Thursday, 21 April 2016

"Go ply thy needle ..."

As this Saturday marks 400 years since Shakespeare died (and 452 years since he was born), I thought I would see if I could find some references to needlework by the Bard himself.

One of my favourite plays is A Midsummer Night's Dream and there is a section when Helena and Hermia are in the forest, after Puck has caused chaos with his love potion.  Helena recalls happier times when she says, "We, Hermia, like two artificial gods, Have with our needles created both one flower, Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion."  Now they are sworn enemies - although luckily it all works out well in the end.

In Othello, the handkerchief, embroidered by Desdemona is central to the whole story. Iago says to Othello "Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief, Spotted with strawberries in your wife's hand?" and then promptly says that he has seen Cassio wiping his beard with that very same handkerchief (although it was in fact a copy).  Unfortunately Othello sees it as proof of his wife's infidelity - and things end very badly.  Death by embroidery!

"Go ply thy needle..." comes from Taming of the Shrew when Bianca's father tells her to get out of the way of her argumentative sister.

I am sure there must be other quotes but apart from descriptions of clothing, I have not found them as yet.

And talking of Shakespeare, while up in London this week, I managed to visit the British Library exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts.  The exhibition begins with Shakespeare's First Folio, and other documents recording incidents in his life and texts he has written including the only surviving play script in his hand.  It also includes a few textiles - Vivien Leigh's MacBeth costume and her head dress when she played Titania, a colourful costume from Peter Brook's 1970 version of A Midsummer's Night's Dream, and costumes from the Globe's Twelfth Night when Mark Rylance played Olivia against Stephen Fry's Malvolio.   Other sections I found particularly interesting were the section about women actor's including a record of the first woman to act in a Shakespeare play in 1660, and the Cushman sisters who played Romeo and Juliet in the 19th century.  Another section records the first black actor to play Othello and there was another section that looked at the evidence that Hamlet was played on board a ship in 1607.  Peter Seller's reciting A Hard Day's Night as Richard III was another gem.

The exhibition continues until 6 September and as there is so much to read, I may need to go for another look.

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