A Shakespeare Connected exhibition in collaboration with Ella Hawkins, University of Birmingham.
Shakespeare’s plays are often staged in Elizabethan dress. Over the past four centuries, directors and designers have regularly turned to the period of the playwright’s lifetime as a setting for the plays in performance. The ideas underpinning the use of historical styles in this context have varied greatly, however. Some Elizabethan-inspired productions have been intentionally nostalgic, linking Shakespeare’s plays with a ‘golden age’ in English history to adjust their political significance. Others have attempted to rediscover an ‘authentic’ Shakespeare by replicating the conditions in which the plays were first performed. More recently, designers have used Elizabethan dress to separate fantastical spaces in the texts
from their ‘real-world’ counterparts. By renegotiating relationships between the past and the present through costume design, designers have played an important role in shaping Shakespeare’s legacy and ongoing cultural significance. This exhibition explores how Elizabethan styles have been used and adapted for performance since the 16th century. Focusing on key items in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collections, the exhibition gives an insight into the rich and varied history of this approach to staging Shakespeare’s plays.
With thanks to the Museums and Universities Partnership Initiative (an Arts Council funded project).