Cobbe Chandos Droeshout



A new image (the portrait on the left above) believed to be of Shakespeare, could give us more of a sense of the man he was. It would be the only authenticated portrait made while he was still alive.

The face which looks out from this portrait is much younger (supposedly the playwright was 39 at the time) than the engraved image always used. Instead of the somewhat lifeless and stiff mature gentleman we are so used to seeing, with his receding hairline and tired expression, we see a vibrant man, looking at us with the confident air of an achiever. He also has a much more elegant nose!

Regardless of the debate that will, no doubt, last for some time over the authenticity of the painting, looking at this more youthful, energetic man brought to mind the countless words and expressions still commonly used and attributed to Shakespeare. We can forget the extent of Shakespeare’s influence on the development of modern English; it’s amazing how much of an impact one man has had. Looking at this new portrait I definitely get more of a sense of the person who enjoyed playing with words, even forming new ones, although not all of them caught on.

Some of my favourites that did not become accepted into the language are to congreet (meaning to greet each other), to friend (befriend), co-mate (‘co’ meaning ‘together’ as in the word ‘co-worker’), fracted (broken), relume (relight) and needly (a more concise form of ‘needfully’).

However, more important are those which did become accepted. Phrases such as ‘a heart of gold’ (Henry V), ‘a foregone conclusion’ (Othello), ‘for goodness sake’ (Henry VIII), ‘with bated breath’ (The Merchant of Venice), ‘the world is my oyster’ (Henry IV, Part 2), ‘own flesh and blood’ (Hamlet), ‘not sleep a wink’ (Cymbeline), ‘mum’s the word’ (Henry VI, Part 2), ‘love is blind’ (The Merchant of Venice) and ‘break the ice’ (The Taming of the Shrew).

It may never become clear if Shakespeare actually invented these phrases (they may have already been commonly used and he merely wrote them down). Nevertheless, what we can be certain about is the enormous influence the works of this man had on language as we know it.

A man whose words live on, so pervasively, almost four hundred years after his death.