The Fashion Is The Fashion 2: Clothing and Twelfth Night 

In doing my research for Twelfth Night, I came across a fantastic production from Shakespeare’s Globe in 2002. It used what is known as “original practices,” meaning that the actors tried to replicate everything we know about the way Shakespeare’s actors performed.

The play was performed in the great Globe Theater, which is itself a replica of Shakespeare’s original playhouse, which means that it was outdoors, using mostly natural lighting, and minimal sets. https://youtu.be/qtoUeVjP_rs

In addition, all the women’s roles were played by men, and the actors played multiple parts, which were all accurate stage practices from Shakespeare’s era. Most exciting of all, the actors all wore authentic 17th century costumes designed by veteran costume designer, Jenny Tiramani:

/https://prezi.com/m/zef_cpurcfsl/jenny-tiramani/


Few things determine how an actor moves or looks more than the clothes he or she wears, and watching these actors wear doublet and hose and real Jacobean dresses really fires up my imagine and makes me feel that I’ve truly been transported through time. The production is available on DVD, as well as several clips on YouTube, and I urge you to take a look at it. In the meantime, I’d like to comment a little on how the costumes from this production inform the audience about the characters that wear them.

Some Info On 17th century fashion

* Men

  • Tight pants or hose, and stockings designed to show off the legs
  • Tight jackets made of wool or leather called doublets
  • By the 17th century, starched ruffs were being replaced with lace collars.
  • Starched collars called ruffs around the neck.

  * Women

Longer skirts, often embroidered with elaborate patterns

  * Servants- Servants like Cesario (who is actually the Duke’s daughter Viola in disguise), would typically wear matching uniforms called liveries, a sign of who they worked for and their master’s trust in their abilities. People judged the aristocracy by how well they trained and controlled their servants, so wearing your master’s livery meant he trusted you to represent his house.

In her first scene as Cesario, a servant named Curio remarks to her that Orsino has shown favor to “him” from the very beginning. This might explain the rich garments that Viola wears in this production, which resemble a noble gentleman more than a servant.

A higher ranking servant like Malvolio would be able to wear a higher status garment, which is why you see Steven Fry as Malvolio dressed in a handsome doublet.

3. Character notes:

* What are they wearing?

* Why are they wearing it?

* How do the clothes inform the movement?

1. Viola (Eddie Redmane) Viola, the star of the show, begins the show as the daughter of a duke, who has just been shipwrecked in a foreign country, so her clothes must look bedraggled and worn, yet appropriate to her status. As I said before though, for the majority of the play, Viola is disguised as the servant Cesario

2. Malvolio (Steven Fry)

  • Malvolio wears dark colors since he’s a Puritanical servant.
  • He mentions that he has a watch. The first ever wristwatches ever came into being around this time.
  • Most productions give Malvolio a Gold chain and/ or a staff of office to show his status, and his prideful nature.
  • In Act III, Malvolio is tricked into wearing yellow stockings with cross garters.
  •  

3. Maria the Countess Olivia’s maid, (who has an appetite for tricks and pranks), Maria’s job is to dress and help Olivia with her daily routine. This might include tying up her corset, putting on her makeup, and helping her with the elaborate gowns that nobles wore during this period. In the video below, you can watch a dresser help get an actress into an elaborate costume for another Globe theatre production. Just think of the amount of time and hard work it would take for a servant like Maria to dress Olivia every day!

In the play, Viola momentarily mistakes Maria for her mistress because she wears a veil. This also suggests that, rather than wearing a livery like Cesario, maybe Olivia let Maria wear some of her older clothes, which was a common practice for high level servants. A lot of the costumes Shakespeare’s company wore were probably hand me downs from their aristocratic patrons.

4. Olivia (Mark Rylance)

In this production, the countess and all the female roles were performed by men, just as they were in Shakespeare’s Day. Mark Rylance, who played Olivia, was also the Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre.

  • Olivia is mourning her lost brother, which is why she’s traditionally dressed in a black dress and veil
  • The dress is black silk with elaborate embroidery, as you can see from this actual sampler of the real fabric used in the show. You will also notice the threads holding the fabric together with metal points at the end. Olivia’s gown was hand sewn into many different pieces and tied together with these points. One nickname Shakespeare gave servants like Maria was “One who ties [her] points.”
  • The dress is large and has a long train, making it hard for the actor to move: https://youtu.be/dcSNTspXGYk
  •  

Costumes like these offer a tantalizing glimpse into history. Just as Shakespeare’s words help an actor bring to life the thoughts and feelings of his age, The type of clothes his company wore helps the actor embody the moiré’s and desires of Shakespeare’s society, whether a mournful countess, a dazzling gentleman, or a reserved Puritan.

 

References

Feldman, Adam

“Q&A: Mark Rylance on Shakespeare, Twelfth Night and Richard III” Time Out Magazine. Posted: Tuesday November 12 2013

Retrieved online from https://www.timeout.com/newyork/theater/q-a-mark-rylance-on-shakespeare-twelfth-night-and-richard-iii

Minton, Eric. Twelfth Night: What Achieved Greatness was Born Great.

Posted May 22, 2014 to http://shakespeareances.com/willpower/onscreen/12th_Night-Globe13.html.

 

https://thepragmaticcostumer.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/through-the-keyhole-a-peek-into-a-17th-century-ladys-wardrobe/

 

If you liked this post, please consider signing up for my online course “Christmas For Shakespeare,” which will talk about the costumes, characters, and themes of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, as well as Christmas traditions from Shakespeare’s day: https://outschool.com/classes/what-was-christmas-like-for-william-shakespeare-BwVLyBPp?sectionUid=75ee7895-c8ac-437c-9ef7-05cf8e3bf114&usid=MaRDyJ13&signup=true&utm_campaign=share_activity_link 

Title image for my Outschool online class “Christmas For Shakespeare.”

Why Mechant Of Venice is the Perfect Play For the Holidays 

The Merchant Of Venice is unquestionably Shakespeare’s most controversial play- it covers such topics as anti-semitism, religious hypocrisy, racism, slavery, and the meaning of justice and mercy. As I have written before, few people read this play in school, but I believe that it has many lessons to teach our children. I also believe its lessons are also very much a part of the Christmas/ Hanukkah/ Kwanza holiday season, and here’s why:

Short summary

Famous quotes

  • All that glitters is not gold.
  • Hath not a Jew Eyes
  • The quality of mercy is not strained

You may very well wonder why this play about greed and prejudice reflects the warm holiday spirit. I would argue that, like cold winter snow, this play emphasizes the importance and the need for compassion, humanity, and generosity because without it society becomes truly frigid.

Merchant Of Venice takes an unflinching look at greed, prejudice, and religious hypocrisy, while at the same time retaining a hope for peace on Earth and goodwill towards men.

One of the best ways I can justify the connection between Merchant and the holidays is by comparing it to the quintessential Christmas story, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In terms of tone, themes and especially characters, these two classics are very close indeed. Shylock is an ancestor of Scrooge- in addition to both being money lenders, both men are miserly, cold, and willing to destroy lives for wealth. Shylock even has a ghost that comes back to haunt him. Shylock mentions a ring that he got from his late wife Leah, similar to how Scrooge lost his only love, Belle. Just as Scrooge is a counterexample of everything that Christmas stands for, Shylock’s greediness, cruelty, and hatred of the people around him make him a figure to avoid, no matter what holiday you celebrate.

Merchant also raises questions about materialism, which we should all consider around the holidays. Shylock especially mentions this in quotes like: “You take my life when you take the means whereby I live.”

The themes of Merchant also reflect a modern multicultural holiday season. In one example which I wrote about before, The Prince Of Morocco has a great speech that calls to mind the concept of kuchijagulia, or self determination, one of the 7 principles of Kwanzaa.

According to the official Kwanza website, kuchijagulia means, “To speak up for oneself,” and Morocco definitely does that:

Mislike me not for my complexion,

The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun,

To whom I am a neighbour and near bred.

Bring me the fairest creature northward born,

Where Phoebus’ fire scarce thaws the icicles,

And let us make incision for your love,

To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.

I tell thee, lady, this aspect of mine

Hath fear’d the valiant: by my love I swear

The best-regarded virgins of our clime

Have loved it too: I would not change this hue,

Except to steal your thoughts, my gentle queen. Merchant Of Venice, Act II, Scene I.

Moracco’s unwillingness to change who he is makes him a model of the kind of pride African Americans celebrate during Kwanza. In addition Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, is also very proud of his heritage. His famous quip: “Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe,” expresses perfectly the resilience of the Jewish people, which of course is the central point of Hanukkah.

When it comes to Christmas, Antonio demonstrates a Christ- like self sacrifice, when he lets himself be arrested and nearly killed by Shylock.

Bassanio. Good cheer, Antonio! What, man, courage yet!

▪ The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones and all, 2045

▪ Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.

Antonio. I am a tainted wether of the flock,

▪ Meetest for death: the weakest kind of fruit

▪ Drops earliest to the ground; and so let me

▪ You cannot better be employ’d, Bassanio, 2050

▪ Than to live still and write mine epitaph.

While Antonio’s actions mirror Christ’s sacrifice. Portia’s famous “The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strained,” speech, goes to the heart of the reason why Christ came to earth; to grant mercy to the sinners who would be damned otherwise

Portia. Do you confess the bond?

Antonio. I do.

Portia. Then must the Jew be merciful.

Shylock. On what compulsion must I? tell me that.

Portia. The quality of mercy is not strain’d, 2125

▪ It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

▪ Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

▪ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

▪ ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

▪ The throned monarch better than his crown; 2130

▪ His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

▪ The attribute to awe and majesty,

▪ Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

▪ But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

▪ It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, 2135

▪ It is an attribute to God himself;

▪ And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

▪ When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

▪ Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

▪ That, in the course of justice, none of us 2140

▪ Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

▪ And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

▪ The deeds of mercy. Merchant Of Venice, Act IV Scene I.

Shakespeare no doubt wrote these characters to reflect the Christian values many people celebrate at Christmas. Meanwhile the play’s comic subplot with Bassanio and Portia teaches Christians about generosity and mercy. As I have written before, the character Bassanio is the moral center of the play, and his journey mirrors many characters in classic Christmas stories who learn about giving and receiving, the true meaning of Christmas.

In Act III, Scene ii, Bassanio participates in the highest stakes Secret Santa gift exchange ever: three boxes of gold, silver, and lead are set before him.

If Bassanio picks the right gift, he will be rich, powerful, and married to a beautiful woman, but the winning box is inscribed with a warning: “Who chooses me must give and hazard all he has.” Bassanio wins the gift auction, which means he may marry the beautiful Portia, but he gives her the choice to marry him or not: https://youtu.be/6IFSMgggS8k

[Music, whilst BASSANIO comments on the caskets to himself]

Bassanio. So may the outward shows be least themselves: 1440

The world is still deceived with ornament.

▪ In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt,

▪ But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,

▪ Obscures the show of evil? In religion,

▪ What damned error, but some sober brow 1445

▪ Will bless it and approve it with a text,

▪ Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?

▪ There is no vice so simple but assumes

▪ Some mark of virtue on his outward parts:

▪ How many cowards, whose hearts are all as false 1450
Look on beauty, 1455

▪ And you shall see ’tis purchased by the weight;

▪ Which therein works a miracle in nature,

▪ Therefore, thou gaudy gold,

▪ Hard food for Midas, I will none of thee;

▪ Nor none of thee, thou pale and common drudge 1470

▪ ‘Tween man and man: but thou, thou meagre lead,

▪ Which rather threatenest than dost promise aught,

▪ Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence;

▪ And here choose I; joy be the conseque

[Reads] 1500

▪ You that choose not by the view,

▪ Chance as fair and choose as true!

▪ Since this fortune falls to you,

▪ Be content and seek no new,

▪ If you be well pleased with this 1505

▪ And hold your fortune for your bliss,

▪ Turn you where your lady is

▪ And claim her with a loving kiss.

▪ A gentle scroll. Fair lady, by your leave;

▪ I come by note, to give and to receive. 1510

▪ Like one of two contending in a prize,

▪ That thinks he hath done well in people’s eyes,

▪ Hearing applause and universal shout,

▪ Giddy in spirit, still gazing in a doubt

▪ Whether these pearls of praise be his or no; 1515

▪ So, thrice fair lady, stand I, even so;

▪ As doubtful whether what I see be true,

▪ Until confirm’d, sign’d, ratified by you. Merchant of Venice Act III, Scene ii.

Like the story The Gift Of the Magi, Bassanio prizes Portia’s love, and is willing to give her all he has in return, which is what separates him from the other suitors. Bassanio also understands it’s not the physical gift that is really the gift, it’s the love that it represents that really matters, which allows him to look past the outward appearance of the lead chest. Having gratitude for the gifts we receive and pledging our love to others is something that everyone should remember at Christmas and all festive occasions.

In Conclusion, it isn’t cheery, and it is not as hopeful as most holiday stories, but in the season when people of all faiths celebrate together, Merchant Of Venice is a great reminder of our shared humanity and how we can show love and mercy to our fellow people.

Resources:
Merchant Of Venice Website: http://www.themerchantinvenice.org

Book– Will in the world by Steven Greenblatt- An amazing analysis of Shakespeare’s life and career. The chapter “Laughter At the Scaffold,” traces the link between Merchant Of Venice and the real life treatment of Jews in the 16th century

Book/ TV- Playing Shakespeare by John Barton.

MovieMerchant Of Venice 2004 Movie starring Al Pacino. I like the way the director films the drama documentary style, using a single handheld camera in most of the shots. Pacino is very good at playing Shylock as a bitter, cynical old man who is trying to survive in a powerful Christian country.

Official Kwanza website: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/NguzoSaba.shtml

http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/m/lifetimes/plays/the%20merchant%20of%20venice/mershylock.html

Happy St. Crispin’s Day/ Battle of Agincourt Day

Good evening everyone!

Today is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, one of the greatest victories in English history, where King Henry the Fifth and his 5,000 troops, fought and won against the French, who outnumbered them 5 to 1! Why is this important? Well, in Shakespeare’s history play Henry the Fifth, he gives the king the greatest pep-talk speech of ALL TIME!

This speech is so awesome, it’s cool even when a 5-year old does it!

So you may be wondering, what is Agincourt, and what is St. Crsipin’s Day?

Well Agincourt is a castle in France where on October 25th, 1415, King Henry fought a decisive battle that helped him conquer all of France. For more info on the battle, click here to read this article from the Telegraph.

Contemporary drawing of the Battle of Agincourt.
Contemporary drawing of the Battle of Agincourt.

As for St. Crispin, I wrote about him before when I was working on a high-school production of “Henry the Fifth,” which you can read about here. Long story short- he was the patron saint of SHOEMAKERS!

And finally, a funny take on the battle from my favorite kid’s show, “Horrible Histories.”

See you tomorrow!

Paul