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"Young Shakespeare Contemplating" by Ted May

We're taking a look at Ted May's contemporary interpretation of William Shakespeare's portrait.

Back in February Sheila McVey looked at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Portrait - our own copy of the Cobbe portrait, made during Shakespeare’s lifetime - and she considered how a portrait of Shakespeare could have been received in the seventeenth century.

And earlier this month Catherine Simpson brought us a post looking at the RSC’s flower portrait - a nineteenth century forgery claiming to be an original 17th century Shakespeare portrait.

Ted May Shakespeare
‘Young Shakespeare Contemplating’ by Ted May, 2004

To contrast this I thought I would take a look at some of the most recent portraits of Shakespeare in the Birthplace Trust collections and question how Shakespeare is painted and perceived nowadays. Young Shakespeare Contemplating is a portrait by Australian artist Ted May. This portrait was part of the exhibition ‘The Face of Shakespeare’ at the 8th World Shakespeare Congress, Brisbane City Hall, 16th-21st July 2006, and was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust following this. It can now be seen on display in the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street.

When producing the images of the dramatist for this exhibition Ted May not only took a humorous way in imagining what Shakespeare may have been/looked like, but he also started to write flippant rhymes and lines of poetry to accompany the pieces. The lines that accompanied this piece are as follows:

Young Shakespeare Contemplating

O Lord cast down thy thunderalls
Upon thy servant before ye, yo humble all
Oh Job, oh glob, o glory be
Strike before dawn with thousand thoughts
Send magic scrolls on sails of cloud
For yonder can’st I hear them cry
Shakespeare, Shakespeare you do’eth now,
“or die”.

Woe! Me hears the call so far and wide
What do I do now, shall I run and hide
But then surprise to he comes a call
To play men in tights, balls n all.

So he gathers around his merry men
And says to them, jus hang it loose
We need a good ruse to serve a hot pie
And a streaming stew for a cunning crew
Then cries aloud a full throttle call,
I’s got the plot
So die?
“Not I”.