Status and stages: an examination of the function of costume in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays

Gibson, Joy Leslie (2006). Status and stages: an examination of the function of costume in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays. University of Birmingham. M.Litt.

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When an Elizabethan actor walked on the stage the audience knew, before he opened his mouth, exactly to which class in society the character belonged. The clothes anyone wore were an indication of their status, and the texts of the plays show that the theatre understood and followed this. The argument of this thesis is that if directors ignore showing the status of the characters by dress, they distort the original intentions of the playwrights.
The first part of the thesis describes in detail what each class, aristocracy, gentry, artisan and peasant, wore. It then discusses androgyny. Finally, in this section, it discovers how the supernatural could have been represented. Throughout the section references are made to the texts of the plays to support the theory that the costumes on stage would have followed the hierarchical principle that pertained in every day life. The section is amply illustrated by portraits, miniatures, tombs and frontispieces to books. The second section deals with performance. Firstly it recreates what the casts of the original performances should have worn under the headings of Citizen plays, Cross-dressing plays, Histories and Romans, and, finally, the Four Last Plays. Lastly, it considers the choices that today's directors have and analyses productions from the 1940s to the present day to see whether the status of characters are delineated by their costumes and shows that if it is it enhances the audience's knowledge of the character.
The text is followed by a chart showing the number of mentions of clothes in the text of the principal writers of the day.
The Appendices are the Sumptuary Laws: the times given for characters to change clothes: a list of tailors in plays.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.Litt.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.Litt.
College/Faculty: Schools (1998 to 2008) > School of Humanities
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, The Shakespeare Institute
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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