This is a Shakespeare that I don't think we are familiar with.
This Shakespeare is young and he looks mischievous, almost like a rascal, a playboy.
The way he holds the hand of Comedy, who is falling all over him, is very suggestive. It's almost as if he was not faithful to anyone, or anything.
Tragedy stands her ground, but with his outstretched arm, and his seductive gaze, we know it will be impossible for her to resist him for long.
Of course, you can disagree. You can ask how could this artist Richard Westall possibly know what Shakespeare was like, especially since they lived 200 years apart.
But what if we are the ones who don't know Shakespeare, and artists and audiences 200 years ago were much closer to understanding him than we are?
Westall's painting is a far cry from the paintings and portraits of Shakespeare that we are familiar with:
The Shakespeare in these paintings is sober and mature, every bit the gentleman.
Except for one little thing. In the second painting on the bottom, you will notice an earring!
There has been much written about what this may mean, and there is even doubt that this is a painting of Shakespeare at all.
But if it is Shakespeare, then it may just be that Shakespeare was not the gentleman he is sold as.
What if Shakespeare, as a young man, was a scoundrel who loved bawdy humor?
I do think he was more of a scoundrel than we think. I think that he loved comedy, in all of its shapes and sizes, and I have discovered a level of naughty humor, especially in The Merchant of Venice, that is eye-opening. I think it's hilarious that for so long Merchant has been misunderstood as a tragicomedy, when in fact it is far from that. My version sets it right, and "brings the funny."
I am not a scholar. I'm a writer. Just as the artist in me can sense that Shakespeare was a very funny man, and often rudely so, I think that the artist in Richard Westall could sense the same thing.
What do you think?