Elizabethan Sumptuary laws: Fashion Policing in Shakespeare’s…

Sumptuary laws: Fashion Policing in Shakespeare’s England. 

James McGeown is one of this year’s students studying the Shakespeare Studies MA that we run jointly with King’s College London. In this blog, inspired by his MA research, he delves into the world of Elizabethan sumptuary laws.

Elizabethan London, Shakespeare’s playing company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men,
dressed as merchants, Kings and soldiers on stage. What’s more, male players
played women; from country maids to African princesses. Dressing up as someone
you are not has always been a part of the theatre.  However, in Shakespeare’s time wearing the
costume of another was potentially a disruptive, or even dangerous act.

1604, England had laws which governed what any particular person could wear.
Elizabethan sumptuary laws dictated which fabrics, garments, and accessories
could be worn by people of differing social status. By definition, sumptuary
laws were related to the limiting of private expenditure. The primary purpose
of such laws was to curb excessive spending on clothing by those who could not
afford to waste their money. Another purpose was that sumptuary laws helped to
set clear visual distinctions between different strata of Elizabethan society.
A statute from Elizabeth at Greenwich from 15th June 1574 reads:

excess of apparel and the superfluity of unnecessary foreign wares  thereto belonging now of late years is grown by
sufferance to such an            extremity
that the manifest decay of the whole realm generally is like to     follow’.

laws played an important role in upholding the economic and social stability of
Elizabethan England. As Maggie Secara [1]
puts it; ‘If you couldn’t tell a milkmaid from a countess at a glance, the very
fabric of society might unravel.’ The 1574 statutes refer specifically to
‘foreign wares’ as there was a particular concern in the Elizabethan period for
keeping English wealth in England, as the consumption of foreign goods was increasing.
The often more adventurous, or sumptuous, fashion trends of the European
continent which were making their way onto London’s streets were causing disruptions
to the normal social order.  

what exactly did these laws say people could and could not wear? The
Elizabethan Sumptuary statutes seem mostly to be concerned with which colours,
accessories, and fabrics could be worn by people of any social station. Before
1604, it was the law that ‘only the King, Queen, King’s Mother, children [and]
brethren’ could wear ‘any silk of the color purple, cloth of gold tissued, nor
fur sables.’ Outside of the Royal family, it was law that no woman could wear
‘Damask, taffeta, or other silk in any cloak or safeguard: except knights’
wives’. Elizabeth I’s sumptuary Laws also stated which fabrics could be used
for hats, and how long swords could be for men of different social strata.
Carlo Belfanti [2]
writes that a person’s clothing could be considered

‘a largely
accurate indicator of social class and/or ethnic group as well as  marking age, profession, and, of course sex;
social hierarchies were faithfully reflected
in hierarchies of appearance’.

So, clothing was central for the formation and display
of identity in Elizabethan England, and sumptuary laws attempted to make sure
that the clothes matched the identity of the wearer. Elizabethan society was
highly structured and hierarchical, with social and legal mechanisms in place
to ensure everyone stayed in their proper place. Sumptuary laws were part of
this apparatus; attempting to stop people dressing up as something they were
not. Indeed, in a culture where identity is based on outward appearance, if a
person wore clothes intended for someone outside of their social station or
gender, that person’s identity could change with their clothes. What might this
mean for the players on Shakespeare’s stage who dressed as Kings, Queens, Lords
and Ladies? A boy player dressed as Juliet potentially represents a startling
destabilisation of personal identity.

clear that ‘cross-dressing’ on the axis of social class or gender could have
disruptive potential for the stability of Elizabethan society. However, it
seems that the sumptuary laws which attempted to restrict dress weren’t all
that effective, nor particularly enforced.

1574 Statutes from Greenwich state that the punishment for the violation of any
of the sumptuary laws they set out shall be ‘forfeiture of £10 for every day,
and imprisonment by three months.’ If the offending person didn’t have the
money to pay the fine, the statute states ‘commit the offender to prison till
he have paid the forfeiture.’ This sounds like fairly harsh punishment, and one
might expect that the enforcement of such laws would wreak havoc on a society
where sumptuous dressing was increasingly rife.

if we look for evidence of sumptuary laws being enforced in Elizabethan
England, we find very little. In 1565, Richard Walweyn was imprisoned for
wearing ‘a very monsterous and outraygous greate payre
of hose.’ It is likely he had been padding his calves to emulate the style of
the Elizabethan Nobility who favored shapely legs in men. As Walweyn was a
servant, sumptuary laws would not allow him to stuff his stockings with more
than a yard and three quarters of material.

record or Richard Walweyn is one of relatively few that exist of ordinary
people being detained for violating sumptuary laws. It seems that though the
laws were highly specific, they were also near impossible to enforce. Without a
garrison of fashion police, sumptuary laws relied on social norms and
regulation to keep the Elizabethan hierarchies of clothing based identity in
place. As we know from the stories of cross-dressing women like Mary Frith,
English people consistently broke the rules when it came to clothes.  

brings us to the Globe theatre, where Shakespeare’s company probably broke just
about every sumptuary law there was. With a young man playing Juliet, and a
common player dressed King Richard II, Elizabethan theatre makers pushed
boundaries, and perhaps called into question the nature of identity in their

seems that by the time James VI of Scotland rose to the throne in England,
people had realized that sumptuary laws would never work. On his first day in
Parliament he got rid of them. Good riddance.            


[1] Maggie Secara, editor of ‘Life in Elizabethan England: A Compendium
of Common Knowledge 1558-1603’ (Popinjay Press, 2008), website manager of www.Elizabethan.org/sumptuary.  

[2] Carlo Marco Belfanti (University of Brescia), ‘The Civilization of
Fashion: at the Origins of a Western Social Institution’ Journal of Social
History, vol. 43, no. 2, 2009, pp. 261–283, www.jstor.org/stable/20685387.

As You Like It photography by Tristram Kenton 

Shakespeare’s Letter to the Earth. The Globe Ensemble responds…

Shakespeare’s Letter to the Earth. 

The Globe
Ensemble responds to Letters to the Earth with Titania’s speech from A
Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 2, Scene 1. 

From Michelle Terry, Artistic Director:
We are facing an unprecedented global emergency and the
planet is in crisis. Scientists believe we have entered a period of abrupt
climate breakdown. Carbon emissions and temperatures keep rising; ecological collapse
has begun. On this course we are likely to see abrupt and irreversible

is arguably our last chance to drive policy and culture change so as to achieve
the ambitious targets set out in the UN’s IPCC 2018 report, which describes the
enormous harm that anything above a 1.5oC rise in global temperature would

we can shape new ways of being human on earth. We are all alchemists of change.
Culture has a responsibility to be a bold and active player in this great
re-imagining. This is why culture matters: together we can create new stories
and new visions for our world and generate the necessary political will.

Sam Wanamaker Festival on the Globe stage. This March we were…

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival photography by Cesare De Giglio

Sam Wanamaker Festival on the Globe stage. 

This March we were once again blown away by the talent of students from the UK’s leading drama schools and Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare’s Globe who presented scenes by Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the Globe Theatre at the Sam Wanamaker Festival.

Photography by Cesare De Giglio 

Shakespeare’s Globe produces new plays? Jessica Lusk is our…

Shakespeare’s Globe produces new plays?

Jessica Lusk is our Literary Manager. She is responsible for the research and development of all our new writing. Lucky her! If you came to see Emilia in 2018 you can thank Jessica in part for that.

In this blog she explains why and how we commission new plays at Shakespeare’s Globe. If you’re a budding playwright this is essential reading. 

The Globe has always been a new
writing venue. It’s hard to believe now but Shakespeare was a new writer once,
and The Globe I write from now, (the third Globe) is still a new writing venue

Our first brand new play was seen by
enthusiastic audiences back in 2002, it was called The Golden Ass by
Peter Oswald – an adaptation of a Roman Classic – with a cast of 30 actors
playing almost 200 different characters, with puppetry, opera and
mini-scooters… it was certainly not a case of starting small!

Since then we have produced almost 40
new plays, for both the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, including
Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn, Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn,
Che Walker’s The Frontline, Claire van Kampen’s Farinelli and
the King,
 Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia and most recently Tom Stuart’s After Edward.
They’ve played here, in the West End and on Broadway, as well as on tour around
the UK.


Now, as we enter our 22nd
year, the process of commissioning and developing new work is getting a
shake-up. Shakespeare wrote his plays specifically for the Lord Chamberlain’s
Men and for the playhouses they performed in, and once they had passed the
censor then it was left to the audience to decide their worth.

We want to take this as our guide: to work
with writers and produce exciting new plays written bespoke to the architecture
they will be performed in. We will give writers the space and time to work with
our academics and research team, spend time with our actors, see plays in
our theatres, experiment with and learn from the architectural playing
conditions of our two theatres, the practitioners who work in them, and ultimately
write a play bespoke to those theatres.

We’re calling this idea ‘The
Scriptorium’, hearkening back to the


idea of a space devoted to
writing, but more on that another time…!

Our cause is to celebrate and interrogate Shakespeare’s transformative
impact on the world – and where can that impact be more felt than in the writers of
today…. Artistic descendants of this extraordinary shaman.

Our aim is to programme and produce new work
within a season of Shakespeare’s plays that support and complement each other.
For example, we programmed Emilia
in a season of Shakespeare’s plays in which the character of Emilia threads her
way through several stories – Othello, The Winter’s Tale and The Two Noble
. These plays provided an opportunity and framework to reflect on
the myriad influences this ‘Dark Lady’ may have had on Shakespeare’s imagination,
but crucially in Emilia,
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm placed this revolutionary poet right where she is meant to
be – at the centre of her own story.

At the beginning of 2019 we hosted our first ever
new writing festival: responses to our winter production of Marlowe’s Doctor
. The central Faustian bargain has traditionally been associated
with the male ‘soul’, and so, we commissioned six female writers to give a
feminine response to the central provocation at the heart of Doctor Faustus
that asks ‘what would you sell your soul for?’ The responses were surprising, revealing, funny and truly moving, and the reaction from the
audiences were similar. To have an opportunity to see how  classic
plays sit in conversation with brand new ones is so exciting, and this festival
of writing is something we want to do again and again, bigger and even better.


During the festival we experimented with different performance spaces and found that there’s so much
more to play with than just a traditional stage. The Globe’s ‘Tiring House’
(where you would put on your ‘attire’ before a performance) makes a beautifully
intimate and immediate playing space that created a ‘pop-up’ element to our
first new writing festival. So, watch this space, and lots of other spaces
around the building. 

If you’re a writer, here are a few
things to bear in mind:

One of the exciting things that
writers find here is that the Globe theatre demands writing that is truly active, epic
and democratic. The audience can be your biggest supporter or your
harshest critic: roughly half of a Globe audience is standing, and they’ve only paid five pounds, so if they don’t like something, they can – and do –

The Globe invites live and direct
communication with its audience. It also responds brilliantly to declarations
of huge shifts in space and time – think of Antony and Cleopatra where we move
between Egypt and Rome again and again so swiftly, with nothing more than a
different set of characters coming on to tell us that we have changed continent.

And as
imagination bodies forth
The forms
of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them
to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local
habitation and a name.

–  A Midsummer Night’s Dream

space is the concept. The
dramaturgy and structure of the play can be inspired by the necessity and
parameters of the stage as much as the narrative that drives it forward. There
are no sets, no amplified sound, no black outs – it’s a space that is completely shared
with play, player and audience. And above us all is the sky. It’s a vertical as
well as horizontal space. It’s mythic and domestic. It’s a tabula rasa that allows
for an experiment in form as much as content, and that is a challenge our writers
say they love to rise to.

Although Shakespeare himself has
popped up in one or two of our new plays over the years, he’s not in himself
the most interesting subject matter. Shakespeare wrote about Kings and
Queens, faeries and myths, fools and twins, but what he really wrote about
was the human condition. We want to find our new Shakespeares. Writers
with big ideas that speak to a contemporary audience. 

to develop a play for Shakespeare’s Globe

We don’t accept unsolicited scripts,
mainly because we’re not looking for finished, polished plays. Instead we
want to support writers as you develop your plays bespoke to our

If you’re a writer with an idea for the Globe please don’t spend
your precious free time writing something without being paid for

Instead send us the pitch, invite us to your shows, or rehearsed readings,
or send us scripts you’ve written in the past, but please do not send us your new plays written for the Globe
. Our space is full of ‘airy
nothing’ that invites you to speak to it and to fill it with your imagination;
all we need is you, your poet’s pen and your big idea.

If you would like to invite us to see your work performed please email us on literary@shakespearesglobe.com. The subject line should read: Invitation/Pitch (New Writing).

Building photography by Clive Sherlock 
Emilia and Dark Night of the Soul photography by Helen Murray 

ken-branagh: Q: Of course, it’s not a competit…


Q: Of course, it’s not a competition, but is it fair to say, Judi, that you know more Shakespeare than Ken?
Ken: Yes!
Judi: No, no!
Ken: Of course you do! What do you mean?
Judi: Only because of age, if I do.
Ken: It’s because of deep cleverness, it’s as simple as that.

– Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench on The Graham Norton Show promoting the new Shakespeare movie All is True – Jan 25 2019



The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, November 21, 1926

Who was Quentin Crisp? George Nichols is the Assistant Director…

Who was Quentin Crisp? 

George Nichols is the Assistant Director of Tom Stuart’s new play, After Edward, a response to Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II for which George is also the Assistant Director.

In this blog he looks at key characters from After Edward that were real people. At the heart of this he and the cast have been asking how much they should impersonate these real people and how much they should interpret them.

Quentin Crisp (played by Richard Cant in After Edward) wasborn into an inauspicious suburban family, the son of a solicitor and a
governess; however, he went on to live an extraordinary life. He is now best
known as a raconteur, writer and actor whose appearance and personality defied
gender norms.

Crisp recounted that he was the subject of much bullying in
his early life because of his effeminate behaviour. After leaving school in the
1920s Crisp moved to Soho where he met other young homosexual men and found
more freedom to be able to wear women’s clothing and makeup. By his own account
his appearance shocked Londoners and led to him being the victim of homophobic
attacks. During this time Crisp also sold sex as a rent boy, he said in an
interview later in his life that he was ‘looking for love, but found only

In the rehearsal room we’ve talked a lot about the effect
that Crisp’s early life might have on his character in After Edward. We keep returning to the feeling of personal invalidity
felt by the characters because their way of being goes against the grain of
society. As one character says ‘the world is made for white, male

Before gaining public recognition, Crisp tried to enlist in
the army in the early 1940s but was given a medical exemption on grounds of
‘sexual perversion’. It was in this period that Crisp became a life model for
artists, something he would continue to do for 30 years.

Crisp’s fame came later in his life, following the
publication of his book The Naked Civil
and its subsequent screen adaptation starring John Hurt. Following
this he toured regularly with his show An
Evening with Quentin Crisp,
where he would perform for the first half
before taking audience questions in the second. Crisp also became successful
across the Atlantic and eventually he moved to New York. In New York, as in
London, Crisp’s name and phone number were listed in the public directory.
Crisp saw it as a duty to answer all calls and turn up to all invites, so as
long as you paid for it all you had to do was pick up the phone to have him
over for dinner.

This aspect of his personality was something that
fascinated us. Was it because he loved conversation, or did it cover a hole in
his personal life? We know from his own admission that he never quite felt
loved or cared for. It’s here too that we see distinctions between the
character of Quentin Crisp in our play, and the real life figure.

Crisp died aged 91 near Manchester as he was preparing for
the revival of his one man show An
Evening with Quentin Crisp.
Throughout his old age he had remained
thoroughly outrageous and thought provoking and Richard Cant’s performance marries
these elements to a deeply affecting softness that makes Crisp sparkle.  

After Edward opens in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on 21 March. 

Photography by Marc Brenner   

How do you play a real person on stage?George Nichols is the…

How do you play a real person on stage?

George Nichols is the Assistant Director of Tom Stuart’s new play, After Edward, a response to Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II for which George is also the Assistant Director. 

In this blog he looks at key characters from After Edward that were real people. At the heart of this he and the cast have been asking how much they should impersonate these real people and how much they should interpret them. 

As we get on with rehearsals for After Edward, one of the questions that we’ve been grappling with
concerns how closely each actor’s performance should resemble the real life
character they are portraying. This is because there are several characters in After
Edward who come from real life. The mantra we’ve come to is that an
impersonation is only dramatically interesting for a short while, whereas an
interpretation remains engaging for longer and fits the world of the play.

However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t delved deeply into
their lives. In this series of blogs I’m going to share some of the things
we’ve found and introduce you to three of the central characters in After Edward.

Gertrude Stein

A novelist, playwright, art collector and poet, Gertrude
Stein was a significant cultural figure in the first half of the 20th
century. Although born in America, she spent the majority of her life living in
Paris, where she hosted a salon (a gathering of people led by one host who aim
to amuse and educate each other) for figures such as Cezanne, Picasso,

Ernest Hemingway

and F.Scott Fitzgerald.

Stein’s inimitable writing style was both funny and
intellectual. Her work reads like a stream of consciousness evoking ‘the
excitingness of pure being’ and has been described as the literary equivalent
of movements like Cubism that occupied many of the artists that attended her
salon. After Edward playwright, Tom
Stuart’s writing effortlessly includes Stein’s literary style into her
character and we’re lucky to have Annette Badland playing Gertrude with such
poise and charisma; her performance is worth the ticket price alone.  

Like the other central characters in After Edward, Gertrude Stein was homosexual. Stein’s relationship
with Alice B. Toklas was one that lasted until her death in 1947, and they both
wrote much for and about each other. Gertrude called Alice ‘Baby Precious’, in
return Alice called Gertrude ‘Mr. Cuddle-Wuddle’. Stein left most of her estate
to Toklas, but as their relationship was not legally recognised Toklas did not
manage to keep what Stein left. Tragically, Toklas died in poverty.

Gertrude Stein was not afraid of living her life. She
relished her salon, where she nurtured and mentored other artists. She seemed
to take a real joy in living, and she and her friends would eat and drink
exquisitely and heartily. In rehearsals we’re really starting to get a sense of
her personality, as Annette’s version of the character fills the room with her
energy and a love of life.


By Gertrude Stein:
Making of Americans
Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Gertrude Stein:
and Alice
. Souhami, Diana
The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. Alice B. Toklas (1954)
Two Lives
(Gertrude and Alice).
Malcolm, Janet (2008)

Listen to Gertrude herself reading out some of her work in these recordings made in the 1930s. 

After Edward II photography by Marc Brenner. Annette Badland who plays Gertrude Stein is on the right. 

Music Instrument Design for Edward II. Our wonderfully talented…

Music Instrument Design for Edward II. 

Our wonderfully talented Director of Music, Bill
Barclay has built some unique instruments for our production of Edward II. In
this blog he tells us about these instruments and the three different worlds of
sound he has created for the production.

Marlowe’s dark history of Edward II still reverberates loudly today both in its
powerfully modern assertion that love is love, and in the incompatibility
between vulnerability and the corridors of power. To help tell the story of
these contrasts that ripple through time, I’ve built two new musical
instruments that provide natural reverberation in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which has
a warm yet dry acoustic. These devices play alongside a raft of ethnic and period
instruments to create three contrasting palates of sound.

The first world of sound: war, rebellion, dissidents, and political pressure


first sound world describes the sounds of war, rebellion, dissidents, and political
pressure. This is achieved through the creation of a steel cello, which
is an instrument I first encountered in Boston built by musician Matt Samolis,
also known by his stage name Uncle Shoe. I was infatuated with his creations
and had used them in theatre before, but this is this instrument’s debut in the
United Kingdom. With Matt’s guidance I’ve constructed a new kind of steel cello
bespoke to the Sam Wanamaker. 


This is how it works: several large deep ride
cymbals and metal rods are bolted to a large stainless steel resonating sheet,
which amplifies the metal objects as they are bowed and struck. The instrument
is capable of a wide range of sounds which are almost entirely below the
frequencies of consonants in speech, making words intelligible over a rash of
haunting textures. Amazingly, the instrument often sounds synthesised –
digital, even – metallic, industrial, dark, and yet shimmering. Matt and I used
to play it for sound meditations in long beautiful drone concerts, and yet it
can also distort to provide an incredible lexicon of theatrical punctuation.
The whole band takes a turn on it, but it is chiefly played by Music Director
Rob Millett, and it is played throughout the production.

steel cello is complemented by a bass drum, field drum, and Sarah Homer’s contra
alto clarinet
– a rare instrument lower than the bass clarinet which
gurgles at the low end of the hearing spectrum under the steel cello’s
reverberant strokes.

The second world of sound: love


second sound world was meant to contrast with the first as much as possible in order
to depict the love between Edward and Gaveston as incompatible with its
oppressive cultural antipathy to homosexuality. 

For this world we lean on Tunde Jegede’s kora – the West African harp, chiefly from the griot storytelling tradition of Mali.(A griot is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician).


The kora melds with a swarmandal, a Hindu harp the characteristic buzzing from its sympathetic strings. To fill out this pan-ethnic texture, we use a hammered dulcimer and a bass dulcimer, instruments that are from all over the world, though perhaps most prominent in music from the Middle East. These three harp-like instruments from around the world emphasise the beauty, the universalism, and perhaps the exotic presence that define love so unabashedly in this play. The textures these strings make with each other seems to chime perfectly with the candlelight, and lend an extraordinary atmosphere to the Playhouse.

The third world of sound: the church


third sound world is of the church. Here the tubular bells, accordion
(mimicking an organ), cello, and contra alto clarinet form a
league of ominously low, yet sinuously melodic instruments that collect like
vines around the ankles of the play’s characters – powerful yet beautiful. Also
in this world is the singers, who at various moments intone the Latin prayers
of the Requiem Mass, as if the death of Edward I (Longshanks, Edward II’s
father), still looms over the cracked glass of our protagonist’s troubled

second original instrument is the spring machine. Two long helical
springs are attached to the theatre’s back wall, and connect directly to the
heads of two frame drums bolted to the face of the music gallery. When the
springs are rubbed and struck, we discovered that the sounds that pour out of
the drums are unearthly, unsettling, and hard to mentally place. For weeks I
had been seeking sounds for the play’s horrible final scenes that were truly
original – sounds that could only mean this peculiar horror. We tried
attaching a double bass to the springs, and had 4 springs start on each string,
going into four drums. The sound was amazing but I could still hear the double
bass, and the sound was too familiar.


we took the bass away and hung the springs to a hook instead, it focused the
sound much more on the strange sounds of the springs themselves, which we then
tightened to amplify the signal. This revealed the coups de grace: when the
drum heads are struck with a mallet in a heartbeat pattern, the heartbeat flows
to the back wall and out the drums again, creating an analogue looping system.
The intention is to recreate the sound of hearing your own heartbeat thudding
in your ears, as you imagine the worst. The secondary intention is to allow the
truly horrible parts of the story be truly horrible, by preparing our
subconscious with unsettling sounds that have no preconceived identity. We
don’t want you to be listening to the ‘music’ here – we want the sounds to
unsettle the psychological anticipation of Edward’s grisly demise.

the act occur, there is no need, or room, for any more music in its final
pages. The stage stays mostly in darkness, the characters have their
comeuppance, and silence seems the only appropriate ending. We are still
processing the horror, and the tragedy, and after two hours of steady building
to this moment, it feels right to go out with these solo odd springs.

instruments used in the show include the tagleharpa, a medieval bowed
three-string harp made for the Globe by a Russian instrument maker in Karelia.
This undergirds the ancient character of Old Spencer and provides a bit of the
dark ages as an important colour for the older generation of this world. Paul
Johnson also plays several ethnic flutes:

  • Kaval –  a Bulgarian
    wooden flute
  • Tambin –  the
    national instrument of the West African Fula
  • Bansuri –  a common
    North Indian flute
  • Bombard –  a loud
    double-reed member of the shawm family used to play Breton music
  • Portuguese
    and English bagpipes

Paul plays the bagpipes against Sarah Homer’s soprano saxophone – an
entirely modern instrument but ones whose timbre, when mixed with the pipes,
creates the sensation of two fanfaring trumpets.

the Nyatiti, the lyre from Kenya, makes a few important solo
appearances. This instrument means ‘daughter-in-law’, and it is the female
counterpart to the maleness of the West African kora. The two harps provide
contrasting emotional colours – the kora in act 1 when love is free, and the
Nyatiti in the second half when it is not.

ambitious nature of this score is testament to the dozens of shows played at
the Globe by these four incredible musicians; indeed, the score has been
composed for their unique multi-instrumentalism. There is no other person in
London who could double on kora and cello than Tunde Jegede, nor any other
player than Music Director Rob Millett who plays the dulcimer at an expert
level, yet can learn how to work magic from something so new as a steel cello.
Paul Johnson and Sarah Homer each in turn provide similarly original
contributions that speak to their true uniqueness as players.

overarching goal here was for the Globe to do what it does best – be inventive,
embrace the parameters of acoustic music, and lean heavily on the unique
experience of its core artists. I remain a student of period music at the
Globe, but only in service of bringing period sounds together with
improvisation, new instruments, living composers, and surprising

collaborating in this way, we attempt to fabricate an entirely unique sound world
that can only define the world of this play, here, right now.

Edward II is in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 20 April. 

Musical instrument photography by Hannah Yates 
Edward II production photography by Marc Brenner 

‘This little hand’: Gesturing Lady Macbeth.Catriona Bolt is one…

‘This little hand’: Gesturing Lady Macbeth.

Catriona Bolt is one of this year’s students studying the Shakespeare Studies MA that we run jointly with King’s College London. In this blog, inspired by her MA research, she reflects on the use of gesture in performances of Lady Macbeth. 

company of actors – including the man himself – understood acting through a
classical prism. The three tenets of the Roman lawyer Cicero’s handbook for
orators were docere, delectare, movere: to teach, to delight, and to persuade. Even if you don’t
know any Latin, you might be able to guess another meaning for movere: move. You can yourself move
physically, or you can move someone else emotionally, which is closer to what
Cicero meant. Early modern actors moved their audiences through accent and action, again key reference points for Roman orators. Accent
described speaking the verse, while action meant the accompanying gestures.
While we’ve developed many more techniques and theories about acting since the
Globe was shut down in 1642, students at drama school today still have movement
and voice classes daily, and most productions at the new Globe will have a
Movement Director and a Vocal Coach in their company.

Gesture is a
specific part of movement that normally uses the hands and arms. Our hands are
one of our primary communication tools – for those who use sign language they
are sometimes the primary
communicator. In Titus Andronicus,
Lavinia is doubly robbed of the means to communicate her brutal assault as both
her tongue and her hands are removed. Good actors will use their hands
expressively to convey how their character is feeling, sometimes using gesture
to speak what is unspoken in the text. Perhaps the most famous example of this
in Shakespeare comes towards the end of Macbeth,
when Lady Macbeth signifies her breakdown by repeatedly rubbing and wringing –
‘washing’ – her hands, which have come to symbolise her guilty conscience. In
interpreting Lady Macbeth at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (2018), Michelle Terry
employed brilliant gestural work to build a character with the terrifying,
ultimately self-destructive ability to disconnect from her own actions.

As we first saw her, Terry’s Lady
Macbeth was hunched upstage, alone, over a letter from her husband (I.v).
However, as she reached the “unsex me here” soliloquy, Terry moved forward to
command the space, holding a taper to light her face. This speech is more usually accompanied by expansive gesture
that reflects its physical content. For example, Judy Dench’s celebrated
interpretation for the Royal Shakespeare Company
 in 1979 saw her act out
a fearful physical sequence in evoking ‘you spirits that tend on mortal
thoughts.’ Terry
hardly moved except to address the upper galleries, bringing a chilling
determination to her performance. In gesturing little, a large part of her
communicative power went untapped during this opening scene – in fact this
became Lady Macbeth’s most potent weapon, because it meant she could use
gesture to deceive other characters in the play-world; even when alone, her
gestures were unnatural, divorced from her feelings and intentions. For us as
audience members, it established a convention. While Lady Macbeth was alone,
she gestured and moved little. But in the following scene, Macbeth (played by
Paul Ready) arrived and Terry played much more physically, hence more
expressively; when Joseph Marcell’s Duncan arrived, her gestures were stylised
and courtly. So we saw that her original restraint was a deliberate choice, and
that Lady Macbeth was a frighteningly good actor, even for her husband.

This pattern
continued throughout the play, until a climactic scene between her and Macbeth
after the banquet (III.iv). Terry’s gestures towards Ready throughout were
responsive, not assertive, as her character manipulated his. But as Macbeth
became more unhinged, Lady Macbeth became less able to control him. During the
banquet she restrained him, holding her arms out to get rid of the rest of the
court; by the end of this scene, he was throwing her around the stage, mastering
her physically as he was unable to rhetorically. Terry closed the act alone
with a scream.

Lady Macbeth
appears only once more, in the sleepwalking scene (V.i), and as she does we are
given a detailed description of her gestures that, particularly in this
particular production, signposts her loss of control. These gestures are
focused on her hands, which she rubs repeatedly to wash away the blood she sees
there; her final gesture is to reach for her husband’s hand: “Come, come, come,
come, give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone.” Terry, hunched and tiny
in an oversized nightgown, sobbed piteously as she seemed to physically wrestle
with herself. Sleepwalking, her gestures had finally caught up with her
conscience. Her hands were in tune with her thoughts, and she could no longer
distance herself from her actions.

Macbeth production photography by Johan Persson