by Professor David Roberts, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University

Playwrights and actors trade in illusion. They draw you into thinking that pretence is the real thing. If they’re like Shakespeare, they also love reminding you that acting really is only pretending, and that it’s not only actors who pretend. All the world is, after all, a stage.

What does that mean for Shakespeare’s presentation of clothes and, more broadly, the idea of fashion? His actors wore real stuff that was often recycled from the wardrobes of the high and mighty. It looked real because it was real. This was alarming for a society with rules about who could wear what (the so-called sumptuary laws), and a vocal religious minority who believed any kind of pretence was immoral. Then there’s the question of how clothes signify gender. Shakespeare loved to make comedy out of women dressing up as men; except the actors who did it were boys…

Shakespeare’s interest in clothes changed over the course of his writing career. Fun with social mobility gave way to probing the relationship between clothes and emotions or identity; then to a fascination with unclothing either through literal nakedness or death; and finally to a transfiguring of clothes as semi-magical. In the word ‘fashion’ he concentrated a whole range of meanings, some of them slightly sinister.

There’s plenty of research still to be done on the topic of theatrical wardrobes now and in history and I hope my talk at the University’s upcoming Culture Costume and Dress Conference will inspire someone to take up the challenge. I’m privileged to be speaking at the event, which promises a wide range of lively presentations. It also represents a personal milestone. When I was made Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media here at Birmingham City University, I set myself the task of engaging academically with each of the Faculty’s nine Schools.  This is number nine.

Professor David Roberts will talk more about Shakespeare and fashion at Birmingham City University’s Culture Costume and Dress Conference which runs from 10 – 12 May. For more information, visit the website.

The following two tabs change content below.
Guest Blogger

Guest Blogger

Content by our Guest Blogger