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Dress worn by Juliet Stevenson as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1981
Costume design by Maria Bjornson
A Midsummer Night's Dream is probably Shakespeare's best known and most fantastical comedy. It is set in an enchanted forest and the characters include humans and fairies. This costume helps represent a magical world which both reflects and contrasts with the world of humans. Costume design often accentuates aspects of a character or the mood of the play.
Tunic and trousers worn by Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind in As You Like It, 1961
Costume design by Richard Negri
These clothes disguise Rosalind as a boy called Ganymede when she is banished to the Forest of Arden. While dressed in this costume she creates much confusion. Her lover, Orlando, does not recognise her dressed as a boy. One of the other female characters, Phebe, also falls in love with her.
Shakespeare often created a comic storyline by confusing his characters. In several of his comedies there is a case of mistaken identity.
Dress worn by Judi Dench as Adriana in The Comedy of Errors, 1976
Costume design by John Napier
Adriana is the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, twin brother of Antipholus of Syracuse. The Comedy of Errors is based on a complicated web of mistaken identities between two sets of twins. At one point in the play Adriana becomes annoyed when Antipholus of Syracuse (who she thinks is her husband, Antipholus of Ephesus) begins flirting with her sister, Luciana.
Costume worn by Donald Sinden as Henry VIII in Henry VIII, 1969
Costume design by John Bury
Costume design for Shakespeare's history plays is often inspired by historic dress. This costume echoes well known contemporary images of Henry VIII. The production featured an array of elaborate 16th century style costumes.
Costume worn by Kenneth Branagh as Henry V in Henry V, 1984
Costume design by Bob Crowley
This costume is inspired by late 14th and early 15th century dress but incorporates modern fabrics and production techniques. For a stage production historical accuracy often has to give way to practicalities such as whether the costume is easy to take off and put on. For example, full metal armour is seldom worn as it takes so long to change and is noisy to wear.
Cloak worn by Glenda Jackson as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, 1978
Costume design by Sally Jacobs
Creative design teams can give a modern twist to a play that is set during a certain period in history. The 1970s saw a push towards modernising the look of RSC productions. Costumes such as the one pictured can look at once modern and historical.
Dress and cloak worn by Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, 1955
Costume design by Roger Furse
Shakespeare's tragedies tell the story of loss and betrayal from the Scottish Highlands to the city of Verona. This production featured dark colours and heavy materials against a bleak background to achieve a sense of foreboding and worsening prospects for the central characters.
Cloak worn by John Gielgud as King Lear in King Lear, 1950
Costume design by Leslie Hurry
In this production, directed by Anthony Quayle and John Gielgud, the set and costume design was characteristically dark and foreboding. In the opening scenes King Lear wore this dark and heavy cloak and sat on a towering gothic throne surrounded by his daughters and courtiers.
Dress worn by Francesca Annis as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, 1976
Costume design by Chris Dyer
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy but it is also a love story. There is also much humour in this play. It is often staged in a very different style to the darker tragedies such as Macbeth.
Costume worn by Antony Sher as the Fool in King Lear, 1982
Fools or clowns appear in a number of Shakespeare's plays. They often serve as commentators, speaking directly to the audience, or confusing the characters by talking about them in riddles. Fools tend to take on the character of the play being either funny and light hearted, or dark and satirical.
The fool in King Lear is more a political satirist than a jester. The dark colours and shabby appearance of this costume reinforced the Fool's character.
Armoured dress worn by Helen Mirren as Queen Margaret in Henry VI, Part III, 1977
Costume design by Farrah
This costume is designed to reflect the vengeful nature of Queen Margaret and the active role she takes in war. In Part III of Henry VI she insults friends, enemies and husband alike, but in battle she is fiercely patriotic.
Costume worn by Robert Stephens as Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV, Part I, 1991
Costume design by Deidre Clancy
Falstaff tends to be portrayed as a jovial character with a big beard and a large round belly, so here he has special 'fat' armour. These physical characteristics correspond to aspects of his 'larger-than-life' character. In Henry IV he is the leader of a group of revellers including Prince Hal (later Henry V). When out of money he is paid to conscript soldiers to fight for the king, taking bribes to replace the wealthy recruits with less suitable substitutes.
Sir John Falstaff appears in both Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, written consecutively between 1596 and 1598.
Costume worn by Antony Sher as Richard III in Richard III, 1984
Costume design by William Dudley
Our costume collection is a unique resource for exploring themes of continuity and change in character depiction.
Richard III's opening lines introduce the audience to his wicked character and physical appearance but the view of him as a corrupt and evil hunchback is no longer accepted by most historians. The real Richard was defeated in battle by Henry Tudor, the grandfather of Elizabeth I. The emphasis on his evil nature was largely propaganda to support the Tudor monarchy. Because of the strong link between Richard III's physical appearance and his character in the play it is difficult to portray him in any other way. This design takes its inspiration from Queen Margaret's description of Richard III as a 'bottled spider' with long trailing sleeves and spindly crutches giving the appearance of many legs.
Dress worn by Estelle Kohler as Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost, 1973
Costume design by Tazeena Firth and Timothy O'Brien
Costumes are selected to represent a production once they have been released from further use within the active repertoire of the theatre. We usually collect pieces which were important to the overall design of the production.
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