The Phenomena of Costume in Historical Performance: An Exploration of Shakespearean Costume in Post-War Britain
The desire for a period setting in performance is defined by how it is costumed, but costume must go beyond the strict confines of periodicity and serve as an immediate and bodily nexus between past, present and future. Within a performance, the historical costume shifts from a mere representation to an ontology, perceived by the body of both performer and viewer.
My current research project seeks to combine philosophical frameworks that give primacy to the body as the site of all worldly experience and perception (Phenomenology) with post-modern conceptualisations of Historicism to interrogate the relationship between costuming and period performance at significant moments in the twentieth century, specifically the costumes designed for Shakespearean performance in post-war Britain. The costuming of Shakespeare in the era of the ‘New Elizabethans’ offers an example of how attempts to define the past through embodiment in performance is concomitant with the lived experience of modernity.
By researching period costume from this era, I have also established a link between Art School pedagogy, the emergence of ‘Costume’ as a dedicated branch of academic study and design for performance in the twentieth century. The designers that I have been researching all have a preference for cutting period clothing from patterns acquired directly from original garments which, as a methodology, was emanating from the Central School of Art and the teaching of Norah Waugh, Jeannetta Cochrane, Margaret Woodward and the Motley Design group in the middle decades of the twentieth century.
As my research has progressed, it has become my suggestion that by placing costume at the centre of all perceptions of temporality in performance, it becomes the primary agent of dramaturgy, particularly when communicating a given ‘period’.
Amy Hare is a university lecturer and a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol where she is researching the relationship between historicism, nation-building and the costuming of Shakespeare in post-war Britain. Amy began her career exploring the history of dress in a practical way, as a costume maker, specialising in historical costume for stage and screen. After completing an MSt in the History of Design at the University of Oxford in 2017, Amy began work as an education consultant for the Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Dress Collection. This led to further opportunities for sharing her knowledge about the dialogue between clothing and costume as a lecturer on undergraduate courses while continuing her research into the perception of costume, temporality and embodiment in twentieth century performance. Amy has given conference presentations at the University of York (2017), The Costume Society conference in Birmingham (2019) and at the University of Madison, Wisconsin (2019). Amy is currently a Senior Lecturer in Contextual Studies at the Royal School of Needlework and an Associate Lecturer in Costume History at UAL Wimbledon.
Design by Alix Stone for Tom Courtenay as ‘Feste’ in Twelfth Night, 1961, Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company, University of Bristol Theatre Collection