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VocalEyes - Shakespeare's Birthplace

Pewter Cloak Clasp, 1550-1570.



"Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day
And make me travail forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy brav’ry in their rotten smoke?"
(Shakespeare's Sonnet 34, Lines 1 – 4)

In Shakespeare's time cloaks were worn as the outermost garment, and his lack of one in Sonnet 34 leaves him open to the inclement weather - in this case a metaphor for betrayal and disappointment.

Cloaks were worn by both men and women, and their length, fabric, decoration, colour and cost could vary considerably according to the owner’s wealth and social status. The wealthier you were, the more ornate and decorative your cloaks became, but cloaks are listed in the wills and inventories of even the most ordinary people of Stratford-upon-Avon at this time.

One way to fasten your cloak would be with a clasp. This example resembles an ornate round broach, and would have been stitched onto one side of the wearer’s cloak. Made from pewter in 1560, it measures about 7 centimetres across. To the left of the clasp, a crescent moon shape is pierced with a delicate foliage design. Offset to the right of the clasp is the bust of an elegant Elizabethan lady in relief - who could possibly be Elizabeth I. She has a high, smooth forehead, her hair worn up with a crimped band around the top of her head. She wears a ruff around her neck, and a tall, stiff ribbed collar which fans around behind her. This bust is framed by a decorated diamond shape which itself sits cupped with the points of the crescent moon to the left. To the right of the bust, a large stud has a brass hook attached to it. Eight smaller studs are set around the clasp's circumference.

A moulded bar on the reverse side would probably have been used to secure the clasp to the cloak. The other side of the cloak would then be fastened using the brass hook to the right: the fabric could either be pushed directly onto or into it or, perhaps the more likely, there would be a corresponding hook or eyelet stitched onto the other side of the cloak.

What's intriguing about this particular clasp is the fact that while it's styled so elegantly, it's made of pewter and brass, two relatively inexpensive materials at that time. A clue to the object’s function could lie in the livery worn by the monarch’s subjects at this time: Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers wore cameo portraits of their sovereign as a sign of their loyalty, so this clasp may have been worn in a similar fashion. The pewter may have been polished up to a high shine to look like silver in order to make the object appear costly and extravagant.