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Portrait of a Young Man, referred to as the Grafton portrait, held in the John Rylands Library, is by an unknown English artist and dates from 1588. In the past it has been accepted as a true likeness of William Shakespeare. The Library however does not uphold this identification due to a lack of concrete proof. Yet, because many people retain an interest in the potent presence of this handsome young man and wonder about his connection to Shakespeare, other approaches are being used to try to test its authenticity.

A recent experiment was carried by Ray Evans, Research Fellow in Psychology at the University of Manchester, who used forensic image recognition software to compare the face in the Grafton portrait with the engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droëshout. Droëshout’s portrait has always carried the stamp of authenticity, coming as it does with endorsements from Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Using software Ray compared the position, size, and shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, chin and ears in the two images.

Whilst the results presented in the film ‘prove’ nothing they do show a very close match between the two faces. Through time, as other scientific methods are developed, we may gain a greater understanding of the relationship between the Grafton portrait and Shakespeare. Meanwhile both portraits are on display in the Rylands Gallery where visitors can compare them for themselves.