A 400 year old botany book contains what appears to be the “only known demonstrably authentic portrait” of William Shakespeare.
Country Life Magazine’s latest issue contains the historical illustration which depicts the Bard, aged 33, as a Roman Poet.
The great poet and playwright is seen in the company of Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England at the time and two other botanists, including the author. The illustration of the Bard “with a film star’s good looks”, appears on the cover of ‘The Herball’, a 16th century book on plants by herbalist and botanist John Gerard.
The discovery was made by deciphering the identities of the four men who appeared on the cover.
Before Country Life’s latest revelations there were only unauthenticated drawings of the Bard, made after his death.
The discovery was made by Mark Griffiths, a botanist and historian, who found the image on the title page of a 16th century book on plants.
Painstaking research into bizarre a Tudor code of “rebuses, ciphers, heraldic motifs and emblematic flowers were used to identify names and social position” eventually revealed that one of the four men depicted on the front cover of The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, was William Shakespeare himself.
The image, just 3.5 inches tall, was engraved in 1597, when Shakespeare would have been 33.
Edward Wilson, Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, writes in Country Life: “This is the most important contribution to be made to our knowledge of Shakespeare in generations.”
Next week, Country Life says it will reveal a new play by Shakespeare, and how his career was launched.
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