The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.353 Thursday, 30 July 2015
Date: July 27, 2015 at 2:59:36 PM EDT
Subject: From TLS - 'Cultural Studies'
1 July 2015
Patricia Lennox and Bella Mirabella, editors
SHAKESPEARE AND COSTUME
312pp. Bloomsbury. £65.
978 1 4725 2507 9
A modest inventory of the costumes of the Admiral’s Men in 1602 included fourteen cloaks, thirteen gowns, fifteen antic suits and ten pairs of hose. Perhaps some actors wore their own clothes on stage. Four hundred years later, the Royal Shakespeare Company employs twenty-eight workers in its costume workshops, has replaced zips and Velcro with industrial strength magnets, and mixes up its own mud to distress boots and shoes. Shakespeare and Costume traces the art and business of dress from early modern theatre to Hollywood cinema, and from the visual construction of oriental masculinity to the archaeological findings at the Rose theatre.
The collection is strongest on early modern material. Two substantial essays by Catherine Richardson and Natasha Korda each bring together thing theory, social history, and an awareness of performance in an exemplary critical dialogue. Richardson’s focus is clothing in Shakespeare’s bourgeois comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. She traces the visual economy of the play’s shaming narratives, drawing on church courts, conduct literature and its literal dirty linen – the laundry basket of inner garments into which the would-be seducer Falstaff is stuffed. Korda notices how many stage directions emphasize expressive foot movements such as standing, stamping or, in Richard Brome’s Court Begger, “practise footing”, and suggests that dramatic character was grounded in actors’ footwork. Elaborate performance shoes and stockings in a range of colours added to this effect.
Essays on more modern sumptuary topics are enjoyably well informed, though tend only to gesture towards a larger thesis. Russell Jackson considers the plausibility of Rosalind’s male disguise in a series of As You Like Its, including Katharine Hepburn’s “elegant leg” in New York in 1950 and Eileen Atkins’s “immaculately tailored pantsuit and a bandanna” in Stratford in 1973. Kate Dorney reviews prisoner-of-war production costumes, including sketches by the cartoonist Ronald Searle. Surveying the starched headdress across a number of representations of Juliet’s Nurse, Patricia Lennox traces how this iconic look symbolizes the power of early women stage designers in the twentieth-century theatre. The book ends with interviews with two contemporary designers. These are a little flat, although Robert Morgan’s observation that “it is very tough to find modern equivalents to traditional historical dress that you can mute so as not to appear merely clever” is a fascinating insight.