University of Dundee University of Dundee
Text only

12 September 2010

Dundee forensic expert helps produce "true likeness" of Shakespeare

The work of a forensic anthropologist from the University of Dundee features in a new documentary which saw state-of-the-art technology used to create a controversial warts-and-all image of William Shakespeare.

Dr Caroline Wilkinson from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee was part of the team who made Death Masks, to be shown on The History Channel on Monday, September 13th, possible.

Her role was to carry out authentication analysis on death masks of Shakespeare, Napoleon and the notorious US criminal John Dillinger. The team then used computer technology to create 3D images of these, and other, famous figures from history.

The images will challenge viewers' perceptions of what these people looked like.

The image of Shakespeare shows every wrinkle on the his face and a haunted stare. It has stimulated debate because the playwright’s true likeness has been the subject of speculation for centuries.

Many experts dispute that the death mask used in the programme, found in Darmstadt, Germany, in the 1840s and linked to Shakespeare by German scientists who carried out a series of tests on it, is even his.

Dr Wilkinson was charged with analysing the mask and said the 3D image created was consistent with portraits of the writer.

"The Shakespeare death mask was compared tothe Cobbe portrait,the Funerary bust by Gerald Johnson (1622), and anengraved portrait by Martin Droeshout," she explained.

"My conclusion was that there were a large number of consistencies and provided support for the assertion that the death mask is of William Shakespeare."

The team also produced 3D likenesses of Napoleon, Julius Caesar, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Death Masks director Stuart Clarke said the forensic examination results were startling.

"They show strong evidence both forensically and historically that this 3D model may be, in fact, the way Shakespeare looked in life," he said.

"Breakthroughs in computer imaging mean we may have to rewrite the history books on Shakespeare."

Dr Wilkinson is no stranger to the small screen, having starred in the BBC Two series History Cold Case alongside colleagues from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification earlier this year.

The Centre is an internationally leading centre in the fields of human identification, forensic anthropology, cranio-facial reconstruction and the study of the human body.

Experts there are regularly contacted for advice and input in high-profile identification cases both at home and abroad. The Centre has excellent relations with local, national and international police and forensic practitioners allowing for worldwide collaborations in both research and forensic cases.

For media enquiries contact:
Grant Hill
Press Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
TEL: 01382 384768
MOBILE: 07854 953277