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information exists about Shakespeare’s physical
characteristics, such as his height and weight,
his gait, the
timbre of his voice, and the tone of his
complexion. However, portraits of him and
accounts of his activities allow for educated
conjecture about these characteristics. (Links to images of Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Face and Head
of Shakespeare depict him with dark brown,
reddish, or black hair billowing down to the
lobes of the ears or shoulders and with a
carefully trimmed mustache and a receding
hairline. Most of them present him with a
closely cropped beard rising from the chin to
the level of the lower lip or to ear level.
However, the 1623 First
Folio portrait at right depicts him
without a beard. The facial features of that
portrait differ markedly from those in the other
portraits, such as the John
Sanders Portrait and the John
Stratford Portrait. None of the portraits
gives any indication that Shakespeare had
deformities, scars, or other types of
disfigurements. However, the memorial bust of
him in Holy Trinity Church in
Stratford-upon-Avon indicates that he may have
had a suntanned face.
Portraits of Shakespeare (head and shoulders) suggest that he was of average weight. There are no signs of a double chin or fleshy cheeks. However, a bust of him in Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-Upon-Avon depicts a stout Shakespeare. The padded jacket he is wearing could account for the portliness. It is also possible that he gained weight in his later years or that the artist failed to depict him as he was.
Shakespeare acted in his own plays and those of
other prominent authors, such as Ben Jonson, he
probably possessed a reasonably good voice. At
the Globe Theatre, actors had to project their
voices to two thousand to three thousand people,
up to one thousand of whom stood in a yard in
front of the stage talking when they became
bored and booing or hissing when the
performances displeased them.
Body Movement and Physical Condition
acting required Shakespeare to walk, gesture,
grimace, and use other body language, he
apparently had no serious handicaps that limited
his movement or detracted from his performance.
When traveling back and forth between Stratford
and London, he may have ridden a horse. His
plays indicate that he had a sportsman's
knowledge of the outdoors.
Hands and Arms
Shakespeare wrote his plays with a quill dipped in ink. Therefore, he probably had at least one good hand and arm–and considering what has been already said about his required movements as an actor–probably two good hands and arms. He had five digits on both hands, according to the sculpture in the church.
lamplight or the natural light of often-misty
London days, Shakespeare had to write, read, and
memorize to meet his responsibilities as a
writer, an actor, and a businessman. It is
likely, therefore, that his eyesight was good or
at least adequate into middle age.
Images of Shakespeare