College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Shakespeare’s Signature : An Enigma for Ever

Time is not far away to establish Shakespeare as a historical figure. Till yesterday there were so many controversies regarding his identity and real existence. Many debated on the originality of Shakespeare’s photograph. Now he is a real man, researchers using high-tech photography have reconstructed a signature that may belong to William Shakespeare. It would be especially significant if the Lazarus Project were able to determine that the copy of Archaionomia in question did in fact belong to Shakespeare. If Shakespeare can indeed be linked to the Archaionomia signature, it could give new insights into the way he approached the law in his plays…It may also illuminate Shakespeare as a man and historical figure.

Verifying the signature as actually belonging to William Shakespeare has always proved to be a challenge, especially given the four centuries that have passed. That’s where the Lazarus Project comes in. “The work is part of The Lazarus Project, an effort to revive damaged texts using a technique called multispectral imaging. The researchers take very high-resolution photographs of old text, art or objects using 12 different wavelengths of light, ranging from ultraviolet to infrared, beyond the boundaries of the human eye. Next, they use software to combine these images into the clearest possible picture of the text. The work is being done by University of Mississippi professor of English Gregory Heyworth and a group of undergraduates. Although they have reconstructed the signature itself, they have not been able to definitively confirm that it is Shakespeare’s by comparing it to the few others known to be his. The researchers who include University of Mississippi English professor Gregory Heyworth and his students, Andrew Henning, Mitchell Hobbs, and Kristen Vise take very high-resolution photographs of old text, art or objects using 12 different wavelengths of light, ranging from ultraviolet to infrared, beyond the boundaries of the human eye. They imaged a faint signature in a copy of “Archaionomia” a survey of Saxon laws published during the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth I—Shakespeare’s time. Next, they use software to combine these images into the clearest possible picture of the text. The work is part of The Lazarus Project, an effort to revive damaged texts using a technique called multispectral imaging.

However, last year the Lazarus Project was able to determine that five poems thought to have been destroyed by fire were, in fact, written by William Faulkner. It would only be the seventh signature by Shakespeare known to exist. The lights are also bespoke: produced by Bill Christens-Barry at Equipose Ltd, they are two LED arrays about 9×14″ that produce light at wavelengths across the spectrum from UV to near infra-red. They employed a color filter wheel that gives us often clearer results in the UV. We use a variety of simple copy stands, as this is a traveling system, and are in the process of developing their own. Finally, they used a prototype of a transmissive light source. The software that runs the lights and camera is produced by Megavision and is called Photoshoot. It allows, as one might expect, complete control over exposure length, shutter delays (to prevent vibrations that may affect focus), sequence, darks and flat fields (whites), providing histograms with which to calculate adjustments to aperture, exposure, and depth of field. It also provides a database for the raws. They do most of our image rendering using ENVI, a high-end multispectral imaging application used, until now, almost exclusively by geo-spatial scientists and the intelligence industry to render satellite images. At times, they also use Image-J, as well as proprietary code written by imaging scientist Keith Knox.