Elizabethan Drama

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The following is information comes from the stellar book by Peter Thomson, "Shakespeare's Professional Career." Thomson says that in both the tragedies and comedies "Elizabethan actors were prepared to spend a (huge amount) on their costumes" (38). "Many surviving records emphasize the extraordinary popularity of the English players, who seem to have impressed above all by the fineness of their costumes" (50).

An interesting entry in Thomson's book is the 1598 inventory of the wardrobe of the players: thirteen doublets, ten suits, four jerkins, eight gowns, five coats, eight pairs of hose, thirteen cloaks and six venetian (breeches) for the primary players, and for "Clowns, Hermetes and others," twenty gowns, twenty-five capes, twenty-three coats, twenty suits, six trousers, five jerkins, two doublets and eight pairs of hose" (96). Thompson remarks that the more costumes were maintained for the minor characters than for the larger (96).

The costumes, then, while finely made were not that great in number, given the rather large company they clothed. The clothing seem to be interchangeable and with only some variations of pants and top coats, whether tragedy or comedy. In the highly structured Elizabethan society, you often "were what you wore." The audience would recognize the social position the character portrayed through his clothing.

To see images of Elizabethan costumes, simply go to Google Images and type in the search term. You'll find thousands of examples!

Thomson, Peter. "Shakespeare's Professional Career." Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.

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