If I were to ask you whom you would consider a fashion expert, you’d probably respond with top name designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel or Edith Head. The last person you’d think of is famous classical English playwright William Shakespeare. Most of the time, Shakespeare is associated with memories of English homework you didn’t want to do or yet another assignment about Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. It may surprise you to find that Shakespeare was actually quite fashion savvy. As a current staff member for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, I’ve found Shakespeare has numerous clothing and fashion references and what better time to share them than for the Beverley Center for the Arts opening July 7-9 in Cedar City, Utah? In honor of this festive occasion, here are some of Shakespeare’s fashion observations from Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Julius Caesar, the three Shakespeare productions at the Festival this season.
“Very easily possible. He wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the next block.” – Beatrice about Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing)
Translation: Beatrice is commenting about how quickly Benedick changes his loyalty saying that he changes it as often as he changes it hat, which only requires the change of a hat block.
“By my troth, ‘s but a night-gown in respect of yours-cloth o’ gold, and cuts, and laced with silver, set with pearls, down sleeves, side sleeves, and skirts, round underborne with a bluish tinsel: but for fine, quaint, graceful and elegant excellent fashion, yours is worth ten on’t.” – Margaret to Hero (Much Ado About Nothing)
Translation: Margaret is comparing her financial and societal status to Hero through their fashion adornments and style.
“I am a King that find thee; and I know
’Tis not the Balm, the Scepter, and the Ball,
The Sword, the Mace, the Crown Imperial,
The intertissued Robe of Gold and Pearl,
The farced Title running ’fore the King,
The Throne he sits on, nor the Tide of Pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this World,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous Ceremony,
Not all these, laid in Bed Majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched Slave . . .”
-Henry V (Henry V)
Translation: Henry is realizing that having all of the beautiful robes, scepter and crown as King can’t ease his concerns or let him rest as soundly as someone who isn’t King. Everyone puts their anxieties on the King, making it his responsibility to ease their burdens.
“By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost.
It earns me not if men my Garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet Honor
I am the most offending Soul alive.”
-Henry V (Henry V)
Translation: Henry is illustrating that he’s not selfish about money and isn’t bothered when others wear his clothing. He cares more about honor and loyalty.
“But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.”
-Cicero (Julius Caesar)
Translation: Although this isn’t a direct quote about fashion, it states that people tend to interpret things however they see fit and miss the true meaning behind them. It’s not meant for fashion, but it can be applicable to people’s interpretation of fashion and design.
Shakespeare may be no Vivienne Westwood, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a few things to say about fashion, clothing, society and the human condition. If you want to hear more of the bard’s take on style, history, comedy and love, be sure to visit the Utah Shakespeare Festival this summer and join in upcoming events today through Saturday, July 9th for the Beverley Center for the Arts.
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