Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama

Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama

Farah Karim-Cooper
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama
    Book Description:

    This original study examines how the plays of Shakespeare and other Renaissance dramatists reflect and engage with the early modern discourse of cosmetics.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-2712-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Defining Beauty in Renaissance Culture
    (pp. 1-33)

    For centuries cosmetics have offered the promise of perfection. Paints and powders, brushes and pencils are the artistic tools with which woman can re-create the self. Yet historically, cosmetics have been perceived as mere ornament, secondary, trivial, even deceptive. The subject of beautification, however, was an important discourse within the dramatic, social and literary worlds of early modern England. Domestically, kitchens were actively engineering the cosmetics that would be on display in the public sphere as well as on the stage. This book will draw attention to the cultural preoccupation with cosmetics by exploring a wide range of early modern...

  6. Chapter 2 Early Modern Cosmetic Culture
    (pp. 34-66)

    Though satirical and intentionally humorous, this colourful excerpt from Thomas Tuke’s anti-cosmetic tract betrays an anxiety about woman’s fundamental lack of readability. Tuke reveals an implicit distrust of artifice. To understand the relationship between cosmetic drama and early modern society, it is necessary to get to grips with the cultural reception of beautification found within the non-dramatic writing of the period. I want to suggest that from a wide range of early modern texts, what we see emerging is the formation of a culture of cosmetics that found its visual footing on the stage.

    In the oppositional texts there are...

  7. Chapter 3 Cosmetic Restoration in Jacobean Tragedy
    (pp. 67-88)

    In his attack on cosmetics Thomas Tuke insists that ‘the Ceruse or white Lead, wherewith women use to paint themselves was, without doubt, brought in use by the divell, the capitall enemie of nature’.¹ This clichéd analogy, used time and again by moralists, that painted ladies are like painted devils, draws upon the popular links made between poisonous ingredients, moral corruption and the female body. Curiously, this moral analogy is subverted in two Jacobean revenge tragedies by Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy (1607) and The Second Maiden’s Tragedy (1611). Politically poignant are these two tragedies that dramatise the exhumation of...

  8. Chapter 4 John Webster and the Culture of Cosmetics
    (pp. 89-110)

    John Webster’s contributions to the 1615 edition of Overbury’s Characters includes a ‘fayre and happy Milke-mayd’, whom Webster describes as

    a Countrey Wench, that is so farre from making her selfe beautifull by Art, that one looke of hers is able to put all face-physicke out of countenance . . . the lining of her apparel (which is her selfe) is farre better than outsides of Tissew: for though shee bee not arrayed in the spoyle of the Silkeworme, shee is deckt in innocence, a farre better wearing . . . the Garden and Bee-hive are all her Physicke & Chyrurgery,...

  9. Chapter 5 Jonson’s Cosmetic Ritual
    (pp. 111-131)

    In a satirical poem called ‘A Paradox of a Painted Face’, written in the mid-seventeenth century, the author demonstrates the multivocality of the cultural attitude towards cosmetics by emphasising the contemporary attraction to painted faces, while using terms like ‘cunning’, ‘deceive’ and ‘fraud’ to demonstrate their association with hypocrisy:

    The Fucus and Cerusse which on thy face

    Thy cunning hand layes on to add more grace,

    Deceive me with such pleasing fraud, that I

    Find in thy Art what can in Nature lye.¹

    It is a familiar paradox that painted beauty is alluring, but the attraction to artifice is slightly...

  10. Chapter 6 Cosmetics and Poetics in Shakespearean Comedy
    (pp. 132-151)

    Towards the end of his life, in the 1590s, an anxious Robert Greene warns his fellow university-educated playwrights about an ‘upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygrs heart wrapt in a Players hide supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blank verse as the best of you’.¹ The usual commentary on this allusion to Shakespeare tends to overlook the use of the word ‘beautified’ in this ferocious piece of criticism. In early modern England this word was used to describe the process of making something or someone beautiful by artificial means: to ‘make faire...

  11. Chapter 7 ‘Deceived with ornament’: Shakespeare’s Venice
    (pp. 152-175)

    In 1616 Barnabe Rich complained that ‘we have spoyled the Venetian Curtizans of their alluring vanities, to decke our English women in the new fashion.’² Acknowledging the influence Venice had upon English self-presentation, Rich contributes to contemporary assumptions about the Italian city by aligning it with female sexuality and commerce. Rich also reminds us, in his reference to the Venetian courtesans, of the relationship within the English imagination between uncontrollable female desire and Venice itself that fuelled much of its dramatic representation. The painted courtesan embodies the connections between cosmetics, female sexuality and commercial exchange. One of the dedicatory poems...

  12. Chapter 8 ‘Flattering Unction’: Cosmetics in Hamlet
    (pp. 176-198)

    Although written in the 1650s about a university performance of a Spanish tragedy, Edmund Gayton’s description of two scholars/actors having their faces ‘meal’d’ to represent ghosts is evidence that actors wore cosmetics during dramatic performances in the late sixteenth and throughout the seventeenth centuries. The word ‘meal’, used here to describe the faces of the actors, recalls the use of crumbs of barley bread and milk in some facial cosmetics; ‘meal’ is also a term contemporaries used to satirise the painted or powdered faces of women in anti-cosmetic literature.

    The first two words of Hamlet, ‘Who’s there?’ (I, i, 1),...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 199-200)

    The aim of this book has been to address the question I cited in the Introduction: ‘should or shouldn’t seemingly vain objects be deemed worthy of serious attention?’ Most critics who have examined the theological and misogynistic oppostion to cosmetics argue that the dramatic representation of cosmetics is grounded in a fundamental devaluation of beautification. This view is relatively shortsighted. Early modern English culture had a complex and ambiguous relationship with the notion of paintedness. As I have argued, the painted iconography of Queen Elizabeth I was simultaneously an emblem of political potency, and a marker of an unmistakable femininity....

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-212)
  15. Index
    (pp. 213-222)