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Saturday, 7 August 2010

Sumptuary Legislation in Early Modern London Theatre, between 1590 and 1615

"The way by which our laws attempt to regulate idle and vain expenses in meat and clothes, seems to be quite contrary to the end designed. The true way would be to beget in men a contempt of silks and gold, as vain, frivolous, and useless; whereas we augment to them the honours, and enhance the value of such things, which, sure, is a very improper way to create a disgust. For to enact that none but princes shall eat turbot, shall wear velvet or gold lace, and interdict these things to the people, what is it but to bring them into a greater esteem, and to set every one more agog to eat and wear them’. 

Montaigne, Vol VII, XLIII

Although a large quantity of work has been carried out on sumptuary legislation, particularly within the Acts of Apparel, it is only in the last twenty years or so that recently that analysis has begun of resulting representations of clothing in the theatre, and much of this particularly within the area of gender issues. I’m interested in early modern City Comedies, or Citizen’s Comedies, as they offer the most scope in terms of satirisation of the subject.

Originally in one piece, I have now divided this article into several sections. Hopefully this will make it more readable, although for the sake of continuity it is probably best still to read all the sections (but I would say that...)

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