VocalEyes - Shakespeare's Birthplace
Men's Gloves, 1601-1700.
These fine men’s gloves were made between 1600 and 1650. They are made from sandy-yellow goat leather, with deep cuffs of ivory silk satin. The fingers are long and slender and taper almost to a point, longer than the length of the wearer's fingers. This tapering was an intentional part of the design, to show that you were too wealthy to need to do anything with your hands.
A ruched band of pink satin divides the leather from the cuff, and bright pink silk is also used to line the cuffs.
The cuffs have a scalloped edge and are made of eight long panels, taking up about a third of the gloves' total length. Each panel is highly decorated, embroidered with flowers and leaves. Bright green oval leaves sprout from pale green stems which snake along the panels' length, from the ruched band of pink satin, to the scalloped end. Within the bulging curves of the stems sit different coloured flowers. Some bright yellow with four petals, others blue with three petals like a clover. Interspersed are bright red oval shaped buds, with three tiny points like a crown. Adding to the decorative splendour, tiny reflective sequins or spangles are scattered among the flowers and leaves like glistening dew drops - and silver bullion braid is used to emphasise the scalloped edge of the cuffs.
The superior quality and softness of the leather, along with the silver thread and the pink silk lining, indicates their status as a luxury item, to be enjoyed only by the wealthy. Expensive gloves like these would have been displayed prominently as a sign of the wearer’s high social status and wealth: they could be worn on the hands or tucked into a hat band or belt. Gloves feature as a signifier of gentle status in many portraits of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period.
William Shakespeare’s father John was a glover and leather worker by trade and it’s possible that William was taught some of his father’s trade in his youth. Visitors to Shakespeare's Birthplace can see an interpretation of how this space might have looked at the time. Indeed, it would hardly be surprising if Shakespeare had gained experience of his father’s trade - we find reference to a glove-making tool in The Merry Wives of Windsor where Mistress Quickly says:
"Does he not wear a great round beard like a glover's paring-knife?"
Gloves were often given as courtship gifts. In The Winter’s Tale, the shepherdess Mopsa [MOP-sah] says to her sweetheart:
"Come, you promised me a tawdry-lace and/a pair of sweet gloves."
In Henry V, Shakespeare shows how gloves worn in the hat could indicate a challenge. In Act 4, King Henry disguises himself and goes among his soldiers in order to gauge their loyalty. In doing so he comes into conflict with a soldier called Williams, who is unaware of Henry’s royal identity. They exchange words, and as a sign of their enmity agree to swap one of their own gloves for the other man’s. Williams leaves Henry with the threat:
"This will I also wear in my cap. If ever thou come to
me and say, after to-morrow, ‘This is my glove’, by this hand, I
will take thee a box on the ear."