The Truth Of Masks -a Note On Illusion

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In many of the somewhat violent attacks that have recently been
made on that splendour of mounting which now characterises our
Shakespearian revivals in England, it seems to have been tacitly
assumed by the critics that Shakespeare himself was more or less
indifferent to the costumes of his actors, and that, could he see
Mrs. Langtry's production of Antony and Cleopatra, he would
probably say that the play, and the play only, is the thing, and
that everything else is leather and prunella. While, as regards
any historical accuracy in dress, Lord Lytton, in an article in the
Nineteenth Century, has laid it down as a dogma of art that
archaeology is entirely out of place in the presentation of any of
Shakespeare's plays, and the attempt to introduce it one of the
stupidest pedantries of an age of prigs.

Lord Lytton's position I shall examine later on; but, as regards
the theory that Shakespeare did not busy himself much about the
costume-wardrobe of his theatre, anybody who cares to study
Shakespeare's method will see that there is absolutely no dramatist
of the French, English, or Athenian stage who relies so much for
his illusionist effects on the dress of his actors as Shakespeare
does himself.

Knowing how the artistic temperament is always fascinated by beauty
of costume, he constantly introduces into his plays masques and
dances, purely for the sake of the pleasure which they give the
eye; and we have still his stage-directions for the three great
processions in Henry the Eighth, directions which are characterised
by the most extraordinary elaborateness of detail down to the
collars of S.S. and the pearls in Anne Boleyn's hair. Indeed it
would be quite easy for a modern manager to reproduce these
pageants absolutely as Shakespeare had them designed; and so
accurate were they that one of the court officials of the time,
writing an account of the last performance of the play at the Globe
Theatre to a friend, actually complains of their realistic
character, notably of the production on the stage of the Knights of
the Garter in the robes and insignia of the order as being
calculated to bring ridicule on the real ceremonies; much in the
same spirit in which the French Government, some time ago,
prohibited that delightful actor, M. Christian, from appearing in
uniform, on the plea that it was prejudicial to the glory of the
army that a colonel should be caricatured. And elsewhere the
gorgeousness of apparel which distinguished the English stage under
Shakespeare's influence was attacked by the contemporary critics,
not as a rule, however, on the grounds of the democratic tendencies
of realism, but usually on those moral grounds which are always the
last refuge of people who have no sense of beauty.

The point, however, which I wish to emphasise is, not that
Shakespeare appreciated the value of lovely costumes in adding
picturesqueness to poetry, but that he saw how important costume is
as a means of producing certain dramatic effects. Many of his
plays, such as Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, The Two
Gentleman of Verona, All's Well that Ends Well, Cymbeline, and
others, depend for their illusion on the character of the various
dresses worn by the hero or the heroine; the delightful scene in
Henry the Sixth, on the modern miracles of healing by faith, loses
all its point unless Gloster is in black and scarlet; and the
denoument of the Merry Wives of Windsor hinges on the colour of
Anne Page's gown. As for the uses Shakespeare makes of disguises
the instances are almost numberless. Posthumus hides his passion
under a peasant's garb, and Edgar his pride beneath an idiot's
rags; Portia wears the apparel of a lawyer, and Rosalind is attired
in 'all points as a man'; the cloak-bag of Pisanio changes Imogen
to the Youth Fidele; Jessica flees from her father's house in boy's
dress, and Julia ties up her yellow hair in fantastic love-knots,
and dons hose and doublet; Henry the Eighth woos his lady as a
shepherd, and Romeo his as a pilgrim; Prince Hal and Poins appear
first as footpads in buckram suits, and then in white aprons and
leather jerkins as the waiters in a tavern: and as for Falstaff,
does he not come on as a highwayman, as an old woman, as Herne the
Hunter, and as the clothes going to the laundry?

Nor are the examples of the employment of costume as a mode of
intensifying dramatic situation less numerous. After slaughter of
Duncan, Macbeth appears in his night-gown as if aroused from sleep;
Timon ends in rags the play he had begun in splendour; Richard
flatters the London citizens in a suit of mean and shabby armour,
and, as soon as he has stepped in blood to the throne, marches
through the streets in crown and George and Garter; the climax of
The Tempest is reached when Prospero, throwing off his enchanter's
robes, sends Ariel for his hat and rapier, and reveals himself as
the great Italian Duke; the very Ghost in Hamlet changes his
mystical apparel to produce different effects; and as for Juliet, a
modern playwright would probably have laid her out in her shroud,
and made the scene a scene of horror merely, but Shakespeare arrays
her in rich and gorgeous raiment, whose loveliness makes the vault
'a feasting presence full of light,' turns the tomb into a bridal
chamber, and gives the cue and motive for Romeo's speech of the
triumph of Beauty over Death.

Even small details of dress, such as the colour of a major-domo's
stockings, the pattern on a wife's handkerchief, the sleeve of a
young soldier, and a fashionable woman's bonnets, become in
Shakespeare's hands points of actual dramatic importance, and by
some of them the action of the play in question is conditioned
absolutely. Many other dramatists have availed themselves of
costume as a method of expressing directly to the audience the
character of a person on his entrance, though hardly so brilliantly
as Shakespeare has done in the case of the dandy Parolles, whose
dress, by the way, only an archaeologist can understand; the fun of
a master and servant exchanging coats in presence of the audience,
of shipwrecked sailors squabbling over the division of a lot of
fine clothes, and of a tinker dressed up like a duke while he is in
his cups, may be regarded as part of that great career which
costume has always played in comedy from the time of Aristophanes
down to Mr. Gilbert; but nobody from the mere details of apparel
and adornment has ever drawn such irony of contrast, such immediate
and tragic effect, such pity and such pathos, as Shakespeare
himself. Armed cap-a-pie, the dead King stalks on the battlements
of Elsinore because all is not right with Denmark; Shylock's Jewish
gaberdine is part of the stigma under which that wounded and
embittered nature writhes; Arthur begging for his life can think of
no better plea than the handkerchief he had given Hubert -


Have you the heart? when your head did but ache,
I knit my handkerchief about your brows,
(The best I had, a princess wrought it me)
And I did never ask it you again;


and Orlando's blood-stained napkin strikes the first sombre note in
that exquisite woodland idyll, and shows us the depth of feeling
that underlies Rosalind's fanciful wit and wilful jesting.


Last night 'twas on my arm; I kissed it;
I hope it be not gone to tell my lord
That I kiss aught but he,


says Imogen, jesting on the loss of the bracelet which was already
on its way to Rome to rob her of her husband's faith; the little
Prince passing to the Tower plays with the dagger in his uncle's
girdle; Duncan sends a ring to Lady Macbeth on the night of his own
murder, and the ring of Portia turns the tragedy of the merchant
into a wife's comedy. The great rebel York dies with a paper crown
on his head; Hamlet's black suit is a kind of colour-motive in the
piece, like the mourning of the Chimene in the Cid; and the climax
of Antony's speech is the production of Caesar's cloak:-


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?


Constance's


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.

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.

Indeed, anybody who cares to examine the age of Shakespeare will
see that archaeology was one of its special characteristics. After
that revival of the classical forms of architecture which was one
of the notes of the Renaissance, and the printing at Venice and
elsewhere of the masterpieces of Greek and Latin literature, had
come naturally an interest in the ornamentation and costume of the
antique world. Nor was it for the learning that they could
acquire, but rather for the loveliness that they might create, that
the artists studied these things. The curious objects that were
being constantly brought to light by excavations were not left to
moulder in a museum, for the contemplation of a callous curator,
and the ennui of a policeman bored by the absence of crime. They
were used as motives for the production of a new art, which was to
be not beautiful merely, but also strange.

Infessura tells us that in 1485 some workmen digging on the Appian
Way came across an old Roman sarcophagus inscribed with the name
'Julia, daughter of Claudius.' On opening the coffer they found
within its marble womb the body of a beautiful girl of about
fifteen years of age, preserved by the embalmer's skill from
corruption and the decay of time. Her eyes were half open, her
hair rippled round her in crisp curling gold, and from her lips and
cheek the bloom of maidenhood had not yet departed. Borne back to
the Capitol, she became at once the centre of a new cult, and from
all parts of the city crowded pilgrims to worship at the wonderful
shrine, till the Pope, fearing lest those who had found the secret
of beauty in a Pagan tomb might forget what secrets Judaea's rough
and rock-hewn sepulchre contained, had the body conveyed away by
night, and in secret buried. Legend though it may be, yet the
story is none the less valuable as showing us the attitude of the
Renaissance towards the antique world. Archaeology to them was not
a mere science for the antiquarian; it was a means by which they
could touch the dry dust of antiquity into the very breath and
beauty of life, and fill with the new wine of romanticism forms
that else had been old and outworn. From the pulpit of Niccola
Pisano down to Mantegna's 'Triumph of Caesar,' and the service
Cellini designed for King Francis, the influence of this spirit can
be traced; nor was it confined merely to the immobile arts--the
arts of arrested movement--but its influence was to be seen also in
the great Graeco-Roman masques which were the constant amusement of
the gay courts of the time, and in the public pomps and processions
with which the citizens of big commercial towns were wont to greet
the princes that chanced to visit them; pageants, by the way, which
were considered so important that large prints were made of them
and published--a fact which is a proof of the general interest at
the time in matters of such kind.

And this use of archaeology in shows, so far from being a bit of
priggish pedantry, is in every way legitimate and beautiful. For
the stage is not merely the meeting-place of all the arts, but is
also the return of art to life. Sometimes in an archaeological
novel the use of strange and obsolete terms seems to hide the
reality beneath the learning, and I dare say that many of the
readers of Notre Dame de Paris have been much puzzled over the
meaning of such expressions as la casaque a mahoitres, les
voulgiers, le gallimard tache d'encre, les craaquiniers, and the
like; but with the stage how different it is! The ancient world
wakes from its sleep, and history moves as a pageant before our
eyes, without obliging us to have recourse to a dictionary or an
encyclopaedia for the perfection of our enjoyment. Indeed, there
is not the slightest necessity that the public should know the
authorities for the mounting of any piece. From such materials,
for instance, as the disk of Theodosius, materials with which the
majority of people are probably not very familiar, Mr. E. W.
Godwin, one of the most artistic spirits of this century in
England, created the marvellous loveliness of the first act of
Claudian, and showed us the life of Byzantium in the fourth
century, not by a dreary lecture and a set of grimy casts, not by a
novel which requires a glossary to explain it, but by the visible
presentation before us of all the glory of that great town. And
while the costumes were true to the smallest points of colour and
design, yet the details were not assigned that abnormal importance
which they must necessarily be given in a piecemeal lecture, but
were subordinated to the rules of lofty composition and the unity
of artistic effect. Mr. Symonds, speaking of that great picture of
Mantegna's, now in Hampton Court, says that the artist has
converted an antiquarian motive into a theme for melodies of line.
The same could have been said with equal justice of Mr. Godwin's
scene. Only the foolish called it pedantry, only those who would
neither look nor listen spoke of the passion of the play being
killed by its paint. It was in reality a scene not merely perfect
in its picturesqueness, but absolutely dramatic also, getting rid
of any necessity for tedious descriptions, and showing us, by the
colour and character of Claudian's dress, and the dress of his
attendants, the whole nature and life of the man, from what school
of philosophy he affected, down to what horses he backed on the
turf.

And indeed archaeology is only really delightful when transfused
into some form of art. I have no desire to underrate the services
of laborious scholars, but I feel that the use Keats made of
Lempriere's Dictionary is of far more value to us than Professor
Max Muller's treatment of the same mythology as a disease of
language. Better Endymion than any theory, however sound, or, as
in the present instance, unsound, of an epidemic among adjectives!
And who does not feel that the chief glory of Piranesi's book on
Vases is that it gave Keats the suggestion for his 'Ode on a
Grecian Urn'? Art, and art only, can make archaeology beautiful;
and the theatric art can use it most directly and most vividly, for
it can combine in one exquisite presentation the illusion of actual
life with the wonder of the unreal world. But the sixteenth
century was not merely the age of Vitruvius; it was the age of
Vecellio also. Every nation seems suddenly to have become
interested in the dress of its neighbours. Europe began to
investigate its own clothes, and the amount of books published on
national costumes is quite extraordinary. At the beginning of the
century the Nuremberg Chronicle, with its two thousand
illustrations, reached its fifth edition, and before the century
was over seventeen editions were published of Munster's
Cosmography. Besides these two books there were also the works of
Michael Colyns, of Hans Weigel, of Amman, and of Vecellio himself,
all of them well illustrated, some of the drawings in Vecellio
being probably from the hand of Titian.

Nor was it merely from books and treatises that they acquired their
knowledge. The development of the habit of foreign travel, the
increased commercial intercourse between countries, and the
frequency of diplomatic missions, gave every nation many
opportunities of studying the various forms of contemporary dress.
After the departure from England, for instance, of the ambassadors
from the Czar, the Sultan and the Prince of Morocco, Henry the
Eighth and his friends gave several masques in the strange attire
of their visitors. Later on London saw, perhaps too often, the
sombre splendour of the Spanish Court, and to Elizabeth came envoys
from all lands, whose dress, Shakespeare tells us, had an important
influence on English costume.

And the interest was not confined merely to classical dress, or the
dress of foreign nations; there was also a good deal of research,
amongst theatrical people especially, into the ancient costume of
England itself: and when Shakespeare, in the prologue to one of
his plays, expresses his regret at being unable to produce helmets
of the period, he is speaking as an Elizabethan manager and not
merely as an Elizabethan poet. At Cambridge, for instance, during
his day, a play of Richard The Third was performed, in which the
actors were attired in real dresses of the time, procured from the
great collection of historical costume in the Tower, which was
always open to the inspection of managers, and sometimes placed at
their disposal. And I cannot help thinking that this performance
must have been far more artistic, as regards costume, than
Garrick's mounting of Shakespeare's own play on the subject, in
which he himself appeared in a nondescript fancy dress, and
everybody else in the costume of the time of George the Third,
Richmond especially being much admired in the uniform of a young
guardsman.

For what is the use to the stage of that archaeology which has so
strangely terrified the critics, but that it, and it alone, can
give us the architecture and apparel suitable to the time in which
the action of the play passes? It enables us to see a Greek
dressed like a Greek, and an Italian like an Italian; to enjoy the
arcades of Venice and the balconies of Verona; and, if the play
deals with any of the great eras in our country's history, to
contemplate the age in its proper attire, and the king in his habit
as he lived. And I wonder, by the way, what Lord Lytton would have
said some time ago, at the Princess's Theatre, had the curtain
risen on his father's Brutus reclining in a Queen Anne chair,
attired in a flowing wig and a flowered dressing-gown, a costume
which in the last century was considered peculiarly appropriate to
an antique Roman! For in those halcyon days of the drama no
archaeology troubled the stage, or distressed the critics, and our
inartistic grandfathers sat peaceably in a stifling atmosphere of
anachronisms, and beheld with the calm complacency of the age of
prose an Iachimo in powder and patches, a Lear in lace ruffles, and
a Lady Macbeth in a large crinoline. I can understand archaeology
being attacked on the ground of its excessive realism, but to
attack it as pedantic seems to be very much beside the mark.
However, to attack it for any reason is foolish; one might just as
well speak disrespectfully of the equator. For archaeology, being
a science, is neither good nor bad, but a fact simply. Its value
depends entirely on how it is used, and only an artist can use it.
We look to the archaeologist for the materials, to the artist for
the method.

In designing the scenery and costumes for any of Shakespeare's
plays, the first thing the artist has to settle is the best date
for the drama. This should be determined by the general spirit of
the play, more than by any actual historical references which may
occur in it. Most Hamlets I have seen were placed far too early.
Hamlet is essentially a scholar of the Revival of Learning; and if
the allusion to the recent invasion of England by the Danes puts it
back to the ninth century, the use of foils brings it down much
later. Once, however, that the date has been fixed, then the
archaeologist is to supply us with the facts which the artist is to
convert into effects.

It has been said that the anachronisms in the plays themselves show
us that Shakespeare was indifferent to historical accuracy, and a
great deal of capital has been made out of Hector's indiscreet
quotation from Aristotle. Upon the other hand, the anachronisms
are really few in number, and not very important, and, had
Shakespeare's attention been drawn to them by a brother artist, he
would probably have corrected them. For, though they can hardly be
called blemishes, they are certainly not the great beauties of his
work; or, at least, if they are, their anachronistic charm cannot
be emphasised unless the play is accurately mounted according to
its proper date. In looking at Shakespeare's plays as a whole,
however, what is really remarkable is their extraordinary fidelity
as regards his personages and his plots. Many of his dramatis
personae are people who had actually existed, and some of them
might have been seen in real life by a portion of his audience.
Indeed the most violent attack that was made on Shakespeare in his
time was for his supposed caricature of Lord Cobham. As for his
plots, Shakespeare constantly draws them either from authentic
history, or from the old ballads and traditions which served as
history to the Elizabethan public, and which even now no scientific
historian would dismiss as absolutely untrue. And not merely did
he select fact instead of fancy as the basis of much of his
imaginative work, but he always gives to each play the general
character, the social atmosphere in a word, of the age in question.
Stupidity he recognises as being one of the permanent
characteristics of all European civilisations; so he sees no
difference between a London mob of his own day and a Roman mob of
pagan days, between a silly watchman in Messina and a silly Justice
of the Peace in Windsor. But when he deals with higher characters,
with those exceptions of each age which are so fine that they
become its types, he gives them absolutely the stamp and seal of
their time. Virgilia is one of those Roman wives on whose tomb was
written 'Domi mansit, lanam fecit,' as surely as Juliet is the
romantic girl of the Renaissance. He is even true to the
characteristics of race. Hamlet has all the imagination and
irresolution of the Northern nations, and the Princess Katharine is
as entirely French as the heroine of Divorcons. Harry the Fifth is
a pure Englishman, and Othello a true Moor.

Again when Shakespeare treats of the history of England from the
fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, it is wonderful how careful
he is to have his facts perfectly right--indeed he follows
Holinshed with curious fidelity. The incessant wars between France
and England are described with extraordinary accuracy down to the
names of the besieged towns, the ports of landing and embarkation,
the sites and dates of the battles, the titles of the commanders on
each side, and the lists of the killed and wounded. And as regards
the Civil Wars of the Roses we have many elaborate genealogies of
the seven sons of Edward the Third; the claims of the rival Houses
of York and Lancaster to the throne are discussed at length; and if
the English aristocracy will not read Shakespeare as a poet, they
should certainly read him as a sort of early Peerage. There is
hardly a single title in the Upper House, with the exception of
course of the uninteresting titles assumed by the law lords, which
does not appear in Shakespeare along with many details of family
history, creditable and discreditable. Indeed if it be really
necessary that the School Board children should know all about the
Wars of the Roses, they could learn their lessons just as well out
of Shakespeare as out of shilling primers, and learn them, I need
not say, far more pleasurably. Even in Shakespeare's own day this
use of his plays was recognised. 'The historical plays teach
history to those who cannot read it in the chronicles,' says
Heywood in a tract about the stage, and yet I am sure that
sixteenth-century chronicles were much more delightful reading than
nineteenth-century primers are.

Of course the aesthetic value of Shakespeare's plays does not, in
the slightest degree, depend on their facts, but on their Truth,
and Truth is independent of facts always, inventing or selecting
them at pleasure. But still Shakespeare's use of facts is a most
interesting part of his method of work, and shows us his attitude
towards the stage, and his relations to the great art of illusion.
Indeed he would have been very much surprised at any one classing
his plays with 'fairy tales,' as Lord Lytton does; for one of his
aims was to create for England a national historical drama, which
should deal with incidents with which the public was well
acquainted, and with heroes that lived in the memory of a people.
Patriotism, I need hardly say, is not a necessary quality of art;
but it means, for the artist, the substitution of a universal for
an individual feeling, and for the public the presentation of a
work of art in a most attractive and popular form. It is worth
noticing that Shakespeare's first and last successes were both
historical plays.

It may be asked, what has this to do with Shakespeare's attitude
towards costume? I answer that a dramatist who laid such stress on
historical accuracy of fact would have welcomed historical accuracy
of costume as a most important adjunct to his illusionist method.
And I have no hesitation in saying that he did so. The reference
to helmets of the period in the prologue to Henry the Fifth may be
considered fanciful, though Shakespeare must have often seen


The very casque
That did affright the air at Agincourt,


where it still hangs in the dusky gloom of Westminster Abbey, along
with the saddle of that 'imp of fame,' and the dinted shield with
its torn blue velvet lining and its tarnished lilies of gold; but
the use of military tabards in Henry the Sixth is a bit of pure
archaeology, as they were not worn in the sixteenth century; and
the King's own tabard, I may mention, was still suspended over his
tomb in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, in Shakespeare's day. For,
up to the time of the unfortunate triumph of the Philistines in
1645, the chapels and cathedrals of England were the great national
museums of archaeology, and in them were kept the armour and attire
of the heroes of English history. A good deal was of course
preserved in the Tower, and even in Elizabeth's day tourists were
brought there to see such curious relics of the past as Charles
Brandon's huge lance, which is still, I believe, the admiration of
our country visitors; but the cathedrals and churches were, as a
rule, selected as the most suitable shrines for the reception of
the historic antiquities. Canterbury can still show us the helm of
the Black Prince, Westminster the robes of our kings, and in old
St. Paul's the very banner that had waved on Bosworth field was
hung up by Richmond himself.

In fact, everywhere that Shakespeare turned in London, he saw the
apparel and appurtenances of past ages, and it is impossible to
doubt that he made use of his opportunities. The employment of
lance and shield, for instance, in actual warfare, which is so
frequent in his plays, is drawn from archaeology, and not from the
military accoutrements of his day; and his general use of armour in
battle was not a characteristic of his age, a time when it was
rapidly disappearing before firearms. Again, the crest on
Warwick's helmet, of which such a point is made in Henry the Sixth,
is absolutely correct in a fifteenth-century play when crests were
generally worn, but would not have been so in a play of
Shakespeare's own time, when feathers and plumes had taken their
place--a fashion which, as he tells us in Henry the Eighth, was
borrowed from France. For the historical plays, then, we may be
sure that archaeology was employed, and as for the others I feel
certain that it was the case also. The appearance of Jupiter on
his eagle, thunderbolt in hand, of Juno with her peacocks, and of
Iris with her many-coloured bow; the Amazon masque and the masque
of the Five Worthies, may all be regarded as archaeological; and
the vision which Posthumus sees in prison of Sicilius Leonatus--'an
old man, attired like a warrior, leading an ancient matron'--is
clearly so. Of the 'Athenian dress' by which Lysander is
distinguished from Oberon I have already spoken; but one of the
most marked instances is in the case of the dress of Coriolanus,
for which Shakespeare goes directly to Plutarch. That historian,
in his Life of the great Roman, tells us of the oak-wreath with
which Caius Marcius was crowned, and of the curious kind of dress
in which, according to ancient fashion, he had to canvass his
electors; and on both of these points he enters into long
disquisitions, investigating the origin and meaning of the old
customs. Shakespeare, in the spirit of the true artist, accepts
the facts of the antiquarian and converts them into dramatic and
picturesque effects: indeed the gown of humility, the 'woolvish
gown,' as Shakespeare calls it, is the central note of the play.
There are other cases I might quote, but this one is quite
sufficient for my purpose; and it is evident from it at any rate
that, in mounting a play in the accurate costume of the time,
according to the best authorities, we are carrying out
Shakespeare's own wishes and method.

Even if it were not so, there is no more reason that we should
continue any imperfections which may be supposed to have
characterised Shakespeare's stage mounting than that we should have
Juliet played by a young man, or give up the advantage of
changeable scenery. A great work of dramatic art should not merely
be made expressive of modern passion by means of the actor, but
should be presented to us in the form most suitable to the modern
spirit. Racine produced his Roman plays in Louis Quatorze dress on
a stage crowded with spectators; but we require different
conditions for the enjoyment of his art. Perfect accuracy of
detail, for the sake of perfect illusion, is necessary for us.
What we have to see is that the details are not allowed to usurp
the principal place. They must be subordinate always to the
general motive of the play. But subordination in art does not mean
disregard of truth; it means conversion of fact into effect, and
assigning to each detail its proper relative value


'Les petits details d'histoire et de vie domestique (says Hugo)
doivent etre scrupuleusement etudies et reproduits par le poete,
mais uniquement comme des moyens d'accroitre la realite de
l'ensemble, et de faire penetrer jusque dans les coins les plus
obscurs de l'oeuvre cette vie generale et puissante au milieu de
laquelle les personnages sont plus vrais, et les catastrophes, par
consequeut, plus poignantes. Tout doit etre subordonne a ce but.
L'Homme sur le premier plan, le reste au fond.'


This passage is interesting as coming from the first great French
dramatist who employed archaeology on the stage, and whose plays,
though absolutely correct in detail, are known to all for their
passion, not for their pedantry--for their life, not for their
learning. It is true that he has made certain concessions in the
case of the employment of curious or strange expressions. Ruy Blas
talks of M, de Priego as 'sujet du roi' instead of 'noble du roi,'
and Angelo Malipieri speaks of 'la croix rouge' instead of 'la
croix de gueules.' But they are concessions made to the public, or
rather to a section of it. 'J'en offre ici toute mes excuses aux
spectateurs intelligents,' he says in a note to one of the plays;
'esperons qu'un jour un seigneur venitien pourra dire tout
bonnement sans peril son blason sur le theatre. C'est un progres
qui viendra.' And, though the description of the crest is not
couched in accurate language, still the crest itself was accurately
right. It may, of course, be said that the public do not notice
these things; upon the other hand, it should be remembered that Art
has no other aim but her own perfection, and proceeds simply by her
own laws, and that the play which Hamlet describes as being caviare
to the general is a play he highly praises. Besides, in England,
at any rate, the public have undergone a transformation; there is
far more appreciation of beauty now than there was a few years ago;
and though they may not be familiar with the authorities and
archaeological data for what is shown to them, still they enjoy
whatever loveliness they look at. And this is the important thing.
Better to take pleasure in a rose than to put its root under a
microscope. Archaeological accuracy is merely a condition of
illusionist stage effect; it is not its quality. And Lord Lytton's
proposal that the dresses should merely be beautiful without being
accurate is founded on a misapprehension of the nature of costume,
and of its value on the stage. This value is twofold, picturesque
and dramatic; the former depends on the colour of the dress, the
latter on its design and character. But so interwoven are the two
that, whenever in our own day historical accuracy has been
disregarded, and the various dresses in a play taken from different
ages, the result has been that the stage has been turned into that
chaos of costume, that caricature of the centuries, the Fancy Dress
Ball, to the entire ruin of all dramatic and picturesque effect.
For the dresses of one age do not artistically harmonise with the
dresses of another: and, as far as dramatic value goes, to confuse
the costumes is to confuse the play. Costume is a growth, an
evolution, and a most important, perhaps the most important, sign
of the manners, customs and mode of life of each century. The
Puritan dislike of colour, adornment and grace in apparel was part
of the great revolt of the middle classes against Beauty in the
seventeenth century. A historian who disregarded it would give us
a most inaccurate picture of the time, and a dramatist who did not
avail himself of it would miss a most vital element in producing an
illusionist effect. The effeminacy of dress that characterised the
reign of Richard the Second was a constant theme of contemporary
authors. Shakespeare, writing two hundred years after, makes the
king's fondness for gay apparel and foreign fashions a point in the
play, from John of Gaunt's reproaches down to Richard's own speech
in the third act on his deposition from the throne. And that
Shakespeare examined Richard's tomb in Westminster Abbey seems to
me certain from York's speech:-


See, see, King Richard doth himself appear
As doth the blushing discontented sun
From out the fiery portal of the east,
When he perceives the envious clouds are bent
To dim his glory.


For we can still discern on the King's robe his favourite badge--
the sun issuing from a cloud. In fact, in every age the social
conditions are so exemplified in costume, that to produce a
sixteenth-century play in fourteenth-century attire, or vice versa,
would make the performance seem unreal because untrue. And,
valuable as beauty of effect on the stage is, the highest beauty is
not merely comparable with absolute accuracy of detail, but really
dependent on it. To invent, an entirely new costume is almost
impossible except in burlesque or extravaganza, and as for
combining the dress of different centuries into one, the experiment
would be dangerous, and Shakespeare's opinion of the artistic value
of such a medley may be gathered from his incessant satire of the
Elizabethan dandies for imagining that they were well dressed
because they got their doublets in Italy, their hats in Germany,
and their hose in France. And it should be noted that the most
lovely scenes that have been produced on our stage have been those
that have been characterised by perfect accuracy, such as Mr. and
Mrs. Bancroft's eighteenth-century revivals at the Haymarket, Mr.
Irying's superb production of Much Ado About Nothing, and Mr,
Barrett's Claudian. Besides, and this is perhaps the most complete
answer to Lord Lytton's theory, it must be remembered that neither
in costume nor in dialogue is beauty the dramatist's primary aim at
all. The true dramatist aims first at what is characteristic, and
no more desires that all his personages should be beautifully
attired than he desires that they should all have beautiful natures
or speak beautiful English. The true dramatist, in fact, shows us
life under the conditions of art, not art in the form of life. The
Greek dress was the loveliest dress the world has ever seen, and
the English dress of the last century one of the most monstrous;
yet we cannot costume a play by Sheridan as we would costume a play
by Sophokles. For, as Polonius says in his excellent lecture, a
lecture to which I am glad to have the opportunity of expressing my
obligations, one of the first qualities of apparel is its
expressiveness. And the affected style of dress in the last
century was the natural characteristic of a society of affected
manners and affected conversation--a characteristic which the
realistic dramatist will highly value down to the smallest detail
of accuracy, and the materials for which he can get only from
archaeology.

But it is not enough that a dress should be accurate; it must be
also appropriate to the stature and appearance of the actor, and to
his supposed condition, as well as to his necessary action in the
play. In Mr. Hare's production of As You Like It at the St.
James's Theatre, for instance, the whole point of Orlando's
complaint that he is brought up like a peasant, and not like a
gentleman, was spoiled by the gorgeousness of his dress, and the
splendid apparel worn by the banished Duke and his friends was
quite out of place. Mr. Lewis Wingfield's explanation that the
sumptuary laws of the period necessitated their doing so, is, I am
afraid, hardly sufficient. Outlaws, lurking in a forest and living
by the chase, are not very likely to care much about ordinances of
dress. They were probably attired like Robin Hood's men, to whom,
indeed, they are compared in the course of the play. And that
their dress was not that of wealthy noblemen may be seen by
Orlando's words when he breaks in upon them. He mistakes them for
robbers, and is amazed to find that they answer him in courteous
and gentle terms. Lady Archibald Campbell's production, under Mr.
E. W. Godwin's direction, of the same play in Coombe Wood was, as
regards mounting, far more artistic. At least it seemed so to me.
The Duke and his companions were dressed in serge tunics, leathern
jerkins, high boots and gauntlets, and wore bycocket hats and
hoods. And as they were playing in a real forest, they found, I am
sure, their dresses extremely convenient. To every character in
the play was given a perfectly appropriate attire, and the brown
and green of their costumes harmonised exquisitely with the ferns
through which they wandered, the trees beneath which they lay, and
the lovely English landscape that surrounded the Pastoral Players.
The perfect naturalness of the scene was due to the absolute
accuracy and appropriateness of everything that was worn. Nor
could archaeology have been put to a severer test, or come out of
it more triumphantly. The whole production showed once for all
that, unless a dress is archaeologically correct, and artistically
appropriate, it always looks unreal, unnatural, and theatrical in
the sense of artificial.

Nor, again, is it enough that there should be accurate and
appropriate costumes of beautiful colours; there must be also
beauty of colour on the stage as a whole, and as long as the
background is painted by one artist, and the foreground figures
independently designed by another, there is the danger of a want of
harmony in the scene as a picture. For each scene the colour-
scheme should be settled as absolutely as for the decoration of a
room, and the textures which it is proposed to use should be mixed
and re-mixed in every possible combination, and what is discordant
removed. Then, as regards the particular kinds of colours, the
stage is often too glaring, partly through the excessive use of
hot, violent reds, and partly through the costumes looking too new.
Shabbiness, which in modern life is merely the tendency of the
lower orders towards tone, is not without its artistic value, and
modern colours are often much improved by being a little faded.
Blue also is too frequently used: it is not merely a dangerous
colour to wear by gaslight, but it is really difficult in England
to get a thoroughly good blue. The fine Chinese blue, which we all
so much admire, takes two years to dye, and the English public will
not wait so long for a colour. Peacock blue, of course, has been
employed on the stage, notably at the Lyceum, with great advantage;
but all attempts at a good light blue, or good dark blue, which I
have seen have been failures. The value of black is hardly
appreciated; it was used effectively by Mr. Irving in Hamlet as the
central note of a composition, but as a tone-giving neutral its
importance is not recognised. And this is curious, considering the
general colour of the dress of a century in which, as Baudelaire
says, 'Nous celebrons tous quelque enterrement.' The archaeologist
of the future will probably point to this age as the time when the
beauty of black was understood; but I hardly think that, as regards
stage-mounting or house decoration, it really is. Its decorative
value is, of course, the same as that of white or gold; it can
separate and harmonise colours. In modern plays the black frock-
coat of the hero becomes important in itself, and should be given a
suitable background. But it rarely is. Indeed the only good
background for a play in modern dress which I have ever seen was
the dark grey and cream-white scene of the first act of the
Princesse Georges in Mrs. Langtry's production. As a rule, the
hero is smothered in bric-a-brac and palm-trees, lost in the gilded
abyss of Louis Quatorze furniture, or reduced to a mere midge in
the midst of marqueterie; whereas the background should always be
kept as a background, and colour subordinated to effect. This, of
course, can only be done when there is one single mind directing
the whole production. The facts of art are diverse, but the
essence of artistic effect is unity. Monarchy, Anarchy, and
Republicanism may contend for the government of nations; but a
theatre should be in the power of a cultured despot. There may be
division of labour, but there must be no division of mind. Whoever
understands the costume of an age understands of necessity its
architecture and its surroundings also, and it is easy to see from
the chairs of a century whether it was a century of crinolines or
not. In fact, in art there is no specialism, and a really artistic
production should bear the impress of one master, and one master
only, who not merely should design and arrange everything, but
should have complete control over the way in which each dress is to
be worn.

Mademoiselle Mars, in the first production of Hernani, absolutely
refused to call her lover 'Mon Lion!' unless she was allowed to
wear a little fashionable toque then much in vogue on the
Boulevards; and many young ladies on our own stage insist to the
present day on wearing stiff starched petticoats under Greek
dresses, to the entire ruin of all delicacy of line and fold; but
these wicked things should not be allowed. And there should be far
more dress rehearsals than there are now. Actors such as Mr.
Forbes-Robertson, Mr. Conway, Mr. George Alexander, and others, not
to mention older artists, can move with ease and elegance in the
attire of any century; but there are not a few who seem dreadfully
embarrassed about their hands if they have no side pockets, and who
always wear their dresses as if they were costumes. Costumes, of
course, they are to the designer; but dresses they should be to
those that wear them. And it is time that a stop should be put to
the idea, very prevalent on the stage, that the Greeks and Romans
always went about bareheaded in the open air--a mistake the
Elizabethan managers did not fall into, for they gave hoods as well
as gowns to their Roman senators.

More dress rehearsals would also be of value in explaining to the
actors that there is a form of gesture and movement that is not
merely appropriate to each style of dress, but really conditioned
by it. The extravagant use of the arms in the eighteenth century,
for instance, was the necessary result of the large hoop, and the
solemn dignity of Burleigh owed as much to his ruff as to his
reason. Besides until an actor is at home in his dress, he is not
at home in his part.

Of the value of beautiful costume in creating an artistic
temperament in the audience, and producing that joy in beauty for
beauty's sake without which the great masterpieces of art can never
be understood, I will not here speak; though it is worth while to
notice how Shakespeare appreciated that side of the question in the
production of his tragedies, acting them always by artificial
light, and in a theatre hung with black; but what I have tried to
point out is that archaeology is not a pedantic method, but a
method of artistic illusion, and that costume is a means of
displaying character without description, and of producing dramatic
situations and dramatic effects. And I think it is a pity that so
many critics should have set themselves to attack one of the most
important movements on the modern stage before that movement has at
all reached its proper perfection. That it will do so, however, I
feel as certain as that we shall require from our dramatic critics
in the future higher qualification than that they can remember
Macready or have seen Benjamin Webster; we shall require of them,
indeed, that they cultivate a sense of beauty. Pour etre plus
difficile, la tache n'en est que plus glorieuse. And if they will
not encourage, at least they must not oppose, a movement of which
Shakespeare of all dramatists would have most approved, for it has
the illusion of truth for its method, and the illusion of beauty
for its result. Not that I agree with everything that I have said
in this essay. There is much with which I entirely disagree. The
essay simply represents an artistic standpoint, and in aesthetic
criticism attitude is everything. For in art there is no such
thing as a universal truth. A Truth in art is that whose
contradictory is also true. And just as it is only in art-
criticism, and through it, that we can apprehend the Platonic
theory of ideas, so it is only in art-criticism, and through it,
that we can realise Hegel's system of contraries. The truths of
metaphysics are the truths of masks.



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