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Shakespeare's Face    by Stephanie Nolen order for
Shakespeare's Face
by Stephanie Nolen
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2002 (2002)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

In May, 2001, a story by reporter Stephanie Nolen ran in the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper: a man in an Ottawa suburb had in his possession a painting that was, he claimed, the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted while the playwright was alive. The painting has, predictably, become the center of an enormous controversy: is it genuine? Is it a fake? If it really was painted when its owner says it was, can anybody prove it's a picture of ol' Will?

Here, Nolen marshalls an impressive array of experts -- Shakespearean scholars, art authorities, historians -- to examine the painting and to render their opinions: how likely is it that this is a portrait of the Bard of Avon? The writing ranges from the scholarly to the informal, but the subject is spellbinding.

This is a splendid piece of detective work: a biography of Shakespeare; a history of art fraud and the profitable Shakespeare-forgery trade; a look at the venerable did-Shakespeare-really-write-Shakespeare controversy (yes, our expert concludes, he did; certainly he did); and a portrait of a man who really, truly believes he owns a remarkable piece of history.

Is this, as the author asks in the final chapter, the face of genius? Well, it wouldn't be much fun if there were a definitive answer, would it? Maybe it is; maybe it isn't. Read the book, make up your own mind. It sure is an exciting adventure.

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