatre on May 19, 2015 in London, England. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Griffiths worked with Edward Wilson, a fellow at Worcester College in Oxford for five years before bringing his find to Country Life, and doesn’t “think anyone is going to dispute this,” according to the BBC.

“[This is] the literary discovery of the century. We have a new portrait of Shakespeare, the first ever that is identified as him by the artist and made in his lifetime,” Mark Hedges, the editor of Country Life wrote on the magazine’s website.
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While Griffiths is positive he found Shakespeare, others aren’t convinced.

“I haven’t seen the detailed arguments but Country Life is certainly not the first publication to make this sort of claim,” Professor Michael Dobson, the director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham told the BBC.

And Mathew Ward, a historian who runs the website HistoryNeedsYou.com, suggested on Twitter the portrait wasn’t Shakespeare at all.

The Country Life issue with the story about the Shakespeare portrait is to be published ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.’

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