To be or not to be, Shakespeare?

Shakespeare portrait claimed in illustration John Gerard The Herball

George Sumner is an environmental impressionist painter, specializing in ocean scenes. 20 years ago you would have found his work in galleries across America including Hawaii. In fact, 20 years ago, you couldn’t have visited the island chain without tripping over a painting or lithograph of his. His popularity has waned over the years and now his work is limited to Northern California.

My mother fell in love with his work during the height of his popularity. She had a condo in Hawaii that was decorated with his lithographs. An art dealer, sensing a true patron, got her in touch with Somner’s ex-wife. The ex had a painting of his for sale. It was a painting that wasn’t cataloged as he had painted for his wife, now ex-wife. My mother jumped at the chance to own a one of a kind piece of work. A piece that was never reprinted for sale; very few people know it even exists. After my mother tired of it (it’s huge and doesn’t fit in her scaled down lifestyle) she sold it to another collector who was also happy to have a one of a kind piece.

Now, let’s say that collector keeps it in the family for several generations, and in, let’s say 100 years from now, Sumner is popular once again. Can you imagine the thrill the art world would feel if the owner of the piece comes forward with this unknown painting? The origin story makes the piece all that more interesting.

These things happen. Just recently there’s been a discovery of a previously unknown Van Gogh. A Rembrandt scholar thinks he has found 70 misidentified paintings. Who knows how many unknown or misidentified works of art are waiting to be found? How many are actually hidden in plain sight?

According to the latest edition of Country Magazine, a botanist found a book that contains a picture of Shakespeare hidden in plain sight. The article in Country Magazine makes the claim that what they have, reveals an astonishing new image of William Shakespeare, the first and only known demonstrably authentic portrait of the world’s greatest writer made in his lifetime.

The go to explain:

Botanist and historian Mark Griffiths reveals in this week’s issue of Country Life magazine, how he cracked a many-layered Tudor code and revealed the living face of Shakespeare for the first time, on the title page of The Herball by John Gerard, a 16th century book on plants, 400 years after it was first published.

Upon reading this my first thought was, “Oh great, another code cracker. Had Griffiths read one too many Dan Brown novels?” But of course I had to keep an open mind, so I spent a few hours reading the various takes on what Country Magazine calls “the find of the century”.


Griffiths claims that while studying the life of John Gerard, he started researching the title page of The Herball in order to determine who the four figures are that make up the edges of the page. He noticed some Latin under each of them and after doing some Robert Langdon style deciphering, came up with a theory that they are Gerard himself, the Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens, Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister Lord Burghley, who was Gerard’s patron, and the man dressed in a Togo, William Shakespeare. “At first, I found it hard to believe that anyone so famous, so universally sought, could have hidden in plain sight for so long,” Griffiths said. But he is convinced that this is only reasonable explanation for this figure. I’m still trying to find a reasonable explanation for the code. Ready? Here is it as spelled out by Telegraph newspaper:

The number four + the letter ‘E’ – translating in Latin as ‘quater-e’, meaning ‘to shake’

The letters ‘OR’ – the heraldic term for gold, a reference to the Shakespeare family coat of arms

The code can also be read from left to right, top to bottom, as ‘quat-e-or’, a Renaissance spelling of ‘quatior’, meaning ‘I shake’

A rebus representing a spear – put together these say ‘shake-spear’

A letter ‘W’ to represent William

He goes on to suggest, the man in the portrait is holding an ear of sweetcorn, a fleur-de-lys and a fritillary (a flower of the lily family) in references to Titus Andronicus, Henry VI Part I and Venus and Adonis respectively.

Now that’s some code! No wonder no one else in 400 years has pointed to this as Shakespeare. It makes me wonder what Mr. Botanist smokes in his spare time. Just for fun I consulted a couple of my Latin dictionaries to see if indeed quatere translates into “to shake”. I found out that there are several Latin words that translate into shake, depending on the context, but only one that means “to shake”; Exhorresco. Quarter translates into 4. But my dictionaries could be wrong….

John Overholt, a Harvard scholar says, not so fast. This same “code” or device is nothing more than a printer’s mark. He has found the same code listed as a printer’s mark in the William and John Norton Compendium of Printer’s Stamps, published in 1749. Oxford Professor Edward Wilson, who backs up Griffiths’ claim, quipped back that the Nortons must have made an error in judgment in saying that this is a printer’s mark. Easy to say when the men in question have been dead for over 300 years and can’t defend themselves.

Many Shakespeare scholars think that what Griffiths has come up with is utter nonsense. Micheal Dobbs and Paul Edmonson both laugh at the idea. While I want to keep an open mind, I am on the side of scholars for a couple of reasons.

If this is a code, it’s a pretty far-reaching one. If this truly is supposed to be Shakespeare, why go to such lengths to hide it? Why not make it obvious for all to see?

Second, even if this is a depiction of Shakespeare, it isn’t self evident that this is a true to life likeness. For all we know it may be the artist’s interpretation of what he thinks the great poet is supposed to look like. It is a big leap to say this might be a nod to Shakespeare and a monumental leap to say this is the only known demonstrably authentic portrait of the world’s greatest writer made in his lifetime, as Country Life is claiming.

We aren’t exactly sure what Shakespeare looked like. The only known authentic likenesses of Shakespeare are found in the First Folio and on the effigy on his monument at Holy Trinity church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Both of these were commissioned posthumously. Ah, and there’s the rub. Is this to be or not to be a realistic picture of the young playwright? We may never know. But, I am betting against it, as Country Life has made a far greater claim, one that should have been the lead story. Next week they are going to present us with a newly discovered play penned by non-other than Shakespeare!

I smell a book deal in the works.


Country Life, Shakespeare His true likeness reveled at last

The Guardian Shakespeare: writer claims discovery of only portrait made during his lifetime

Charles Murry Latin to English Dictionary

John Stone, Latin for the illiterati

The Telegraph, William Shakespeare: Newly-discovered image revealed

The Sunday Rant is back

Sunday Weekly rant, I mean wrap up

I haven’t posted a Sunday rant in quite a while. Truth be told, it’s been a couple of years. Many of my followers probably don’t even know that this type of post used to be a weekly event. I titled my Sunday posts, “Sunday wrap up” or “Sunday Rant”, depending on the topic and my mood. I’d look at the past week’s news and give my thoughts, or I’d post about something that really ticked me off. I stopped posting these not because my dear Readers didn’t like them, but because I notice as I age, I don’t give much energy to negativity: in myself, or world events. I hope this means I’ll be a laid-back old lady who wears funny hats, not a bitter old woman who always wears a frown.

As much as I like to think I can usually roll with the punches or at least just sigh softly when annoyed, today is not one of those days. Today, I feel it necessary to rant.

My weekend mood did not start out like this. I had high hopes for a very blissful, quiet weekend. It’s been raining off and on for the last few days and the weekend forecast called the same. There is nothing I like more than a rainy weekend cuddled up on the couch with a book. As a reader, I’m sure you can relate, and as a reader you probably have a specific book in mind when you plan for this kind of weekend getaway. I usually do.

My son gave me a Barns and Noble gift card for Mother’s Day. I was so thrilled with the idea of ordering books off my wish list that I jumped online that very night. I picked out the second book of The Science of Discworld series and Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebook. Imagine, all four of my favorite subjects: science, the Discworld, Shakespeare, and Doctor Who, mashed together and available for my rainy weekend enjoyment.

I would need this distraction after my long workweek. One of my co-workers went on holiday and it was up to me to do both of our jobs, including dealing with the public, and forgoing my lunch breaks as no one offered to back me up. On top of this I was just beginning to learn a new software system only to find out that what we had was outdated. The new system was loaded up and it fell to me to learn it from scratch; no one else had a clue how to use it. By Friday I was mentally exhausted and looked forward to doing nothing more than moving from the bed to the couch. But, there was a problem. The books I had ordered from Barns and Noble hadn’t shown up yet. Mind you, the depository is only 11 miles from my house. Where the hell were my books?

A few years ago this wouldn’t have been an issue. I remember wondering if Barns and Noble had some how hacked into my computer because I’d come home a day after placing an order to find a box waiting for me. Sometimes I’d receive my books having ordered them the night before! Surely they shouldn’t be taking five days to go 11 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 11.01.53 AM

Friday morning I got online to track my order. Perhaps my books had to come from a different depository, one across the country? Nope, as you can see from the screen shot, (taken this morning with updated information) the books originated in Reno but for some inexplicable reason, went from there to California and back again in one day! It took another whole day to get from Reno to Carson City, which are only a few miles apart. Let that sink in. It took less than 24 hours to get from one state to another and back again, yet took longer to travel interstate. On top of this cluster, the books were originally shipped UPS, yet on day two they were given to the US Postal Service for delivery. Okay, I thought, don’t get upset, as of Friday morning Reno has my books. With luck I’ll have them Saturday. No worries. In all honesty, I had a few things I had to do Saturday morning anyway.

I got up early Saturday and spent the morning working on a side job in between washing and folding laundry. Surly by the time I was done my books would have arrived and I could disappear from this world into Terry Pratchett’s. With luck, I’d be visiting Shakespeare with Doctor Who on Sunday. But no, it was not to be. When I checked the mail I was surprised to see a small package, but not my books.

The small package contained a plastic cover for my new iPhone. I ordered this on Mother’s Day around the same time I ordered my books. I didn’t expect to see the cover for at least two weeks, given that I ordered it from an Amazon 3rd party vendor who said their shipments take up to two weeks. Not only did it arrive early, it came all the way from Florida! For those of you who are not familiar with the U.S., Florida is about as far from Nevada as it gets. It is on the far side of the East Coast, while I sit just four hours away from the Pacific Ocean. By this time I was livid.

I expressed my displeasure with B&N via Twitter. To their credit they responded rather quickly with a request that I send them my order number so that they could look into the issue. The next response was baffling. They told me, “It shipped on the 13th, and would take 3 working days to get to me. I should see it on the 18th”. I am not good at math, but if the 13th counts as the first shipping day, wouldn’t the 15th be the third? And, since the Post Office is open on Saturdays, making it a workday for them, wouldn’t the 16th count if the 13th didn’t? There was no response to my question. As far as they are concerned this is a non-issue. Well, I have news for you Barns and Noble; I am going to make this a non-issue by never ordering from your online store again. If you don’t what I want in stock, I will order from Amazon, even if I have to order from a third party vendor. They at least know how to ship a proper package.

Yes, I am aware this is a first-world problem and yes, I am aware this is not much of a problem at all. But given that other bookstores are trying to compete with Amazon, you would think that B&N would do everything in their power to ensure “expedited” (their words not mine) shipping. I know they can do it because they used to offer better service than Amazon. Thinking about carbon footprints of these two books makes me ill. And, I would at least expect a better response from the company who is only 11 miles from my house.

Thanks for letting me rant. Now, back to wearing funny hats.