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By Keith Wagstaff

Is this sprightly, mustachioed man actually William Shakespeare? That is what historian and botanist Mark Griffiths thinks. He discovered the image on the title page of "The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes" by John Gerard, a 1,484-page tome printed back in 1598. The news was broken by British magazine "Country Life." Other experts have yet to corroborate Griffiths' assertion.

The historian, a contributor to "Country Life," backed his claim with several pieces of evidence. First, the figure is standing on a plinth with symbols that translate into the name Shakespeare, he asserted. Second, the figure is holding several items that reference Shakespeare works like "Venus and Adonis."

If the figure is William Shakespeare, it would be the first portrait of the playwright drawn while he was alive. Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616. Martin Droeshout's famous engraving of him on the First Folio was created posthumously, as was the statue of the author located at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. Shakespeare was 33 when the portrait was created, Griffiths told "Country Life," which was after he had written "Midsummer Night's Dream" and before he had penned "Hamlet."