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The Truth of Masks – A Note On Illusion
by [?]

I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on.
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
The day he overcame the Nervii:-
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabbed. . . .
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar’s vesture wounded?

The flowers which Ophelia carries with her in her madness are as pathetic as the violets that blossom on a grave; the effect of Lear’s wandering on the heath is intensified beyond words by his fantastic attire; and when Cloten, stung by the taunt of that simile which his sister draws from her husband’s raiment, arrays himself in that husband’s very garb to work upon her the deed of shame, we feel that there is nothing in the whole of modern French realism, nothing even in Therese Raquin, that masterpiece of horror, which for terrible and tragic significance can compare with this strange scene in Cymbeline.

In the actual dialogue also some of the most vivid passages are those suggested by costume. Rosalind’s

Dost thou think, though I am caparisoned like a man, I have a doublet and hose in my disposition?


Grief fills the place of my absent child,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;

and the quick sharp cry of Elizabeth –

Ah! cut my lace asunder! –

are only a few of the many examples one might quote. One of the finest effects I have ever seen on the stage was Salvini, in the last act of Lear, tearing the plume from Kent’s cap and applying it to Cordelia’s lips when he came to the line,

This feather stirs; she lives!

Mr. Booth, whose Lear had many noble qualities of passion, plucked, I remember, some fur from his archaeologically-incorrect ermine for the same business; but Salvini’s was the finer effect of the two, as well as the truer. And those who saw Mr. Irving in the last act of Richard the Third have not, I am sure, forgotten how much the agony and terror of his dream was intensified, by contrast, through the calm and quiet that preceded it, and the delivery of such lines as

What, is my beaver easier than it was?
And all my armour laid into my tent?
Look that my staves be sound and not too heavy –

lines which had a double meaning for the audience, remembering the last words which Richard’s mother called after him as he was marching to Bosworth:-

Therefore take with thee my most grievous curse,
Which in the day of battle tire thee more
Than all the complete armour that thou wear’st.

As regards the resources which Shakespeare had at his disposal, it is to be remarked that, while he more than once complains of the smallness of the stage on which he has to produce big historical plays, and of the want of scenery which obliges him to cut out many effective open-air incidents, he always writes as a dramatist who had at his disposal a most elaborate theatrical wardrobe, and who could rely on the actors taking pains about their make-up. Even now it is difficult to produce such a play as the Comedy of Errors; and to the picturesque accident of Miss Ellen Terry’s brother resembling herself we owe the opportunity of seeing Twelfth Night adequately performed. Indeed, to put any play of Shakespeare’s on the stage, absolutely as he himself wished it to be done, requires the services of a good property-man, a clever wig-maker, a costumier with a sense of colour and a knowledge of textures, a master of the methods of making-up, a fencing-master, a dancing- master, and an artist to direct personally the whole production. For he is most careful to tell us the dress and appearance of each character. ‘Racine abhorre la realite,’ says Auguste Vacquerie somewhere; ‘il ne daigne pas s’occuper de son costume. Si l’on s’en rapportait aux indications du poete, Agamemnon serait vetu d’un sceptre et Achille d’une epee.’ But with Shakespeare it is very different. He gives us directions about the costumes of Perdita, Florizel, Autolycus, the Witches in Macbeth, and the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, several elaborate descriptions of his fat knight, and a detailed account of the extraordinary garb in which Petruchio is to be married. Rosalind, he tells us, is tall, and is to carry a spear and a little dagger; Celia is smaller, and is to paint her face brown so as to look sunburnt. The children who play at fairies in Windsor Forest are to be dressed in white and green–a compliment, by the way, to Queen Elizabeth, whose favourite colours they were–and in white, with green garlands and gilded vizors, the angels are to come to Katherine in Kimbolton. Bottom is in homespun, Lysander is distinguished from Oberon by his wearing an Athenian dress, and Launce has holes in his boots. The Duchess of Gloucester stands in a white sheet with her husband in mourning beside her. The motley of the Fool, the scarlet of the Cardinal, and the French lilies broidered on the English coats, are all made occasion for jest or taunt in the dialogue. We know the patterns on the Dauphin’s armour and the Pucelle’s sword, the crest on Warwick’s helmet and the colour of Bardolph’s nose. Portia has golden hair, Phoebe is black-haired, Orlando has chestnut curls, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s hair hangs like flax on a distaff, and won’t curl at all. Some of the characters are stout, some lean, some straight, some hunchbacked, some fair, some dark, and some are to blacken their faces. Lear has a white beard, Hamlet’s father a grizzled, and Benedick is to shave his in the course of the play. Indeed, on the subject of stage beards Shakespeare is quite elaborate; tells us of the many different colours in use, and gives a hint to actors always to see that their own are properly tied on. There is a dance of reapers in rye-straw hats, and of rustics in hairy coats like satyrs; a masque of Amazons, a masque of Russians, and a classical masque; several immortal scenes over a weaver in an ass’s head, a riot over the colour of a coat which it takes the Lord Mayor of London to quell, and a scene between an infuriated husband and his wife’s milliner about the slashing of a sleeve.