Bacon Overlap on Shakespeare
Shakespeare Overlap on Bacon

Martin Droeshout



from Baconiana October 1946

As the famous, or infamous, engraving prefixed to the First Folio of the Shakespeare Plays, continues to be reproduced in the Press, and by orthodox Shakespeareans, as if it were a representation of Shakespeare, it may well be as well to discuss the authenticity, and something about Martin Droeshout himself. Baconians claim that it is not intended to be a portrait or likeness of the author, but is a puzzle-picture showing a mask for a face, and a doublet of which the right hand side is turned back to front.

The orthodox reply is that it is just a bad drawing done from a portrait of the player, though no authentic contemporary portrait of him is known. There are, of course, a good many faked "portraits,"mostly of 18th century manufacture. In claiming the Droeshout engraving for a portrait, they overlook the fact that nobody who was so completely incompetent; so entirely lacking in any sense of proportion, or ability to represent the human form, would have been commissioned for this work, especially in so important a book. If he had, and dared to submit such a drawing his work would have been rejected. Upon the apparent monstrosity of the thing, staring at us from his expressionless mask, there is general agreement:

"A hard, wooden, staring thing."--Richard Grant White

"Even in its best state, it is such a monstrosity that, I for one, do not believe that it has any trustworthy exemplar."--C. M. Ingleby

"The face is long and the forehead high; the one ear which is visible is shapeless; the top of the head is bald, but the hair falls in abundance over the ears." --Sir Sidney Lee

In March 1911, the "portrait" was submitted to the editor of The Tailor and the Cutter and The Gentleman's Tailor Magazine. Both these trade journals agreed that the figure was clothed in a coat composed of the back and the front of the same left arm. This was proved by cutting out the two halves of the coat and showing them shoulder to shoulder.

Is it likely that Droeshout could have continued as a professional artist if this was a fair sample of his work? His career did not , however, suffer and he did produce engravings which, though not of the highest class, were really excellent.

He came of a Flemish family of painters and engravers. His grandfather (Michael) was an engraver; his father (John) a painter; his elder brother (John) also an engraver.

Martin was born in 1601, and died in 1651. He was, therefore, fifteen when Shakspere died at Stratford, and about ten when the player finally retired to Stratford. The drawing, therefore, was not done from life, nor is it likely that any representation of one who achieved no fame upon the stage would, like Burbage, have had his portrait painted. It will be seen from this that to claim the Droeshout "figure" as an authentic portrait is nonsense.

Droeshout was twenty-two when the Folio {of 1623}was printed. Having been brought up in a family of artists, he should have been mature at that age, for artistic talent develops early. We cannot account for the grotesqueness of the engraving by declaring it the work of an uninstructed botcher.

He made engravings of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham; John Howson, Bishop of Durham; James, Marquis of Hamilton; Sir Thomas Overbury; Helkiah Crooke, M.D.; Dr. Donne; John Foxe; Thomas, Lord Coventry, and others.

Some of these were contemporaries and persons of importance. What should they, their families or their descendants, have said and done if Droeshout had treated his subjects as he had Shakespeare? He was appointed engraver for several publications. Among these was the second edition of Crooke's "Mikrokosmographia" (1631)--an imposing folio over 1000 pages. It is interesting and significant to compare the workmanship, and ask oneself if Droeshout really attempted to depict Shakespeare or anybody at all.

The argument that the paralysing "figure" which was "for gentle Shakespeare cut," is the result of entrusting the work to a raw apprentice will not do, and we can only account for it as being a deliberate fake for the purpose of signalling the fact that the identity of the author is hidden behind a mask.

We are told to turn to the book and discover the author by his mind.


















: - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning