By: Angie Haddock
Following his divorce, down-and-out writer and Mississippi exile Lee Durkee holed himself up in a Vermont fishing shack and fell prey to a decades-long obsession with Shakespearian portraiture. It began with a simple premise: despite the prevalence of popular portraits, no one really knows what Shakespeare looked like. That the Bard of Avon has gotten progressively handsomer in modern depictions seems only to reinforce this point.
This one was fairly riveting, albeit in a totally nerdy and slightly manic way.
I studied theatre in college, and have read some Shakespeare plays in my time. But I had never considered that we don’t actually know what he looked like. There are a few popular portraits that are used to portray him, and many that have been assumed to be him over the years, but – while they all depict men of his era, and are similar in some ways – there are discrepancies among them that would indicate they may not be portraits of the same person.
So, who decides if any of these Elizabethan men are or are not William Shakespeare? Apparently, there is a whole world of museum curators, art restorers, and scholars who debate things like this. And often, disagree. And maybe even, sometimes, hide or purposefully misrepresent their findings?
The author, though, is admittedly obsessive. Also an alcoholic, on Adderall, and at times addicted to pain killers. So, while some of these tales are indeed fascinating, we have to ask if he is predisposed to seeing things as “conspiracies.”
Another theory that arises from this world is one that I had heard of before, but didn’t realize was still hotly debated. And that is: was William Shakespeare even real? Obviously, his plays were. But were they written by someone else using a pen name? Or perhaps even by several authors? The various theories on who else might have written his works are peeked into in this book, and make for pretty scandalous reading at times.
I enjoyed this one. Obviously, though, I like a good non-fiction, and have a passing interest in theatre stuff. I feel like it may get too “in the weeds” for a casual reader. It would easily appeal to fans of history, and specifically British and/or art history.
Shakespeare – if he really existed at all – has birth and death dates that are both in April. In honor of that, this book comes out today, April 18th. I was able to read ahead through NetGalley and the publisher, Scribner.