Books | March 20, 2021 6:00 am

Sculpture at Shakespeare’s Grave Was Likely Modeled From Life

New findings offer a rich portrait of the playwright

Shakespeare's grave
Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was laid to rest.
Roland Leon/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

What did William Shakespeare look like? For some people, the answer to that question can be found in Martin Droeshout’s famous engraving of the author. Others might think of one of the actors who has played Shakespeare on screen — including Kenneth Branagh, Joseph Fiennes and James Callis. But there’s another storied depiction of Shakespeare which, based on new evidence, might have a distinctive advantage over all the rest. Why? Because it’s both three-dimensional and was made during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Dalya Alberge at The Guardian explained the findings in a new article. Shakespeare’s grave is located in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Above the grave is an effigy of the late writer. New evidence assembled by Georgetown professor Lena Cowen Orlin suggests that this was created by one Nicholas Johnson — whose time in Stratford-upon-Avon overlapped with Shakespeare’s own.

“If this sculptor followed his usual practice, he would have been in Stratford some time in the year before Shakespeare’s death,” Orlin told The Guardian. “Even if not, his workshop was round the corner from the Globe. It’s highly likely that he would then have seen Shakespeare’s face.”

Orlin is slated to expand on her findings in a lecture delivered on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday next month. Her forthcoming book The Private Life of William Shakespeare is set to contain even more information. Shakespeare’s life and times have continued to fascinate many over the years; this latest information helps demonstrate why.

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