In addition to showing Sir John in a different light, this book also takes the time to depict his companions, giving the reader a greater sense of depth while adding to visual representations of Shakespeare's literary universe. Below, we have a few minor characters. The decorative designs underneath their silhouettes nicely augment their frames.
Try as I might, I can never seem to internalize the fact that people in Shakespeare's time really wore the tights and ruffs and doublets as fashion. I can't picture anyone choosing to wear that unless it was a joke, or a costume party, although that is probably just an effect of the fact that I'm commenting on these fashions ~450 years in the future (I guess skinny jeans are sort of like the modern version of Elizabethan hose so I really can't talk), but regardless, I can't see those outfits without interpreting them as a throwback to Shakespeare rather than a representation of the world at that time - Shakespeare is likely the most culturally significant person from that time, but all over the world people dressed somewhat similarly, and seeing a whole style of dress as a reference to a playwright whose work is often not performed in Elizabethan dress ignores the trend of fashion all over Europe.
For your viewing pleasure today I have a few images of French nobility dressed as they would have been in the late 1500s. Side note: the sassy hand gestures in most portraits of people from the past consistently give me happiness.
These pictures have some elements that remind me of the French period dramas I love so much: the socks with the tie at the top, the fan that Lady In Pink carries. The rest of the clothing - the wide skirts, the almost ludicrously large ruffs, the doublets, and yes, the hose - are all staples of Elizabethan fashion. As it turns out, ruffs were clothes for both the nobility and the lower classes - after the addition of starch, they could be worn over and over again, and thus became popular for many classes of people. These outfits were normal for everyone.
More interesting to me (besides reminiscing about historical fashion in movies) is my reaction to seeing people in these clothes. As I mentioned, my first thought upon seeing these, and likely the first thought for many other people, is, "Whoa. Shakespeare throwback." History tends to crystallize into the greatest hits of a century or a decade or what have you; Elizabethan times are Shakespeare and the plague and ruffs, for me. My focus on Shakespeare makes me wonder what other history and life I'm unaware of; of course, Shakespeare is the most talented playwright of that time, but just because J.K. Rowling is the most successful young adult fiction writer of our time doesn't mean that everything else in that genre is worthless.
In terms of this SURP, my time is almost up; I have one more week (and one more blog post!) to go. If you've liked the sort of analysis my co-researchers and I have been putting forward, come see the exhibit in Spring 2016, and come talk to us at the poster conference this September 3!
But, I think we can cut this play a little slack in part because it was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, and because there is something to be said for its shock value. I'm not just referring to the general gore and possible insanity of some of the characters, either. I'm talking about the ending of the play. Unlike, say, Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, or even Pericles, where I was able to predict part of the end (a happy ending where lovers were reunited) based on the general set-up and act structure, I didn't know what was going to happen in Titus Andronicus. I suspected murder, but not to the extent we see in the play.
Shakespeare's contemporaries didn't like this play, with some even doubting that the Bard himself wrote it. They excluded the play from the First Folio, though it later appeared in following publications. Titus fell out of favor (and performance) for hundreds of years. Recently (think mid 1900s), though, it has seen a resurgence, perhaps due to our increasing cultural fondness for violent media like the shows Hannibal and Dexter. I think it's fascinating to see increased representation of the play, which brings me to the image below.
Here we have "The Muster of Bays's Troops," what appears to be a satirical cartoon featuring many fictional characters getting ready to fight a war by singing a little ditty. Most of these characters are unfamiliar or insignificant in terms of Shakespeare (although it is fun to see Punch of Punch and Judy in there), but scattered around the battlefield we see King Richard (#2), Shylock from Merchant of Venice (#8), and Othello from the play of the same name (#17, holding the flag in the middle).
These three Shakespearean characters span the range of Shakespeare's works; Richard (I believe he is Richard III but I can't really tell) is from a history, Othello a tragedy, and Shylock a comedy. Unfortunately, as I am not yet an expert on mid-18th century humor, and because the internet was mostly unhelpful, I can't tell you why these three characters specifically made the cut, or even what this piece satirizes...Bibliotheca histrionica, a catalogue of the theatrical and miscellaneous library of Mr. John Field which will be sold by auction -the catchiest of titles- briefly mentions this image as a "satirical on Garrick and Lacy, with verses." David Garrick was a widely celebrated actor, well known for his performances of Shakespeare. In the cast list of this image, King Richard is specified as the performance of "G-----," which I am interpreting as a reference to Garrick.
In the song attached to this piece, characters are often referred to not as the character, but as the actor who portrays them, which places the reader at a distance from the characters and emphasizes the strong relationship that often arose between actor and character. It also seems to suggest that the character no longer matters; Garrick could be playing anyone at all and still have his spot in the image. Character is secondary to actor.
In this song, each character is mentioned briefly as part of the army that will overwhelm the rebels. Part of the joke, I think, is that these men are mostly unassuming/unimpressive... The viewer should "See puny Richard with high Heels, / In G-----'s Figure perking...And Serjeant Punch, pure Sport afford, / With mauling these Rascallions." Punch is dressed like a jester, and although known for, well, punching, he is not the commanding physical or leaderly presence one might expect from a sergeant. Richard here is emasculated and used as an example of a non-intimidating fighter.
Although the writer here uses specific details from the plays - Shylock has sworn to "have your Lights and Liver" - these characters do not seem meant to be faithful representations of Shakespeare's characters. They pass out of the realm of being specific characters in his plays to being convenient archetypes or examples to carry on a joke. In the Hamlet burlesque (comedic, irreverent retelling of Hamlet in one act), the preface brings up the people who would be offended by mistreating the Bard and his characters in such a way, and mentions that there is no writer better suited to a burlesque. Not to change his plays and characters in such a way would imply that Shakespeare's work is not strong enough on its own to withstand a liberal retelling, that Shakespeare's reputation is fragile and can be ruined by a parody. This idea reframes extremely different productions as not taking away from the brilliance of Shakespeare but adding to it by showing how recognizable the play is even in something like a burlesque, and as a symbol of how far Shakespeare inspired the next writer to go.