Is this mask the real face of Shakespeare?

"GOD has given you one face and you make for yourselves another."

Shakespeare may have known something when he wrote the above lines which appear in one of his most famous plays, Hamlet.

His own face - or rather, faces - have been at the centre of a long-running academic debate which some scholars believe may now finally be over.

It was reported yesterday that German academics from Mainz University believe they have found new evidence to prove what Shakespeare really looked like. Analysis of the playwright's death mask has revealed a series of facial marks and idiosyncrasies that correspond to those found on busts and portraits.

Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, professor of English at Mainz University, has been examining the death mask since 1995. She said scientists working at the Technical University of Darmstadt had used a photographic technique to measure three-dimensional surfaces of the mask to create an accurate model of Shakespeare's face.

They used the same technique on a marble copy of a bust of Shakespeare, kept at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire. Through this analysis they discovered three small marks on the left eyelid which could be matched to marks on the death mask. Further tests have matched the facial dimensions of the mask with two portraits of Shakespeare, one of which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The portraits also show a slight swelling in the left eyelid, possibly caused by a rare cancer which affects the tear duct. "We did not have a single authentic image of Shakespeare but now, all of a sudden, we do have a true likeness of the bard," said Ms Hammerschmidt-Hummel.

However, the death mask has long been considered by many experts to be a fake. It was bought by a German who visited London in 1775.

The controversy surrounding Shakespeare's face is likely to continue for some time. Both of the portraits are of unknown provenance, and critics might argue they were based on the (fake) death mask.

Richard Proudfoot, professor of English at Kings College, London, said while Shakespeare died in April 1616, the interest in his biographical details did not begin for another 50 years.

"This whole area is fraught with danger. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC used to have scores of items reputedly carved from the mulberry tree in Shakespeare's garden. Someone pointed out that for them all to be genuine there would have to have been a whole forest in his garden - not just one tree."