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

Although clothing was originally worn to protect the body it has through the years become a costume to protray the individual wearing it.  The author of this chapter uses the artistic genre of the Elizabethan and Jacobean England era and the golden age of English theatre to discuss this matter.  He uses this era because it is a time when ‘the boundaries between life and art completely break down, and … the conventional disticntion between reality and the imagination must give way to a sense of their interplay’ (Grennblatt 1973: ix pg 144).

During the portaiture movement portraits were used as a way to advertise oneself, to protray their aristrocracy.  The actual body of the sitter was secondary to the costume in which they wore.  The clothes these people wore during this era protray the strict rules of behavior and demeanour of their time.  “Right behavior would strike the spectator with awe; wrong deportment would have a comical or grotesque effect” (pg 155).  Appearance of this time was so important that the costume was not designed to fit the body but to construct the body.  Stiff insturments were used to show rectitude of the body which was  “…a moral as well as civilatory-aesthetic symbol “(pg 155). “Proportion and decorm were considered outward signs of inner nobility…lace ruff encircling the neck, disjoining the head from the body and restriciting movement… blown-up sleeves [separating] the arms from the torso…[hindered] any spontaneous movement,” were all insturments to contort the body in order to protray the character the body desired.

Today clothing is still a costume.  It is the layer that seperates the body from others and protrays the actor beneath it.  There are even more costumes today for an array of different genre’s.  These costumes are tools for people to fit into the social arenas that they seek.  The clothes that we wear are a non-verbal way of inviting and reflecting attention.  There are more characters to play than ever before with so many different influences.  Influences that spring from politics, social status, music, and art.  Although there are still some expectations of the outer body as a view to the true self, we are much luckier today than in the past.  The majority of clothing is loose fitting and made for comfort.  Although trends such as skinny jeans, heels, and tight mini’s are restricting they are by far comparible to the depths of restrictment of the past.

These costumes that we wear can be viewed as positive or negative.  The negative being that it seperates people based on judgement through outer appearance.  The positive being a right to self expression.  Overall the clothing that we wear is a costume to the actor that we are trying to protray.  Clothing is not the truth to the inner being of the individual.  We can appreciate the costumes that we get to choose but we must remember that it is just a costume.  The true individual is the real character beneath the clothing, it is the actions that make the individual not the clothing.


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