Performing Selfhood: The Costumed Body as a Lite of Mediation Between Life, Art and the Theatre in the English Renaissance

What is a costume?  When I tried looking up the word “costume” the (Google) search rendered nothing but advertisements for Halloween costumes…

I tried again and got the result I was looking for.  A costume can refer to wardrobe and dress in general, or to the distinctive style of dress of a particular people, class, or period.  I’d like to examine ‘a distinctive style of dress’ in relation to the English Renaissance.  During that period, the distinction of class in the way one dressed was clear.  Members of the elite displayed frivolous costumes.  How do we know this?  When the clothing didn’t survive the artwork did, portraits to be exact.

Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of the Lady with an Ermine…

These portraits were the most important means of self-display and self-advertisement at the time.  The people being painted projected that they were someone solely based on how they were dressed.  This was rightly so because the costumes worn in these portraits exhibited the highest fashion at the time.  It was the main and most important component of the portrait (Entwistle and Wilson 145).  Take a look at this portrait, what you find yourself looking at first?  Her hair, clothing or face?

What do you find yourself being drawn to first?

A question I asked myself when looking at the portraits was, “how did they manage to get into that?”  Restricting, tight, and frivolous costumes but it’s all for show.  The costumes were designed to impose difficulties on the body that had to be overcome by effortless effort (Entwistle and Wilson 156).  The “difficulties” include the farthingale.  Imagine hoops sitting your hips – weight on your body while trying to remain poised and elegant.  It was mean to widen the hips and create a draping effect, thus making it through a door or sitting down extremely difficult.  Queen Elizabeth I was not the first to wear one but she did make it popular in England.

Queen Elizabeth I dons a farthingale…


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