Online exhibition

  • Introduction

    Masks worn by Romeo and his friends to the masked ball, Romeo and Juliet, Act I

    The Courtyard Theatre, 2010

    Designer - Tom Scutt

    Image by Ellie Kurttz © Royal Shakespeare Company

  • As You Like It, 1992

    WHAT IS IT?
    A poster advertising a production of As You Like It.

    WHO ARE THE PEOPLE?
    The poster shows Kate Buffery as Rosalind (left, in disguise) and Peter de Jersey as Orlando,
    Barbican Theatre, 1992

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Photographer - Stuart Pitkin
    Designer - Johan Engels
    Director - David Thacker

    WHY DOES ROSALIND DISGUISE HERSELF?
    Many of the characters in this play are either banished or they flee
    to the Forest of Arden. This is because of in-fighting and power struggles
    at court. Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior who has been banished
    to the forest by his brother, Duke Frederick.

    Duke Frederick is afraid of Rosalind's popularity with the people
    so he exiles her. She escapes to the forest disguised as a boy called
    Ganymede. When Orlando meets her he thinks she is a boy and tells her
    of his love for Rosalind. Safe in her disguise she tests his love by
    asking him to pretend that she is Rosalind. As the play draws on, Rosalind
    tries to find the right time to reveal her true identity.

    © Royal Shakespeare Company

  • Twelfth Night, 19th Century Engraving

    WHAT IS IT?
    A 19th Century engraving, it is one of a series that show Shakespeare's female characters.

    WHO IS IT?
    The engraving shows Viola in her disguise as a boy called Cesario in Twelfth Night.

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    The artist was K. Meadows, the engraver was B. Eyles.

    WHY DOES VIOLA DISGUISE HERSELF?
    At the beginning of the play the ship that Viola and
    her twin brother Sebastian are travelling in is wrecked
    in a storm. Thinking that Sebastian is dead Viola disguises
    herself as a boy and goes to serve Duke Orsino as his page.

    As Viola becomes involved in the lives of the other characters
    she begins to feel trapped by her disguise. When Sebastian
    reappears she is released and able to be herself again.

  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1970

    WHAT IS IT?
    A photograph of a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona,
    Act IV, scene 4

    WHO ARE THE ACTORS?
    Estelle Kohler as Silvia (left) and Helen Mirren as Julia in disguise,
    Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1970

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Photographer - Reg Wilson.
    Costume Designer - Daphne Dare
    Director - Robin Phillips

    WHY DOES JULIA DISGUISE HERSELF?
    Julia disguises herself as a boy called Sebastian so that
    she can follow Proteus, the man she loves, from Verona to Milan.

    She ends up serving as Proteus' page and is heartbroken when
    he sends her with messages of love to another woman, Silvia.
    In this play, as with others where women disguise themselves as men,
    Julia finds herself trapped in her disguise. Eventually, however,
    the truth is discovered and there is a happy ending.

    Image by Reg Wilson © The Royal Shakespeare Company

  • All's Well That Ends Well, 2003

    WHAT IS IT?
    A pilgrim's dress - a plain, grey dress made of rough material.

    WHO WORE IT?
    It was worn by Claudie Blakley when she played Helena in All's Well That Ends Well,
    The Swan Theatre, 2003

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Designer - Deirdre Clancy
    Director - Gregory Doran

    WHY DOES HELENA DISGUISE HERSELF?
    Helena disguises herself so that she can follow her husband,
    Bertram, without him knowing. Bertram does not love her and
    before he will accept her as his true wife he challenges her
    to do two things: to become pregnant with his child and to
    get a ring from his finger. He does not think she will be able
    to do either.

    She follows him to Florence disguised as a pilgrim and lodges
    in the same house. There she makes friends with Diana and they
    plan to trick Bertram together. Bertram is trying to seduce
    Diana so one night the two women change places and in this way
    Helena fulfills the two conditions he has set. At the end of the
    play Bertram has no choice but to accept Helena as his wife.

  • Peggy Ashcroft as Imogen by Anthony Devas, 1957

    WHAT IS IT?
    An oil painting showing Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Imogen in her disguise as 'Fidele'.

    Dame Peggy Ashcroft played Imogen in Cymbeline at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1957.

    WHO IS IT BY?
    The portrait is by Anthony Devas, ARA (1911-1958). It was painted in the same year that Ashcroft appeared in Cymbeline.

    WHY DOES IMOGEN DISGUISE HERSELF?
    Imogen disguises herself primarily to save her own life.
    Her husband, Posthumus, has sent his servant to kill her
    because he thinks she has been unfaithfull. When the servant
    sees her he is struck by her beauty and warns her of the danger.

    The disguise works and she escapes to Wales. The play ends
    happily for most of the characters and Imogen is reunited with
    her husband.

    © The Estate of the Artist

  • Henry V, 1951

    WHAT IS IT?
    A photograph showing Act IV, scene 1 of Henry V

    WHO ARE THE ACTORS?
    From left to right the photograph shows Ronald Hines as
    Alexander Court, Michael Bates as John Bates, Richard Burton
    as Henry V and Raymond Westwell as Michael Williams.
    Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, 1951

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Photographer - Angus McBean
    Designer - Tanya Moiseiwitsch
    Director - Anthony Quayle

    WHY DOES HENRY V DISGUISE HIMSELF
    At the English Camp at Agincourt King Henry walks among
    his soldiers in disguise. Because they do not recognise
    him they talk about him and reveal their true feelings
    about the impending battle.

    King Henry V:
    I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed.

    Williams:
    Ay, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully: but
    when our throats are cut, he may be ransomed, and we
    ne'er the wiser.

    King Henry V:
    If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.

    Henry V, Act IV, scene 1

    Image by Angus McBean © Royal Shakespeare Company

  • King Lear, 1993

    WHAT IS IT?
    A photograph showing Act I, scene 4 of King Lear.

    WHO ARE THE ACTORS?
    In the foreground to the right is David Calder as
    the Earl of Kent. He has just disguised himself as 'Caius'.
    Robert Stephens, playing King Lear, is in the foreground
    sitting down.
    Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1993

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Photographer - Malcolm Davies
    Designer - Anthony Ward
    Director - Adrian Noble

    WHY DOES THE EARL OF KENT DISGUISE HIMSELF?
    The Earl of Kent has disguised himself so that he
    can continue to serve King Lear who banished him in
    scene 1. When Lear asks who he is, he answers cleverly
    that he is 'a man' and 'a very honest-hearted fellow,
    and as poor as the king'. For the rest of the play Kent
    stays by Lear's side.

    Image by Malcolm Davies © Royal Shakespeare Company

  • 'Muscovite' or 'Russian' costume, Love's Labour's Lost, 1973

    WHAT IS IT?
    A colourful 'Muscovite' or 'Russian' coat made of thick
    quilted material with a fur collar.

    WHO WORE IT?
    Ian Richardson in his role as Berowne, Love's Labour's Lost,
    Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1973

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Designers - Tazeena Firth and Timothy O'Brien
    Director - David Jones

    WHY DOES BEROWNE DISGUISE HIMSELF?
    Like so many of Shakespeare's plays the disguises that the
    characters take on in this play are bound up in courtship
    and love.

    The King of Navarre and his courtiers (Berowne, Dumain and
    Longaville) disguise themselves as 'Muscovites or Russians'
    to test the love of the ladies - the Princess of France and
    her ladies in waiting. However the servant Boyet overhears
    the men plotting and tells the ladies. They then swap jewellery
    and favours that the men could identify them by and put on
    masks so that they will not be recognised.

    The plan works and the men are fooled. It is the women who
    seem to have won the game. They tell the men to live one year
    in seclusion and if they still love them, to come courting again.

  • Poster for a production of Measure for Measure, 1983

    WHAT IS IT?
    A poster for the 1983 production of Measure for Measure,
    Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

    WHO IS IT?
    The poster features a cartoon of the character of the Duke
    in his disguise as a friar.

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    The illustrator was Ian Pollock

    WHY DOES THE DUKE DISGUISE HIMSELF?
    Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare's plays where we
    see a central character take on a disguise for most of the
    play. Other examples are Twelfth Night and As You Like It.
    Duke Vincentio pretends he is leaving Angelo in control of Vienna.
    Instead of leaving he stays behind in disguise and watches
    what happens without him.

    This poster shows how the disguised Duke remains in control
    of the various goings on in Vienna. The artist has pictured
    him almost as a pupeteer, carrying out a delicate balancing act.
    The scales may signify his role bringing characters to justice.

    Image by Ian Pollock © Royal Shakespeare Company

  • Lawyer's Costume, The Merchant of Venice, 1981

    WHAT IS IT?
    A lawyer's outfit - black velvet trousers, waistcoat
    and jacket, white shirt, thin black tie and black over-robe.

    WHO WORE IT?
    Sinead Cusack when she played Portia in The Merchant of Venice,
    Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1981

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Designer - Christopher Morley
    Director - John Barton

    WHY DOES PORTIA DISGUISE HERSELF?
    Portia's fiancée Bassanio has borrowed money from Antonio who,
    in turn, borrows it from Shylock. Shylock demands a pound of Antonio's
    flesh if he fails to repay the loan in three months.

    When Antonio cannot repay the loan Portia decides to disguise
    herself as a lawyer so that she can defend him in court. Portia
    wins the case when she insists that Shylock can have his pound of
    flesh only if he takes it without drawing a single drop of blood.

  • Tranio's Disguise, The Taming of the Shrew, 1983

    WHAT IS IT?
    A rich outfit made of leather that has been dyed gold,
    the jacket and codpiece are trimmed with faux snakeskin,
    underneath is a bright orange ruffled shirt with gold detail.

    WHO WORE IT?
    This outfit was worn by John Bowe when he played Tranio,
    The Taming of the Shrew,
    Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1982

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Designer - Bob Crowley
    Director - Barry Kyle

    WHY DOES TRANIO DISGUISE HIMSELF?
    The story of the play centres on Old Baptista's two
    daughters - the beautiful Bianca and the 'shrewish' Kate.
    Bianca has three suitors - Gremio, Hortensio and Lucentio.
    However, Baptista says that Bianca will not marry until
    her elder sister Kate has. The three suitors make a bet
    with a visitor from Verona, Petruchio, that he will not
    be able to marry Kate.

    Both Hortensio and Lucentio enter Baptista's house in disguise
    as a music-master and a Latin teacher. Lucentio's servant, Tranio,
    disguises himself as Lucentio. Eventually both Kate and Bianca
    are married off to Petruchio and Lucentio. Petruchio demonstrates
    that Kate is now the most obedient wife.

  • The Winter's Tale, Act IV, by Francis Wheatley

    WHAT IS IT?
    An oil painting showing a scene from Act IV of The Winter's Tale.
    The seated figure in the centre is Polixenes, to his right stand
    Perdita and Florizel.

    WHO PAINTED IT?
    The painting is by Francis Wheatley (1747-1801)
    It was donated to the RSC collection by Elliot Galer in 1900

    WHY DOES FLORIZEL DISGUISE HIMSELF?
    Florizel, Prince of Bohemia, disguises himself as a poor shepherd
    because he falls in love with Perdita, a shepherd's daughter.

    Florizel's father, Polixenes, wonders why his son is spending so
    much time in the country at a shepherd's house. He goes in disguise
    with his lords and finds out that Florizel, disguised as Doricles,
    is about to marry Perdita. He objects but Florizel elopes with Perdita to Sicilia.

    It is revealed at the end of the play that Perdita is the long lost
    daughter of the King of Sicilia, Leontes. As they are both royalty
    the marriage is approved and there is a happy ending.

  • Romeo and Juliet, 2010

    WHAT IS IT?
    A photograph of Sam Troughton as Romeo at the masked ball,
    Romeo and Juliet, Act I
    The Courtyard Theatre, 2010

    WHO DESIGNED IT?
    Photographer - Ellie Kurttz
    Designer - Tom Scutt
    Director - Rupert Goold

    WHY DOES ROMEO DISGUISE HIMSELF?
    The masked ball in Act I is the first time
    that Romeo and Juliet meet. The ball has been
    thrown to celebrate Juliet's engagement to the
    Prince of Verona's nephew. Juliet is a Capulet
    and Romeo a Montague, their two families are at
    war with one another.

    Romeo and his friends go to the ball, where they
    are not recognised at first because of their masks.
    The young couple meet and fall in love before each
    one finds out who the other is. When she realises,
    Juliet says sadly that Romeo is:
    'my only love sprung from my only hate!
    Too early seen unknown, and known too late!'

    Image by Ellie Kurttz © Royal Shakespeare Company

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