1664 marked one hundred years since the birth of Shakespeare. Around this time, his legacy was building strength.
The Chesterfield Portrait of William Shakespeare is attributed to Pieter Borsselaer and dates from around 1664 – 1679. The portraits of Shakespeare are constantly under discussion. The two images which have always informed our image of Shakespeare were created after his death: the bust which sits above his grave in Holy Trinity Church, and the Droeshout portrait in the First Folio which was published seven years after his death in 1623. Recently, a portrait was discovered known as the Cobbe portrait; there was much debate over whether it was painted during his lifetime. The Chersterfield Portrait, shown here, is thought to be based on the Droeshout portrait, and shows how Shakespeare was perceived at the time--a good indication of his growing stature. This portrait hangs in our conference room and we are often asked during talks about the meaning of Shakespeare’s appearance and stance in the painting. My personal feeling is that he has one hand on his works and the other hand is inviting you in. What do you think this painting could mean?
Years before 1664, Shakespeare’s works had been brought together in one book in the First Folio. Ten years after the publication of the Second Folio, the Civil War broke out, and the London theatres were closed. After seven years, King Charles I, who had owned a copy of the Second Folio, was executed by the parliament. The English monarchy was restored in 1660 with Charles II, who reopened the London theatres; Shakespeare’s plays were among the first to resume. 1664 saw the publication of the Third Folio (or Mr William Shakespear’s comedies, histories & tragedies. The third impression). This was the first Shakespearean publication since the Restoration.
While the Third Folio is the first to include Pericles, it also contains The London Prodigal, The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell, Sir Joh Oldcastle Lord Cobham, The Puritan Widow, A Yorkshire Tragedy and The Tragedy of Locrine. Pericles has since been established among Shakespearean cannon while the other six plays are now considered apocryphal. These additional plays are not included in the main contents page but are listed on the title page and appear at the back of the Folio. One copy of the Third Folio that we have in our collection was originally owned by John Payne Collier (1789-1883), purchased from Baldwin’s Gardens, near Hatton Garden in 1806. John Payne Collier’s notes, facing title-page dated 19 July 1876, are an interesting read:
“I fancied it the first edition and a great prize; and what pleasure I had in making up its deficiencies. I was then properly ignorant, and was only beginning what I wish I had never begun! J.P.C”. He also added “...yet, who shall dare to talk of wasting time upon Shakespeare?”
Part of his “making up the deficiencies” involved Collier creating his own title-page in ink. It is rare to find a Folio which is all in one piece, as the title page with the Droeshout portrait was a popular page to steal from them in the past. Another copy in our collection has the portrait stuck on to the page.
In the local collection, we have copies of two charters granted by King Charles II to the Borough of Stratford upon Avon from 1664 and 1674. The copies are in the handwriting of John Jordan, commonly known as “the poet wheelwright of Stratford”. The charter decrees that Stratford Corporation will have a common seal and it appoints the Mayor of the borough.
All images are copyright © Shakespeare Birthplace Trust unless otherwise stated.