‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Some Notes on the Newly Discovered Portrait of William Shakespeare

Click on the image to see it properly.

Apparently, a 1614 dandy-roll watermark on its paper dates this portrait to some point between 1614 and 1616, this latter cut-off being, of course, when Shakespeare died. The image is bound into an octavo volume entitled Caroli Neapolis Anaptyxis ad Fastos P. Ovidii Nasonis (1622), as part of a separate pamphlet called Northwarde Worthies, undated but presumably 1614-16. None of the (five) other portraits included in this pamphlet are identified, or carry any kind of legend, but this sheet has Gull. Shakspar Seniore Strattfordii inked on the back in a small, neat hand.

The nose is a little broader around the nostrils than the Droeshout portrait, although not much; and the face is a similar shape, the hairline and facial hair close, and the eyes, though perhaps more careworn than those that peer from the more familiar Folio image, are unmistakeably his.


  1. It's not W.S., of course; but you already knew that. It's this gentleman, from a print held in the Wellcome institute. The question is: if this image were proved to be a representation of Shakespeare, would it make any difference to how you read the plays? Would it add anything to our sense of the last years of Shakespeare's life? What can a portrait tell us, anyway?

  2. As much from the shading as the droop of the eyelid, perhaps evidence of a stroke, or monocular macular degeneration.

    Enough to push back the composition date for Julius Caesar. "Set honour in one eye & death in the other." Perhaps. It's only in the Folio.

    I'm assuming this post was a veiled reference to the recent controversy over the possible new portrait of Shakespeare? I don't buy it

    Or this one?

    Was it this one?

    At first I thought "it would make a difference, but an arbitrary difference, more like a new cup of coffee than a new source." But then, maybe a face emerging from a body of writing is no more ridiculous than a voice emerging?

  3. "Maybe a face emerging from a body of writing is no more ridiculous than a voice emerging" ... maybe so. Maybe more so for a theatrical artist than another kind?

    I think also the sheer ubiquity of that smoothly affectless blank-eyed Droeshout image infects our sense of what Shakespeare 'is', in some sense: ever-fresh and wrinkle-free, like a gigantic egg wearing a wig and with some features drawn on in felt tip.

  4. "As much from the shading as the droop of the eyelid, perhaps evidence of a stroke, or monocular macular degeneration."

    Good call, Dr House. That perhaps looks sarcastic, but wasn't meant as such. There's also the theory that Shakespeare in later life suffered from tertiary syphillis: Anthony Burgess (in his book on the Bard, and his novel Nothing Like the Sun, goes into this theory at length and with gusto).