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

As for the metaphors Shakespeare draws from dress, and the aphorisms he makes on it, his hits at the costume of his age, particularly at the ridiculous size of the ladies’ bonnets, and the many descriptions of the mundus muliebris, from the long of Autolycus in the Winter’s Tale down to the account of the Duchess of Milan’s gown in Much Ado About Nothing, they are far too numerous to quote; though it may be worth while to remind people that the whole of the Philosophy of Clothes is to be found in Lear’s scene with Edgar–a passage which has the advantage of brevity and style over the grotesque wisdom and somewhat mouthing metaphysics of Sartor Resartus. But I think that from what I have already said it is quite clear that Shakespeare was very much interested in costume. I do not mean in that shallow sense by which it has been concluded from his knowledge of deeds and daffodils that he was the Blackstone and Paxton of the Elizabethan age; but that he saw that costume could be made at once impressive of a certain effect on the audience and expressive of certain types of character, and is one of the essential factors of the means which a true illusionist has at his disposal. Indeed to him the deformed figure of Richard was of as much value as Juliet’s loveliness; he sets the serge of the radical beside the silks of the lord, and sees the stage effects to be got from each: he has as much delight in Caliban as he has in Ariel, in rags as he has in cloth of gold, and recognises the artistic beauty of ugliness.

The difficulty Ducis felt about translating Othello in consequence of the importance given to such a vulgar thing as a handkerchief, and his attempt to soften its grossness by making the Moor reiterate ‘Le bandeau! le bandeau!’ may be taken as an example of the difference between la tragedie philosophique and the drama of real life; and the introduction for the first time of the word mouchoir at the Theatre Francais was an era in that romantic- realistic movement of which Hugo is the father and M. Zola the enfant terrible, just as the classicism of the earlier part of the century was emphasised by Talma’s refusal to play Greek heroes any longer in a powdered periwig–one of the many instances, by the way, of that desire for archaeological accuracy in dress which has distinguished the great actors of our age.

In criticising the importance given to money in La Comedie Humaine, Theophile Gautier says that Balzac may claim to have invented a new hero in fiction, le heros metallique. Of Shakespeare it may be said he was the first to see the dramatic value of doublets, and that a climax may depend on a crinoline.

The burning of the Globe Theatre–an event due, by the way, to the results of the passion for illusion that distinguished Shakespeare’s stage-management–has unfortunately robbed us of many important documents; but in the inventory, still in existence, of the costume-wardrobe of a London theatre in Shakespeare’s time, there are mentioned particular costumes for cardinals, shepherds, kings, clowns, friars, and fools; green coats for Robin Hood’s men, and a green gown for Maid Marian; a white and gold doublet for Henry the Fifth, and a robe for Longshanks; besides surplices, copes, damask gowns, gowns of cloth of gold and of cloth of silver, taffeta gowns, calico gowns, velvet coats, satin coats, frieze coats, jerkins of yellow leather and of black leather, red suits, grey suits, French Pierrot suits, a robe ‘for to goo invisibell,’ which seems inexpensive at 3 pounds, 10s., and four incomparable fardingales–all of which show a desire to give every character an appropriate dress. There are also entries of Spanish, Moorish and Danish costumes, of helmets, lances, painted shields, imperial crowns, and papal tiaras, as well as of costumes for Turkish Janissaries, Roman Senators, and all the gods and goddesses of Olympus, which evidence a good deal of archaeological research on the part of the manager of the theatre. It is true that there is a mention of a bodice for Eve, but probably the donnee of the play was after the Fall.