Canadian Shakespeare News

Shakespeare Made in Canada Series at Rock’s Mills Press

Rock’s Mills Press, founded by former CEO of Oxford University Press David Stover, has recently contracted the Shakespeare Made in Canada Series as part of its mandate to publish “books that matter” For more on the series please click here.

The Shakespeare Made in Canada Series is edited by Daniel Fischlin and features:

  • New playtexts and annotation draw on the best international research

  • Scene summaries, character synopses, notes on the text, and tips for reading Shakespeare provide points of entry into complex early modern plays

  • Introductions by leading academics; prefaces by diverse Canadian voices including Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Sky Gilbert, and Daniel David Moses

  • Engaging, peer-reviewed Shakespeare editions for Canadians new to the plays

The Series Advisory Board consists of distinguished Canadian Shakespeareans Donald Beecher, Carleton University; Susan Bennett, University of Calgary; Mark Fortier, University of Guelph; Janelle Jenstad, University of Victoria; Susan Knutson, Université Sainte-Anne; Jill L. Levenson, University of Toronto; and Irena Makaryk, University of Ottawa.

All of the books published in the series feature the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare on the cover and include a short note on the portrait’s genealogy/provenance, the science surrounding the portrait, and the internal evidence associated with the portrait.

A Comparative Examination of the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare and the Droeshout Engraving of Shakespeare

A Comparative Examination of the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare and the Droeshout Engraving of Shakespeare: A Software Approach to the Mystery of Shakespeare’s Face


Jean-Pierre Doucet and Maude Doucet

In 2009 Andreas Kahnert used Photoshop to compare the Droeshout engraving and the Cobbe portrait (1). Significantly, his results have contributed to a definitive ruling out of the Cobbe as an authentic portrait of William Shakespeare. After watching Anne Henderson’s documentary Battle of Wills (2) about the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare, the only known portrait painted during his lifetime, we became fascinated with the various controversies regarding that claim and decided to explore further the comparison of the Sanders Portrait and the Martin Droeshout engraving mentioned in that documentary.

In what follows, a direct facial comparison approach is done using visual imaging software to compare the Sanders portrait with Droeshout’s famous engraving of Shakespeare (used as the frontispiece on the title page to the 1623 First Folio), and generally regarded as an ill-achieved yet somewhat accurate representation of Shakespeare late in his life by a young engraver (22 years old) yet to achieve the technical mastery he was to display later in his career. This comparative approach is possible because of a specific feature common to each artwork derived from the fact that the subjects in both works are shown from the same perspective. Further, as a complement to the present study, the Chandos portrait was also studied using similar techniques. This paper summarizes some of the findings based on the unique comparative analysis the software permits.

Being aware of the likely critics of the approach chosen (software that permits sophisticated analysis of facial features), a tool to do the work automatically, in order to minimize any user involvement, was needed. The FACE-OFF facial recognition software used for the current study fulfills that requirement. Developed by Bob Schmitt (from, the concept behind the software is deceptively simple as Mr. Schmitt describes it (and we summarize):

  • by finding the center of the eyes on both images with the help of a magnifier that one can move with a mouse, the software is able to normalize images;
  • the software also rotates the faces as best as possible and the eyes are put on the same horizontal plane;
  • then the pictures are placed so that a direct comparison can be done by sliding each image over each other as the user sees fit;
  • and a full superimposition of the pictures can also be done with the software allowing for close comparison.

The main basis of this software is to adjust each picture to the same interpupillary distance (IPD). In adulthood the IPD is a constant value (3) and this anatomical reference marker is used regularly for forensic facial identification (4, 5).

Although similar results were obtained with the final state of Droeshout engraving (data not shown), the first state of the Droeshout engraving (6) was used in parallel to the Sanders portrait (7) for this comparison. From the start it was apparent that the comparison at the level of the mouth would not be that good given the very different “looks” of the sitter––in the Sanders portrait the subject is faintly (if intensely and enigmatically) smiling while in the Droeshout engraving Shakespeare is deadly serious with no smile at all.

Regardless of this difference, the FACE-OFF software was used to identify the center of each eye in each picture. Then the software did the rest automatically.   Some of the screen-captures (using Corel Painter Essentials3 software) of the results are shown in the Fig. 1. The top screen-capture shows both subjects side-by-side, having the same IPD and their eyes put at the same horizontal level. And as the software cursor moves, the subject of the Sanders portrait fades in while Shakespeare’s face in the Droeshout engraving fades out. These screen-captures demonstrate how the Sanders portrait and the Droeshout engraving are closely related to each other.

Fig. 1: Various screen captures of the FACE-OFF comparison between the first state Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare and the Sanders portrait.

Though a detailed Table including various comparative measurements could have been made, we wanted to keep things simple for this essay by adding to the first FACE-OFF screen-capture parallel lines that already put in evidence the major facial features similarities observed in the screen-captures and by numbering the most obvious similarities found from all the screen-capture pictures (Fig. 2). These include: the same size of forehead (Fig. 2 panel A); the same size of the eyes and nose areas (Fig. 2 panel B); the same height of the lower facial anatomy (Fig. 2 panel C); the same height between the eyebrows and the chin (Fig. 2 panels B + C); the same total facial height (Fig. 2 panels A + B + C) in each image.

Among the main similarities, it is possible to find: 1) a similar baldness pattern; 2) same large forehead; 3) similar delicate eyebrows; 4) similar space between the eyebrows; 5) same hairstyle; 6) similar eyelids and dark rings under and above the eyes; 7) similar right facial contour line up to the right eyebrow; 8) similar nose shape and nostrils; 9) very similar left ear lobe (attached and itself a fairly rare anatomical marker); 10) similar thin moustache above the upper lip; 11) similar thin upper lip; 12) similar chin; 13) and a similar left jaw line.

The extent of these detailed similarities is an exceptional indicator of contiguity between the images.


Fig. 2: The similarities observed from the screen-captures obtained with the FACE-OFF software when comparing the Droeshout engraving and the Sanders portrait. Parallel lines were first drawn to highlight the main facial similarities, forehead (panel A), eyes and nose areas (panel B) and bottom part of the face (panel C) in each image. The more specific similarities were numbered and described in the text.

After all these similarities were found using this direct comparison methodology, the question remains: can we say that the two subjects are the same? As Schmitt writes in his software description, there is no way to be 100% sure that two people are the same.

Nonetheless in light of the remarkable comparative correspondences revealed by the software analysis, how is it possible to see so many similarities between two different artworks done by two different artists using two different media (painting and engraving) and done nearly two decades apart (1603 and 1622)?

It appears obvious, too, that following the present comparison, the Droeshout engraving was a work carefully done from a very precise model, perhaps even a pre-existing portrait like the 1603 Sanders portrait. As mentioned previously, the FACE-OFF software also gives the user the possibility to do an overlay of the pictures compared. The first time we saw this overlay shown in Fig. 3––the left ear lobe superposition, the right eyebrow continuation, the remarkable correlation of facial outlines and shapes, and so forth, we were speechless, so close were the features.

Add to this the fact that both images have the relatively rare anatomical feature of the (left) attached earlobe in plain display and it becomes very possible that the Sanders portrait was in fact the source image for the Droeshout engraving. And one can still see the faint smile of the Sanders portrait subject as a subtle aspect of the Droeshout engraving.


Fig. 3: Overlay of the Droeshout engraving and the Sanders portrait using the FACE-OFF software.

To test these results, obtained with specific facial recognition software, another tool was chosen, CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite. This software has plenty of useful features, including an eraser that was used to remove the smile from the Sanders portrait. After importing the Sanders portrait, erasing the mouth of the subject, importing the Droeshout engraving, measuring the IPDs, re-sizing the pictures accordingly (using the ratio of the IPDs measured), slightly rotating (1 to 2 degrees) and making transparent the Droeshout engraving, it was then possible to superpose both images as seen in Fig. 4. Many convincing screen captures were also obtained using the CorelDRAW software while sliding the Droeshout engraving over the Sanders portrait (data not shown but available if needed). The different software chosen to compare the Sanders portrait and the Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare give highly similar if not identical results (Figs. 3 and 4).


Fig. 4: Superposition of the Droeshout engraving over the Sanders portrait after having erased the smile in the Sanders portrait using CorelDRAW software. Note the more formal representation of the ruff in the Droeshout as opposed to the friendship mode in which the Sanders Portrait is painted.

Since the angle of the subject was also good, the FACE-OFF software was then used to compare the Chandos portrait (8) with the first state Droeshout engraving (6). As stated earlier, after having marked the center of the pupils in each picture, the FACE-OFF software did the rest. Automatically the software resized the pictures to the same IPD and without any involvement from the user it rotated if necessary the pictures and put the eyes on the same horizontal plane. Some of the screen captures obtained by using this procedure are shown in Figs. 5 (a,b,c).

Figs. 5 (a,b,c): Various screen captures of the FACE-OFF comparison between the Chandos portrait and the first state Droeshout engraving.

For this comparison it is easier to describe the major differences than the similarities. Indeed many major differences between the Chandos portrait and the Droeshout engraving were observed in those screen captures and are summarized in Fig. 6. Again, as was done for the Sanders portrait/Droeshout engraving comparison, parallel lines were added to the first screen capture of the Fig. 5 (A top, B middle and C bottom parts of each face). Furthermore, since both subjects were very serious (very similar closed mouths), a perpendicular line was also added in each picture just above the point where the nasal septum meets the upper lip.

The major differences for the Chandos portrait compared to the engraving were numbered as followed: 1) distinct right forehead; 2) distinct left forehead 3) wider left ear lobe tip; 4) wider space between the bottom of the nose and the left ear lobe tip; and (5) a shorter height of the C panel, that is, the space between the bottom of the nose and the chin.

It is important to remember that Shakespeare’s close friends recognized the Droeshout engraving as an acceptable representation of the Bard. The present study has shown many similarities and correlations between the Sanders portrait and this famous engraving. At the opposite end of the spectrum, major facial differences are observable when the Chandos portrait is compared to the engraving. The Chandos portrait does not appear to be related to the Droeshout engraving in any significant way.


Fig. 6: The major differences observed from the screen-captures obtained with the FACE-OFF software when comparing the Chandos portrait and the Droeshout engraving. Parallel lines were first drawn to highlight the forehead (panel A), eyes and nose areas (panel B) and bottom part of the face (panel C) in each image. A perpendicular line just above the point where the nasal septum meets the upper lip was also added in each picture. The major differences are numbered and described in the text.

To conclude, the image of Fig. 4 may well represent the way the Bard looked during the last period of his life, while the Sanders portrait may show him at an earlier time. It is clearly possible, based on the exceptional number of similarities between the Sanders and the Droeshout, that Droeshout used the Sanders portrait as the model for his engraving.


1.; a study by H. Hammmerschmidt-Hummel. The Cobbe portrait is not a genuine likeness of William Shakespeare made from life as confirmed by four experts. Further, the eminent early modern portraiture expert Sir Roy Strong has publicly called the claims about the Cobbe, “codswallop” (

2. Anne Henderson, Battle of Wills. Film produced by InformAction, Québec, Canada, 2008, HD colour (52 minutes).

3. T. Filipovicƒ, Coll. Antropol. 27 (2003) 2: 723-727.

4. F.C. Loh, T.C. Chao, J. Forensic Sci. 34 (1989): 708-713.

5. G. Porter, G. Doran, Forensic Sci. International 114 (2000): 97-105.




Acknowledgments: We thank Lloyd Sullivan and Daniel Fischlin who generously gave us access to the information needed to complete this work. Dr. Fischlin was also very patient in helping edit this paper. We also thank Bob Schmitt for making such superlative software.








The Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare: Five U of G Innovations Recognized as Game-Changing

Five U of G Innovations Recognized as Game-Changing

Five University of Guelph discoveries are being recognized as life-changing breakthroughs by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU).

The discoveries are among 50 innovations from Ontario universities over the last 100 years in COU’s Research Matters campaign, which will include a contest with the public voting. The campaign includes five U of G innovations, beginning with the Yukon Gold potato in 1966 and concluding with research on a purported portrait of William Shakespeare in 2014.

John Livernois, interim vice-president (research), said, “We only just celebrated our 50th anniversary, so to have five discoveries from U of G selected is a significant accomplishment. This is life-changing research, which has had a major impact on the lives of many Canadians.”

The five University of Guelph innovations are as follows:

Revealing Identities: Prof. Daniel Fischlin, English and Theatre Studies, suggests that a 400-year-old painting portrays William Shakespeare, which would make this the only known portrait painted during the Bard’s lifetime.

Improving Health: Prof. Bruce Holub, Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, discovers trans fats harm human health, resulting in their virtual elimination from supermarket shelves.

Creating New Vaccines: Pathobiology professors Pat Shewen and Bruce Wilkie develop a vaccine against “shipping fever” pneumonia in cattle, which becomes the foundation for all vaccines against this major disease.

Digitizing DNA: Prof. Paul Hebert, Integrative Biology, proposes DNA barcoding for species identification, with applications from protecting global biodiversity to curbing food fraud.

Reinventing the Potato: Gary Johnston, Plant Agriculture, creates the Yukon Gold potato to grow in challenging climates, and its taste and popularity make it a household name.

Livernois said these discoveries show Guelph’s wide-ranging research strengths.

“The University of Guelph has a proud heritage in research, and we are pleased to see these accomplishments recognized. Even today, we are still seeing extraordinary research from many departments at the University.”

Starting April 1, the public will be invited to vote on the list of “game-changing” discoveries made at Ontario universities. To see a full list and to register for the contest, visit starting April 1.

Voting will continue all summer at fairs and public events as the 50 game-changers go on the road with the Research Matters’ Curiosity Shop. The public’s top five favourites will be announced in the fall, and contest participants will be eligible for a draw.

New Yorker article features CASP Research on the Sanders Portrait

An April 28, 2014 essay published in the New Yorker and authored by Adam Gopnik focuses on the Sanders Portrait and CASP Director, Daniel Fischlin, describing the most recent phase of research into the Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare and its origins.

The recent issue of The New Yorker magazine features U of G English professor and University research Chair Daniel Fischlin. In an article entitled “The Poet’s Hand,” Fischlin discusses his work over the past decade to help authenticate the Sanders portrait, believed to be the only one of William Shakespeare painted while the playwright was alive. Fischlin outlines the scientific works that has been conducted to authenticate the painting, as well as efforts to trace family connections between Shakespeare and the ancestors of the portrait’s previous owner, Lloyd Sullivan.
Thought to depict the Bard at age 39, the Sanders portrait was the centrepiece of a months-long exhibit at Guelph’s Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in 2007. It’s also the signature image of U of G’s Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), the world’s largest and most complete website about Shakespeare’s cultural influence that was founded by Fischlin. Last fall, U of G hosted an international  symposium at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre where evidence gathered by experts about the portrait was presented. Read more about the portrait.


Shakespeare Portrait, Faculty Make Headlines (April 25, 2014 – In the News)

Conference Explores Origins of Shakespeare Portrait

More than 400 years old, portrait still inspires interest

By Andrew Vowles
Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Sanders portrait of Shakespeare

The Sanders portrait

Daniel Fischlin was hunkered down by the phone in mid-December “waiting for the media feeding frenzy to begin.” News had broken that day of a tentative agreement to buy a Canadian-owned portrait believed to depict William Shakespeare during his lifetime, and the University of Guelph English professor expected to find himself in the middle of the story again.

Under the deal reached in early December, an anonymous Canadian family has agreed to buy the 410-year-old Sanders portrait from its longtime Ottawa owner, according to a Globe and Mail story published Dec. 15.

Some two decades after Lloyd Sullivan began researching the portrait – passed through his family from a distant maternal ancestor contemporary with Shakespeare — evidence continues to mount that the work is the only likeness of the Bard done from life.

Speaking of the tentative sale, Fischlin says, “It’s a very complicated negotiation.”

He says the deal will likely be completed in early 2014; the new owners are expected to donate the portrait to an unnamed public art institution in Canada.

Referring to Sullivan, he says “the owner is very happy, because these buyers understand that this is really a legacy issue and are gearing up to do the right thing.”

That means “bringing the portrait into a public space, ramping up the information about the portrait. Growing that bandwidth is really important. It’s the beginning of a whole other sequence of events that are probably going to be more involved than the work so far.”

Much of that work, including recent research connecting Shakespeare with the Sanders family and other associates from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, has been led by Fischlin and other scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.

Those findings and the earlier detective work into the portrait’s provenance were discussed by experts during a one-day symposium in Toronto last month. Negotiations for the portrait’s sale were still occurring during the event.

The Sanders portrait is believed to depict William Shakespeare at age 39. The painting belongs to Sullivan, an Ottawa engineer. His family has passed it down from John Sanders. Family lore says Sanders was a painter and actor with Shakespeare’s theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later called the King’s Men).

Sullivan inherited the piece from his mother in 1972. Since retiring some 20 years ago, he has researched the painting.

At the Toronto conference, scientists, costume experts, historians, writers and museum curators discussed everything from the doublet worn by the sitter to tests validating the age of the paint, the wood panel and the label affixed to the back of the portrait.

Fischlin’s recent work has involved genealogy and geography in the British Midlands and London and between Canada and England. He is a University Research Chair and founding director of the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP), the world’s most comprehensive website about the Bard’s cultural influence.

He and other researchers – notably British genealogist Pam Hinks — have traced Sullivan’s family through 13 unbroken generations and 10 great-grandfathers back to Shakespeare’s lifetime.

They have visited gravesites, uncovered and transcribed historical documents, examined major historical archives in the United Kingdom and interviewed Sullivan’s relatives.

That path has led to a small group of villages in the Midlands and to the part of London where Shakespeare and his acquaintances are known to have lived.

Before moving to London, Shakespeare and Sanders lived in towns about eight miles apart in and around Stratford. So did John Heminges, another company actor and eventually co-editor of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s works.

By 1603, all three were residents in the capital, living only minutes from each other in adjoining parishes.

Heminges and John Sanders’s son – also John and an early ancestor to Lloyd Sullivan – were both active members of the Grocers’ guild during the early 1600s.

Those connections strengthen the argument that Sanders was close enough to have painted Shakespeare, says Fischlin.

“It would have been impossible for the two men not to have been intimately acquainted with each other, not only because their families came from neighbouring villages in the Midlands, but also because they would have had significantly overlapped business interests.”

Fischlin plans to continue this work, including investigating leads about where artist and sitter met in London.

“We’re very close to identifying the workshop where the painting was painted. We seem to have a member of the Sanders family married into an apprentice from this workshop,” he says.

He adds that “the workshop was well known to the theatre scene in London in that period and also was close physically to where the Sanders and Heminges families and Shakespeare were all living at the time.

“It’s not definitive but it’s very, very promising.”

The Sanders portrait was exhibited at the University of Guelph’s Macdonald Stewart Art Centre for six months in 2007. That year, U of G teamed up with some 30 local arts and culture organizations in more than 50 community programs and activities centred on Shakespeare and the painting.

The portrait is the signature image of CASP. It also appears on new copies of The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet, the first editions of Shakespeare’s works to feature the Sanders likeness on their cover.

Those volumes were published by the Canadian arm of Oxford University Press. Acquisitions editor Jen Rubio credits her late father, Gerald Rubio, an English professor at U of G, for instilling some of Shakespeare’s words during her childhood.

He often borrowed lines from the Bard to suit a particular situation, even if listeners failed to pick up on the reference. Once quoting Hamlet after a restaurant meal, she says, “He later said, ‘The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.’”

Rubio says the genealogical research and information about the Grocers’ guild uncovered by Fischlin and other scholars was new to her. “It’s amazing what research you can do from back in 1603.”

She is convinced that the Sanders portrait is an authentic likeness of Shakespeare. “I don’t see how anybody can read the evidence and think otherwise. I haven’t actually heard a good argument why we should not believe it.”

“It is such a compelling image,” says U of G president Alastair Summerlee. He attended the Toronto symposium and was involved in seeking a buyer for the Sanders portrait, which has been held for more than a year at U of G.

Commenting on the debate over a 410-year-old likeness, Summerlee says, “It matters because we all know Shakespeare. We all know him because we are all imbued in his work. As a scientist I know we have a craving to associate faces with people.”