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FOUND: A Portrait That Just Might Be William Shakespeare

Is this what Shakespeare looked like? (Image: Screenshot via Country Life)

This might be Shakespeare’s face, as a 33-year-old, after he had written A Midsummer’s Night Dream, but before he wrote Hamlet.

It’s a detail from a figure drawn into the frontispiece of a famous 16th century work of botany, John Gerard’s The Herball. Mark Griffiths, a botanist and historian, was working on a biography of Gerard and started trying to identify the people pictured in the image. At least four, he deduced, were real people—there was Gerard and his patron, Lord Burghley. The third figure was a famous Flemish botanist. The fourth, Griffiths argues in Country Life, a venerable British magazine, is Shakespeare.

Griffiths’ evidence comes from what the Guardian describes as “an elaborate Tudor code of rebuses, ciphers, heraldic motifs and symbolic flowers.” The identities of Lord Burghley and of Shakespeare, Griffiths says, were encoded not just in the plants around but in symbols beneath them.”


The code. (Image: Screenshot via Country Life)

The details of Griffiths’ discovery are contained in a Country Life article; though some Shakespeare scholars are skeptical—there have been claims to finding Shakespeare’s portrait before—Griffiths did enlist an Oxford English professor to help verify his theory. 

Bonus finds: A new species of aquatic pillbug, a 1,400-year-old wine press40,000 bees living under the floorboards in Queens

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to [email protected]