The True Face Of William Shakespeare Revealed?


The History Channel is set to air a special program called Death Masks in the UK this month and claims to have recreated, thru cutting edge 3D technology, the true “warts and all” face of the most famous writer in the English language — William Shakespeare (as well as other famous men in history). According to The History Channel, this is what the Bard really looked like when he was alive:

Scientists have used state-of-the-art 3D computer technology to create what they say is the first true likeness of William Shakespeare. The image shows every wrinkle on the playwright’s face and the figure’s haunted stare is radically different from existing images which purport to be of the Bard. The warts-and-all image is featured in a TV documentary called Death Masks, due to be screened on the History Channel on September 13. Director Stuart Clarke said: ‘The results from this forensic examination are startling. ‘They show strong evidence both forensically and historically that this 3D model may be, in fact, the way Shakespeare looked in life. ‘Breakthroughs in computer imaging mean we may have to rewrite the history books on Shakespeare.’ Clarke’s team have also produced 3D likenesses of Napoleon, Julius Caesar, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The recreations are based on scans taken from death masks – and in some cases masks made during life. The producers of the show claim that the images will challenge viewers’ perceptions of what some of history’s most famous figures looked like. The image of Napoleon is said to be significantly different from that which the French have become accustomed to, while the ‘real’ face of Washington is nothing like his image on the dollar bill. But the recreation of Shakespeare is likely to cause the most controversy. The Bard’s true likeness has been the subject of speculation for centuries and many experts dispute that the death mask used in the programme is Shakespeare’s. It was found in Darmstadt, Germany, in the 1840s and German scientists linked it to Shakespeare after carrying out a series of tests. They say it proves the writer suffered from cancer towards the end of his life. Forensic anthropologist Dr Caroline Wilkinson insisted there were ‘a large number of consistencies’ between the 3D image and portraits of the writer. But Shakespeare Birthplace Trust chairman Stanley Welles rejects the validity of the new image and the death mask, adding: ‘Shakespeare was not a national figure at the time, not in the way he is today, and it is unlikely a mask like this would have been made.’

I understand that Death Masks on The History Channel already aired here in the US last Fall but obvs I missed seeing/hearing about it the first time around. As a huge fan of Shakespeare (and history overall), I am terribly interested in this show tho. It is so cool to think that today’s technology can possibly show us what the most famous people in the world really looked like despite the fact that they died centuries ago. Because we can never be certain about the accuracy of this kind of thing there will always be controversy (ie. is this really what Shakespeare looked like?) but still, even a close estimation or approximation is very very cool. This reminds me of the item I linked a few weeks ago from io9 about how ultraviolet light can now show how colorful those white marble statues in Greece looked when they were first created. History gets rewritten and amended all the time, so none of this is new in that sense … but that technology can shed new light on what one was in this way is just way cool … well, for a nerd like me ;)


  • Kristen

    I think they were working on a biography about Dennis Hopper and got a little mixed up… Does that not look just like Hopper?

    • @Kristen — Perhaps Dennis Hopper is a distant relative of Shakespeare?

  • chelsea

    are they airing it in the US at all? looks very interesting.

  • Robin

    I’ve seen the one they aired and I thought it was really interesting. They had Lincoln, Washington and I believe Caesar. What was really creepy though was when they made the computer generated images blink during the reveal.
    Life After People is a great show on the History Channel too. It’s insane to see how famous landmarks and artifacts would succumb to nature if no humans were around to maintain them.

  • Nicole

    Just like Dennis Hopper

  • Torrie

    I have a crush on Shakespeare. I was born 600 years too late. Alas. This helps. ;) Thanks for sharing!!

  • Acheron

    Hmmm… now if only we could prove that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare:

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