SEEING AND PERCEIVING:
A STUDY OF THE USE OF DISGUISED PERSONS
AND WISE FOOLS IN SHAKESPEARE
EMILY BROWN STANLEY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
STANLEY, Emily Brown. SEEING AND PER-
CEIVING: A STUDY OF THE USE OF
DISGUISED PERSONS AND WISE FOOLS IN
The University of Florida, Ph.D., 1960
Language and Literature, general
University Microfilms, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
3 1262 08666 443 9
To the members of my committee, Professors T. Walter Herbert,
Chairman, Ants Oras, Frederick W. Conner, Stephen F. Fogle, and George
R. Bartlett, I wish to express my sincere thanks. I am especially
grateful to my chairman for his wise and patient counsel.
I am indebted to Maurice Grosser for his phrase "visual pun,"
which I have extended to include the function of disguised characters
such as Rosalind, and to H. B. Parkes for his phrase "the double vision
of the Elizabethans"; I have applied to a different context this con-
cept which he employed in order to define the tension existing between
a rather vague religious and political optimism and the emerging
naturalistic attitude. I am indebted also to Professor Moody Prior
of Northwestern University for stimulating my interest in Shakespeare's
To the library staffs of the University of Florida and Yale Uni-
versity my appreciation is due. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude
for the stipends received from the University of Florida which have made
my graduate study possible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ................... 1
I Disguise and Elizabethan Costume . . . . 17
II The Elizabethan Double Vision . . . .. 35
III Character Depth Through Disguise. ..... .. . 50
IV Misapprehension and Misconception in Comedies
of Errors .................. 84
V Disguise in a Tragedy of Errors . . . ... 123
VI Disguise and the Shakespearean Perspective. . .154
Bibliography .................. 182
That the disguised person--one whose exterior aspect is mislead-
ing--was used in Shakespeare for purposes such as plot structure and for
the appeal of deception and verbal irony has been widely recognized.
That disguise serves also in ways even more vital to the play's import
is the proposal of this present study. The device will be found to have
a far wider relevance to the structure of the play than merely as a con-
trivance to produce a beginning and a conclusion. Disguise will be
found to constitute an expression of Shakespeare's characteristic ways
of looking at things--at a character or an incident or a concept--both
as he shared in the Elizabethan view of nature and as he participated in
the development of the more complex vision which puts him in company
with Donne and other articulate voices of the seventeenth century. Dis-
guise will appear as Shakespeare's way of expressing, not only in comedy
but in more sober contexts, the more inclusive perspectives observable
in the thought and art of his time. Disguise emerges as a mode of
oblique dramatic statement, oblique but productive of the economy that
is paradoxically the effect of poetic artifice. At its economical best,
disguise enlarges the statement of character and becomes a mode of mean-
ing in a play. Specifically, it is one of the ways in which he conveys
the proposition that truth may lie not in one of two apparently
The word "perspective" in this study is used consistently to
mean a conceptual point of view, a way of observing. More colloquially,
it means a way of looking at things. The word as we use it, however,
does not involve the aspect of a natural object, as it appears to the
eye, but a mental object.
contradictory alternatives but in the consequence of their mutual
Whether Shakespeare's disguises reasonably justify these findings
Sis dependent, of course, upon the possibility of Shakespeare's having
had at his disposal these uses of disguise as part of his dramatic
vocabulary and upon the probability that an Elizabethan audience would
have been responsive to the meanings. The special significance of his
masquerading character, which will not be broached directly until Chapter
III, will be there more readily intelligible if we first remind ourselves
of those modes of expression and interpretation current in the Elizabe-
than period--modes through which disguise might naturally arouse a
degree of attention it would not so inevitably elicit from a modern
* audience. This preliminary discussion--the province of Chapters I and
II--will provide for the modern reader the framework in which that
earlier audience could take disguise as a symbol, either representing
some aspect of a character or standing as the epitome of a situation
whose scope may encompass a character's mistakes in judging as well as
his mistakes in perceiving persons and objects. Thus, a justification
for conceiving disguise as the visual statement of a fundamental issue
of a play will be demonstrated by appeal to the thinking of the period:
There is historical precedent for our construing disguise as the vehicle
of a complex statement.
But even before we proceed to the business of Chapters I and II
it will be helpful to examine more closely the ways in which disguise
has already been investigated by the critics who have most directly and
conspicuously attended to disguise in Shakespeare: Victor Oscar Freeburg
in Disguise Plots in Elizabethan Drama (1915);1 P. V. Kreider in "The
Mechanics of Disguise in Shakespeare's Plays" (1934);2 John W. Draper
in "Mistaken Identities in Shakespeare's Comedies" (1934); and John V.
Curry in Deception in Elizabethan Comedy (1955).4 We shall briefly
examine the approaches of these earlier treatments both for the purpose
of canvassing the values of Shakespeare's disguise which will not be
dwelt upon elsewhere in my study and also for the purpose of suggesting
limitations in these viewpoints. This review of scholarship will be
directed towards a more exacting definition of my own approach and
objects of study.
Because so many of the Elizabethan disguises were borrowed from
their Plautine and Italian predecessors, they have been studied in rela-
tion to their sources. Through such an approach Freeburg5 not only
demonstrates the debt of the Elizabethans to their predecessors, but he
also establishes the genuine interest of the English in the disguise
convention. Where disguise was not already supplied in the source
Victor Oscar Freeburg, Disguise Plots in Elizabethan Drama
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1915).
P. V. Kreider, "The Mechanics of Disguise in Shakespeare's
Plays," Shakespeare Association Bulletin, I (1934), 167-180.
3John W. Draper, "Mistaken Identity in Shakespeare's Comedies,"
Revue Anglo-Americ ne, IX (avril, 1934), 289-297.
John V. Curry, Deception in Elizabethan Comedy (Chicago: Loyola
University Press, 1955).
5Draper also is concerned with Shakespeare's use of his sources
for disguise situations.
material, it was frequently added by the Elizabethans, indicating the
fondness of the English for the tradition.1 Shakespeare implements plot
with disguise--in King Lear, The Winter's Tale, Much Ado About Nothing,
and Measure for Measure, for example.
Shakespeare's use of his sources, with respect to disguise, has
served as one of Freeburg's points of departure for examining the
dramatist's technique. In comparison to its source (The Taming of A
Shrew) Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew provides motivation for dis-
guise. In A Shrew Aurelius, a nobleman in love with Philema, masquerades
as a son of a rich merchant, but, as Freeburg rightly observes, there
seems to be no reason for assuming this disguise, nor for the servant's
assuming a pose as his master.2 My purpose in later chapters is not to
enumerate these many changes of or additions to the sources. However,
mention will be made of Shakespeare's addition of disguise to KingLear
and the de-emphasis of the twin Sebastian in Twelfth Night inasmuch as
both the addition and the de-emphasis are means of focusing attention
upon aspects of the character of Lear and Viola which it is my purpose
A conspicuous aspect of disguise is deception. Shakespeare's
disguises have been approached through the perspective of Elizabethan
fondness for deception; Curry maintains its strong appeal for the
Whether borrowed or added, "disguise occurs with important
dramatic function in more than two hundred extant plays," according to
Freeburg, p. 1. Twenty-five of Shakespeare's plays employ disguise.
21bid., p. 180.
Elizabethan audience. Disguise is thus set into a framework of the
trickery and duplicity which flourished from Roister Doister and Gammer
Gurton's Needle to the more verbal, sophisticated level of Jonsonian
intrigue and counter-intrigue. The imposter, duper, and rogue were con-
tinual cIjects of delight to the dramatist and theater-goer, and the
disguised character was an important member of this assemblage. Curry
pursues his interest in disguise as an agent of deception by extensively
cataloguing the variety of motives behind the use of disguise in Eliza-
bethan comedy; there are: female pages; boys, who for differing reasons
dress as women; spies; lovers in disguise; and rogues in multi-disguise.
Disguise follows its dramatic tradition in functioning primarily
as the basic situation for the plot, and it has attracted critical at-
tention largely because of this. The most complete study, the early
twentieth century work of Freeburg, is concerned mainly with Shakes-
peare's varied techniques of initiating end resolving action through
the use of disguise. Disguise proved to be a device which offered the
Elizabethan dramatist an inexhaustible source of situations for plot
structure. Capable of unlimited variation and ingenious manipulation,
the convention was fully exploited, a fact attested to by the long lists
of disguise types and plots compiled in the study of Freeburg and also
in that of Curry.
Shakespeare's departure from the traditional use as simply the
complicator of a comic plot is evident. Only in his early plays does
Shakespeare use disguise extensively for plot structure.
Traditionally, disguise, and mistaken identity generally, was most
widely employed for comic plot structure. Especially in Plautus the
motif of mistaken identity, based on identical twins and disguise, is
extensively drawn upon and becomes a part of the developing comic tradi-
tion in Renaissance drama. A study of Shakespeare's sources reveals
that the early comedies, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost,
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and A Midsummer Night's Dream all employ
more instances of mistaken identity than any knorn sources of the plays
in question. When Shakespeare is interested in farce and mere fortu-
itous coincidence, he throws himself into it completely, actually doubling
the use of mistaken identity in The Comedy of Errors over Plautus's use,
clearly casting aside all thought of convincing realism or meaning.
The use of mistaken twins as the backbone of comedy has limited
dramatic value even though it generates a variety of situations. Inci-
dent is dominant and the necessary emphasis on a confused situation is a
deterrent to character analysis and development. The mistakes are fortu-
itous; disguise is not intentional. In a rapidly moving plot characters
do not have time to reflect; they are primarily actors, not thinkers.
Individuality must be minimized to achieve the pawn-like character who
is largely acted upon by circumstance. Apart from The Comedy of Errors
Shakespeare's interests lie more in characterization--individualized
choices and responses to circumstance--and in thematic implications of
the action. By the time of Twelfth Night, where disguise is as necessary
to the over-all structural framework as in The Comedy of Errors, this
'Draper, p. 291.
convention undergoes much change, serving heightened dramatic interests,
as we shall see in Chapter IV.
Further insight into Shakespeare's use of disguise is provided by
other considerations of what Shakespeare for the greater part of his
career refrains from doing--what he left to his fellow dramatists, who
in many ways elaborated the convention of disguise as it had appeared
in earlier drama. Shakespeare does not experiment with the many poss-
ible ingenious adaptations of disguise, and he does not use it for a
merely theatrically effective surprise, at the end of a play. Shake-
speare is less interested in its novelty and theatricality than in its
functionally dramatic and poetic values.
Freeburg analyzes the many adaptations and new uses of disguise
as the convention passed through the hands of the early dramatists and
was "improved" upon by later playwrights. Occasionally the device was
used to parody earlier uses. Heywood, Freeburg judges, perhaps meant
to burlesque female page disguises in his Four Prentices of London.1 The
heroine assumes the disguise of a page, thereby serving her lover incog-
nito. The situation develops into a reduction ad absurdum because the
page had allegedly been her lover's uedfellow for a year, without his
discovering her identity or sexI
The multi-disguise was obviously fashionable, reaching its
prominence in the Jacobean drama after Shakespeare.2 A single character
IFreeburg, p. 67.
2 id., p. 124.
assumes many different disguises during the action of the play. In the
subplot of Jonson's Every Man in His Humour, it will be remembered,
Brainwood dissembles as (1) an old soldier, (2) Justice Clement's man,
and (3) a City Sergeant. The repeated and rapid changes of costume
keep the action shifting constantly and developing episodically. The
multi-disguise had little dramatic value; as William Lawrence, after
studying examples of the multi-disguise, has concluded: "At best, the
type is theatrically effective, never dramatically convincing." Shake-
speare was evidently interested in this sort of theatrical spectacle
only in one bitter sequence in King Lear.
What Freeburg labels "retro-disguise" becomes an amusing varia-
tion on an old theme. Retro-disguise involves a second disguise; thus
ironically the correct sex of the dissimulator is righted. That is, a
woman disguised as a man may assume a second, supposedly real disguise,
as a woman. Heywood in The Wise Woman of Hogsdon disguised his heroine
Luce as a page and then allowed some deceived person, the Wise Woman of
Hogsdon, to retro-disguise her as a lady, thereby achieving a double
complication. The retro-disguise leads up to a marriage supposedly farci-
cal, but eventually real. Shakespeare, attentive to characterization and
theme, bypasses the temptations of this type of ingenuity.
Shakespeare also bypasses an exclusively English contribution to
the disguise convention: the surprise disguise, such as Jonson's Epicene
depends upon. In the conventional disguise plot the character who was
1William J. Lawrence, Pre-Restoration Stage Studies (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1927), p. 292.
to disguise himself always told the audience of his intention, follow-
ing the tradition established by Aristophanes' Acharnians.1 About to
assume a distedise, Dicaeopolis asks of the chorus: "Permit me, there-
fore, before I speak to dress in the manner most likely to draw pity."2
And shortly thereafter he discusses with Euripides all the details of
his disguise. Similarly, in Shakespeare's drama, either by monologue
or discussion with a confidant, the intention and nature of the disguise
is revealed, enabling the audience to recognize the pretender immedi-
ately upon his appearance.3
Since we will concentrate in this study upon examining Shake-
speare's disguises for what they reveal to the audience about character
or situation, it is important to note that Shakespeare always made sure
his audience was aware of any masquerading. Contrary to the practice of
his fellow dramatists, it is never the purpose of a Shakespeare disguise
to mystify or deceive and later surprise the audience. This is the main
point of P. V. Kreider's examination of Shakespeare's disguises to which
we have earlier alluded: the audience is always in on the pose.
Novelty is again the keynote of disguise plays whose interest
grows out of the fact that characters who imagine themselves or other
characters to be disguised, are not. In Tomkis's Albumazar a farmer,
Trincalo, imagines himself in disguise though there has been no change
Freeburg, p. 12.
2Aristophanes, Acharnians, Aristophanes: The Eleven Comedies, ed.
Jean de Bosschere (New York: Horace Liveright, 1928), p. 105.
3Freeburg, p. 12.
of appearance. He has been made to believe he has been magically trans-
formed. "I am," he says, choicelyy neate in my clothes, valiant, and
extreme witty." (II.1) He is a sort of Malvolio, without a change of
costume, who regards himself an attractive lover and acts in accord with
the delusion. In Volpone Lady Would-Be sees her husband with a young
man and is quick to imagine that the companion is a courtesan disguised.
Suspicion of disguise where there is none amounts almost to burlesque in
Fletcher's Honest Men's Fortune.2
As the convention grows older, as it becomes employed with increas-
ing ingenuity, disguise also is used more incidentally and without much
dramaturgic skill, as in Middleton and Dekker's Honest Whore (Part I),
where George, a servant, masquerades as his master, Candido, to surprise
his employer as he returns home. (I.vii)3
Another interest of Freeburg, which though it conspicuously be-
longs to Shakespeare, will not be a part of this present study, is the
value of disguise foi verbal irony. Disguise is a valuable appropria-
tion for a dramatist such as Shakespeare who is alive to the impact of
irony. The dialogue of a disguised person is like that of a sane man
who simulates incoherency, or of a wise man pretending foolishness--or
that of any pretender--it creates an atmosphere of dramatic tension and
iThomas Tomkis, Albumazar: A Comedy (1615), ed. Hugh G. Dick
(University of California Publications in English, Vol. 13; Berkeley
and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1944), p. 90.
2This has been noticed by Freeburg, p. 97.
3Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, Honest Whore (1604), II,
Dekker's Dramatic Works, (London: John Pearson, 1873), 47 ff.
theatrically effective double meaning. This tension within the play is,
of course, satisfying to the audience. It is appealing to the theater-
goer to have knowledge about the disguised character that is superior to
the awareness of the deluded characters.
Shakespeare takes excellent advantage of disguise for subtle di-
alogue--double meanings and veiled allusions--throughout his disguise
plays. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona Julia, as a page, tells Silvia
that she knows Julia almost as well as herself. Scenes in which the
disguised heroine appears with her beloved are fruitful grounds for
irony. Viola tells the Duke that she will never love any woman, that,
in fact, she will never love anybody but her master. She explains
My father had a daughter lov'd a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
(Twelfth Night. II.iv.110-112)1
Rosalind, in disguise, also indulges in this sport. Reviving from a
swoon, she insists it was counterfeited: Oliver then suggests, "Well
then, take a good heart and counterfeit to be a man." Rosalind explains
"So I do. But, i'faith, Ishould have been a woman by right." (As You
Like It. IV.iii.174-177) Here, irony depends upon ambiguous language
used by the character ignorant of the true situation as well as that
used with knowledge and intent by the disguised character, Rosalind.
1William Allan Neilson and Charles Jarvis Hill (eds.), The
Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare (Cambridge: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1942). All subsequent citations from Shakespeare will
be from this text.
Previous studies of disguise, while they have contributed much,
have their limitations and, in at least one point, have propagated false
judgments. A limitation of Freeburg, and to a lesser degree his follow-
er, Curry, inheres in his over-admiration of the well-constructed,
Aristotelian plot. Evaluating the function of disguise in Shakespeare's
plays, Freeburg has applied the touchstone of the model Aristotelian
plot with its cohesive beginning, middle, and end. Disguise, of course,
is traditionally associated with a comic confusion of identity, through
which the plot is first set in motion and eventually brought to rest;
and it functions commendably, according to Freeburg, when it is itself
the means of resolving the tension it initially creates and when the
dramatist honestly lets his audience in on the disguise trick.
Because they regard disguise primarily as the backbone of plot
and as an agent of comedy, Freeburg and Curry misconstrue its effect in
a play which has serious, even tragic, overtones. Both critics admire
what they consider to be the role of disguise, structurally, in rescuing
a play from a tragic ending. Curry concludes that Portia's disguise .in
The Merchant of Venice terminates the tragic plot and initiates the
comedy in whose spirit the play finally restse. And in Measure for
Measure Shakespeare adds disguise to his source in order to bring "tragic
complications to a happy resolution."2 If this is the function of dis-
guise in these plays, it is ineffectual. These attitudes, for one thing,
1Curry, p. 149.
Freeburg, p. 168.
depend upon too clear-cut an antithesis between tragedy and comedy in
these plays; each of the plays actually concludes vith nagging ambivalence.
Freeburg partially recognizes the value of disguise as an economi-
cal device for the "compression" of characters. By this he means that
disguise brings together the fictitious and the real: it provides one
character for those deluded characters in the play and yet another
character for the enlightened audience. Such compression occurs in
every instance of disguise. Or, he continues, disguise may be the means
of reducing the number of characters found in a narrative source which
contained no disguise. Thus Chapman in Widow's Tears economically re-
constructed his source, which contained a dead husband, a widow, and a
soldier lover, by creating a soldier lover who was actually the husband--
supposedly dead--in disguise. The dramatic thrift involved, in any
event, has merely to do with a coalescence of the real and the fictitious
personalities, with the resultant reduction of quantities of characters.
He stops short of noticing other dramatic effects--mainly the enlarged
statement of character, allowed through his assumption of a disguise--
which are available to the hand of a competent playwright and which will
be discussed in Chapter III.
There is a particularly common attitude towards Shakespeare's
interest in disguise that needs rectifying. Shakespeare is wrongly
thought of as having interest in disguise only during the relatively
early stages of his dramatic development. This is a conclusion easily
drawn by a critic who notices disguise primarily when it is the basic
bid., p. 15.
plot for a comedy of situation and overlooks its relationship to
character and theme.
Draper, like Freeburg and Curry, so emphasizes the role of disguise
for structural comic purposes. John James Munro, to whom Draper refers,
had gone so far as to label the early period of Shakespearean comedy as
the "M. I. Group"--the mistaken identity group--overlooking the assimila-
tion of this convention into later plays. Draper does not agree to so
pointed a disregard for the dramatist's later use of disguise--"the de-
vice still interests Shakespeare," he concedes--but he does agree with
Munro that Shakespeare's mature works which examine a character's mis-
understanding, not his misapprehension, have outgrown the use of dis-
guise.1 Draper tests the value of disguise in terms of its vraisemblance
and thus concludes that in the mature comedies, which may contain less
disguise than the early plans (such as The Comedy of Errors, Love's
Labour's Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and A Midsummer Night's
Dream), Shakespeare "regularly strives to give it [mistaken identity]
more realism."2 As Shakespeare becomes more interested in character,
mistaken identity "was superseded in Shakespeare's art by subtler forms
of dramatic irony, in which not the mere identity, but the acts and par-
ticularly the motives, feelings, or point of view, of a given charac-
ter were misunderstood by one or more of his companions."3
Draper, p. 292.
3bid.., p. 296.
It is to be granted, of course, that errors in understanding are
central in Shakespeare's mature interest. However, Draper fails to per-
ceive that misconception is dramatically stated at least partly through
a subtle and ironic relationship with misapprehension (errors instigated
by disguise). With his primary interest in vraisemblance, Draper judges
that the errors of misunderstanding "need no obvious properties such as
night and masks and dressing in disguise to make them possible."l
This is so. Disguise is not needed to make misunderstanding probable.
Gloucester misunderstood Edgar when Edgar was not in disguise, but the
disguising of Edgar provided dramatic opportunities which far transcended
the mere physical possibility that a father could see his son and not
know him, as witness the fact that for a long time it was a blind
Gloucester who was in company with his disguised son.
This discussion of Draper's bias leads to a major contention of
my own study: disguise in Shakespeare's mature plays sometimes restates,
as an emblem does, what the play otherwise says about human misconcep-
tions. Disguise, when it is thus employed, involves ways of looking at
things that are typically Elizabethan. It is my intention to refer dis-
guise not only to the emblem but to a general background of those sig-
nificant outward forms which would have had meaning for the Elizabethan,
steeped as he was in analogical patterns of thought.
Shakespeare goes beyond the use of disguise for its value in set-
ting up a comedy of situation, for the fascination inherent in deception,
or for irony in language, to focus some fundamental issue of the play.
He also makes it yield to demands of characterization. Through dis-
guise dramatic revelation is achieved.
A second major contention of this study is, accordingly, that
disguine--a device which conceals a character from others in the play--
is frequently a medium for revealing character to the audience. Dis-
guise allows a disclosure of new facets or ambiguous qualities of char-
acter which the ordinary demands of situation render difficult to reveal.
As a means of revealing character, disguise will also be placed
in its proper context with other forms of exposition which are used for
characterization: the soliloquy, the aside, hallucination, dreams, and
so forth. Thereby Shakespeare's disguises can be studied against his
development of these techniques of exposition.
Disguise belongs to still another context. Disguise is a most
obvious statement of that discrepancy between appearance and reality
which has long provided the basic conflict necessary to a dramatic situ-
ation--ever since Oedipus set out to cleanse his city of its evil.
Shakespeare is uncommonly concerned with the various forms expressing
the relationship between the apparent and the real, and he explores
these forms from diverse angles, one of which is through a form uniting
the true and the false--disguise. Disguise, then, will be examined as
one of numerous false forms which include, for example, hallucinations,
non sequiturs, wise fools, dissimulated love.
DISGUISE AND ELIZABETHAN COSTUME
"Apparel oft proclaims the man." (Hamlet I.iii.72)
If disguise is to be regarded as a means of exposition for
characterization and thematic statement--as the Introduction has
proposed--then one might ask whether this extra burden of meaning would
have been felt by an actual Elizabethan audience as well as by the modern
interpreter with his passion for symbols and levels of meaning. Would
the Elizabethen have been sufficiently attentive and responsive to dis-
guises? In order to state fully the function of disguise in Shakespeare's
plays, it is necessary to refer not only to the contexts provided by the
plays themselves, but also to the then current attitudes towards cloth.
ing and costume in general and towards disguise in drama in particular.
These attitudes, which will now be examined, will begin to answer the
question of what sort of attention and response disguise would elicit
from the Elizabethan theater-goer.
Evidence pointing to the Elizabethan's thoughtful consideration
of clothing, costume, and disguise is abundant. The contemporary in-
terest in fashions, the religious and moral concern with superficial
appearances and inappropriate dress, and the dramatic tradition of
symbolic costumes, colors, and materials all combine to testify that
clothing evoked serious deliberation.
It is common knowledge, even to one who is only casually acquainted
with Elizabethan England, that extravagance in clothing was widespread
_ _ _ __ -j
and, of course, conspicuous. The ruff, for example, is frequently used
to typify the dress of the period. Extravagant clothing was not only on
constant display, but it aroused serious discussion.
Moralists of all sorts tirelessly denounced the Growing worldli-
ness of London men and women, whose preoccupation with mere adornment,
such as the ruff, was regarded as morally weakening and conducive to
more active forms of sinfulness. Philip Stubbes, in his exhaustive
summary of current vices--gluttony, usury, whoredom, and covetousness--
included pride ir apparel. Typical of his attitude was his reproof of
such superfluities as "great ruffes and supportasies" which, against
nature, were bulwarked by "deuils liquore"--starchl
The deuil, as he in the fulnes of his malice, first
inuented these great ruffes, so hath hee now found out
also two great states to beare up and maintain that
his kingdome of great ruffes . .2
Stubbes proceeded, then, to define and denounce these statess": the
starch and the wiring that undergirded the ostentatious ruff.
It has been observed that clothing was of particular concern in
Shakespeare's day because a degree of ostentation incongruous to one's
position was against the sumptuary laws, which prescribed what dress was
appropriate to one's "degree."3 These laws were evidently not kept
'Phillip Stubbes. Anatomie of the Abuses in England, 1583, ed.
Frederick J. Furnivall (London: N Trubner and Co., 1877-79), I, 70.
2Tbid., p. 52.
3Jack E. Teagarten, "Reaction to the Professional Actor in Eliza-
bethan London" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. of English, Uni-
versity of Florida, 1957), p. 33.
How often hath her Majestie with the grave advise of her
honorable Councell, sette down the limits of apparel to
every degree, and how soone again hath the pride of our
harts overflowed the chanel?1
Jack Teagarten, in defining the general Elizabethan feeling against in-
appropriate dress, also cites Stubbes in his Anatomy of Abuses:
. there is such a confuse mingle mangle of apparel
in Ailgna, and such preposterous excess thereof, as
every one is permitted to flaunt it out on what apparell
he lust himself, or can get by anie kind of means.
Clothing, according to the lay moralists, had to be congruent not
only to a person's social position but also to his sex. Clothes that fal-
sified one's nature were condemned at least as heartily as those which
falsified one's status socially.
The disguise of the female as a male, including any act of simulat-
ing male attire, was regarded as a falsification of nature. It was con-
demned on several accounts: in the first place, for its artificiality or
dishonesty. Hic Mulier: Or, the Man-Woman lashed out at the "modern"
woman who "will give her honestie to haue her upper parts put into a
French doublet."3 Unconfined to places of iniquitous entertainment, this
sort of dissembling was alarming also for its ubiquity. The moralist
directed his readers to '"ook if this very last edition of disguise . .
this bayt which the Diuel hath layd to catch the soules of wanton women,
Stephen Gosson, Schoole of Abuse, 1579, P. 39, as cited in
Teagarten, p. 33.
2Stubbes, p. 34, as cited in Teagarten, p. 33.
3Hic Mulier: Or, the Man-Woman, 1620, Sig B2, as cited in Louis
B. Wright, Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill, N.C.:
The University of North Carolina Press, 1935), p. 494.
be not as frequent in the demy-Palaces of Burgars and Citizens, an it is
either as Maske, Try-umph, Tilt-yard, or Play-house."l
Another criticism of women who disguised as men is that they cor-
rupted the purity of their sex--they can no longer be regarded as females.
This is another aspect of the general denunciation of clothing that falsi-
fies. Stubbes vituperated in the name of Biblical sanction:
It is written in the 22 of Deuteronomie, that what man
so ever weareth womans apparel is accursed, and what woman
weareth mans apparel is accursed also. Now, whether they
be within the bands and lymits of that curse, let them see
to it themselves. Our Apparel was given us as a signe dis-
tinctive to discern betwixt sex and sex, and therefore one to
were the Apparel of another sex is to participate with the
kinde. Wherefore these Women may not improperly be called
IHermaphroiti, that is, Monsters of bothe kindes, half women,
The attitude expressed by Stubbes is typical of a medieval (and
to a lesser extent, Elizabethan) interpretation of the relationship
between form and the contents it embodies. The medieval belief in form
as directly revelatory of content (essence) persisted. The same atti-
tude that proclaimed the heart-shaped digitalis leaf to be remedial in
heart disease, judged the "real" sex of an individual in terms of his
clothing. Similarly, the outward deformation of Shakespeare's Richard
III spoke to Elizabethans of intrinsic mental and moral disproportion.
To cite just one other example of this mode of thinking, the emblem
frequently depended for its meaning upon the viewer's allying form and
content in this way. One of Wither's emblems presented spiritual
id., Sig Cl, as cited in Wright, p. 495.
2Stubbes, p. 73.
deformity by means of a woman whose face is hideous.1
This identification of intrinsic qualities with form is, of
course, nothing new. Referred to most generally as a means of repre-
sentation in art, it is a mode of stating that has been relied upon in
classical periods and one that has recurred down to the present day.
Form is taken as a representation of inner qualities--of content, if
you will--whether that form is, for example, the statue of a Greek
athlete--whose beauty of body bespoke a beautiful soul--or an even
modern painting in which the relaxed position of a figure suggests
repose of spirit. This tendency to impute the characteristics of form
into content is not foreign to us today. But what makes it difficult
for us genuinely to participate in the attitude of the Elizabethan to-
wards clothes, and towards transvestism particularly, is the tone--
foreign to us--of high moral seriousness, which accompanied their ob-
servations about thp appropriateness of one's costume. Clothes in
Elizabethan England cannot be regarded as the relatively arbitrary and
merely conventionalized garb that is associated with the male, or with
Transvestism as it occurred in Elizabethan drama was open to the
general arguments against disguising one's sex, but it incurred the
,special attention and indignation of the moralists. It might be sup-
posed that because the actor dissembled his appearance only within the
'George Wither, A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne. .
(London: Printed by A. M. for John Grismond, 1635), p. 229.
framework of a fictitious situation--a play--he would have been at
least somewhat spared the usual censure. But this was not so.
Those writers attending to the special situation of the actor who
was guilty of transvestism had two objects for their attack: (1) men
who either enacted female parts (and dressed accordingly) or who dis-
guised as women during the action of the play, and (2) the female char-
acters (actually represented by male actors) who disguised as males dur-
ing the action of the play.
According to Theodore Komisarjevsky, the objection of the Puritans
vas more to the actors indicated in the latter category, to the actor
impersonating the female character--as in the Travesti plays--than to
the male character who disguises as a female.2 The part of the female
character in Elizabethan drama was, of course, always assumed by a male
character; and that was reprehensible enough. But for this supposedly
female character to put on the disguise of a male within the action of
iElbert Thompson calls attention to the fact that William Perkin's
Cases of Conscience, 1595, objected to the assignment of women's parts to
men. Elbert N. S. Thompson, The Controversy Between the Puritans and the
Stge ("Yale Studies in English," Vol. XX; New York: Henry Iblt and Co.,
1903, p. 106. Also, "The Third Action" of Stephen Gosson's Plays Con-
futed in Five Actions and A Shorte Treatise by "I.G." deplored the ap-
propriateness of female attire by the male. Teagarten, p. 44. While it
is not my intention to canvass the effect of attitudes against disguise
in the drama of the period, one example--outside of Shakespeare--which
has been noted by Komisarjevsky will be mentioned. In Jonson's comedy
Bartholomew Fair Puritanical objection to transvestism is made by a charac-
ter whom the context of the play ridicules. Puritan Zeal-of-the-Land Busy
rages at Leatherhead's puppet-show: "Yes, and my main argument against you
is, that you are an abomination; for the male among you putteth on the ap-
parel of the female and the female of the male." (V.iii) Komisarjevsky,
2Theodore Komisarjevsky, The Costume of the Theater (London:
Geoffrey Bles, 1931), p. 86.
the play doubled the wrong. The abomination in this event would seem
to be doubled, Komisarjevsky observes, inasmuch as the characters of the
young girls were acted by men in the first place. The Puritanical atti-
tude described here is absurd, but the fact that the point was seriously
made indicates the moral importance attached to appropriate clothing.
The criticism of transvestism in drama usually either took the
approach of procl, ming the authority that condemned disguise or else
described the immoral effects of the practice.
The use of Biblical authority such as Stubbes relied upon in his
diatribe against transvestism in general is characteristic of the bias
of other writers and reflects a long warfare between drama and the
Elizabethan disapproval of disguising was an aspect of the yecur-
rent animosity towards play-making, notable since the ante-Nicene church.
Declaimers against actors in general and the disguising of the sexes in
particular--John Northbrook, "I.G.", William Prynne, and others--found
their support in the early church fathers. Thompson has noted that
Tatian and Tertullian, representative second century spokesmen in this
controversy, denounced the actor as a dissembler, as a man in disguise
whether or not he was disguised within the framework of the play. The
ancient argument against play-making as lying was implicit. Tertullian
asserted in De Spectaculis--a second century Anatomie of Abuses for Rome--
that "if it is prohibited under all circumstances to wear woman's gar-
ments, then surely the 'vileness . which the buffon in woman's
clothes exhibits' is an utter abomination."l
Both the extent and the intense seriousness of the religious
censure of disguise are suggested in the Cambridge arguments concern-
Documents published in 1599, covering a series of debates occur-
ring from 1951-1593, re-echo London sentiment against players and in-
cluded a controversy over the apparel of the players. William Gager,
the Latin dramatist, clashed repeatedly with John Rainoldes, learned
theologian, in a verbal battle that, according to Thompson, must have
spread through much of the country.3
Like the moralist Stubbes, Rainoldes depended heavily upon
Mosaic law, which forbade the wearing of garments of the opposite sex.
Upon such authority Rainoldes condemned both public and private plays.
This authority, however, was questioned. The dramatist Gager set aside
as irrelevant the Mosaic law. He argued that in some cases a disguise
of sex was lawful: to save one's life, for example, or to benefit others.
Only when the disguise was made with ill intent did it become wrong.4
The Cambridge argument indicates that the ethics of disguise was
an object of concern to lawyers as well as theologians and lay moralists.
The ethics of disguise drew the attention of classical and legal scholars.
Gager's case received support from John Case, Cambridge Aristotelian
Tertullian, De Spectaculis, Section XVII, as cited in Thompson,
2Thompson, p. 94.
3Tbid., p. 96.
Ibid., p. 97.
scholar, and Gentili, an Italian friend of Gager and an esteemed
authority on international law. All three maintained that the Biblical
conditions under which the exchange of costume was condemned were no
longer present. The law was not to be read literally.1
A brief review of the specific issues of the debate will help to
convey its spirited tone and its assumed seriousness. Attacking one of
Gager's proposals, the theologian Rainoldes insisted that even for pur-
poses of saving his life, a man should not put on the clothing of a woman.
The argument for intention, which was important to Gager, was thereby
challenged. If intention were the criterion for judging the morality of
an act, a man, provided his heart was right, could pray in church with
his French hood oi2 This refutation of intention, Thompson observes,
economically took care of another of Gager's points: that wearing
women's attire temporarily for stage costume could.not be regarded as
the same thing as wearing it on a more permanent basis off-stage. In
substance, Rainoldes' response was this: "If the wearing of a garment
for a single time did not count, then Nero, who according to historians
never used the same garment twice, wore no clothing at all." Thus the
battle raged, in great earnestness, with varied weapons provided by
Biblical tradition and logic.
Biblical admonition received support by Ramist logic in the case
Ibid., p. 98.
against disguise and its undesirable effects. Sidney's Arcadia, as
Hardin Craig has pointed out, shows the influence of Ramist logic, in
which everything has its proper place.1 Musidorus, upon discovering
Pyrocles dressed as an Amazon, reprimands him. By assuming this dis-
guise Pyrocles supposedly has done violence to nature; as a result he
may suffer, Musidorus warns. Pyrocles retaliates with another argument
based upon logic.
Whereas some critics of disguise approached the evil through the
dictates of the authority which forbade it, others concentrated upon a
description of the effects of disguise on the nature of the individual.
The conviction that transvestism perverted women into hermaphrodites
has already been discussed inasmuch as it is an example of the Puritani-
cal attack against transvestism in general. The dissembling of the male
as a female occasioned a corresponding perversion, according to William
Prynne in Histrio-Mastix. Such masquerading was condemned as a provoca-
tion to sodomy. Prmyne charged men actors with being "most effeminate,
both in apparel, body, words, and workers He Uses Stubbes for support:
Than these goodly pageants being done, every mate sorts
to his mate, every one brings another homeward of their
way very friendly, and in their secret conclaves (covertly)
they play the Sodomist or worse.2
Disguise, as we have seen, was subjected to censure from various
points. Its critics contended that a person's assuming the garb of the
iHardin Craig, The Enchanted Glass (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1937), p. 154.
2William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix, 1633, p. 187, and Stubbes, L.
verso-4 recto, as cited in Teagarten, p. 46.
opposite sex acted against Mosaic law and contaminated the purity of
his particular sex by imposing upon it its opposite. What effects did
this criticism have upon Shakespeare in his use of disguise?
Shakespeare seemed to have been aware of the current censorious
attitudes against disguise. His habit of having his disguisers defend
their action presupposes that his audience was conditioned by the philo-
sophical and religious climate that opposed disguise as an impropriety,
and that he knew it. His position appears to have been that irrespective
of what the extreme Puritans said, taking a disguise may be part of a
morally neutral or even praiseworthy action.
Several of Shakespeare's disguised heroines offer some sort of
apologia for their dissembling garb. Rosalind, in As You Like It, denies
that her disguise implies a change in her real nature as she remonstrates:
Dost thou think, though I am caparison'd like a man, I
have a doublet and hose in my disposition?
Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona fears that the world might scandal-
ize her for undertaking so "unstaid" a journey in the costume of a man.
(II.vii.59-60) The rightness of her disguise is thus questioned, and it
goes undefended until a justification is offered, late in the play, by
Julia herself. She moralizes concerning her role:
It is the lesser blot, modesty finds,
Women to change their shapes, than men their minds.
The action of Proteus--the lover of Julia who "changed his mind"--is
clearly exposed as wrong in this scene. Julia emerges perspectively as
at least less reprehensible. Julia's diverting the issue from a lesser
to a greater evil was calculated to have a disarming effect upon anyone
in Shakespeare's audience who was not more than mildly sympathetic with
the criticism against disguising. To continue our listing of Shake-
speare's heroines who offer some sort of explanation for their disguise:
Imogen of Cymbeline counterbalances censure of her immodesty with the
Though peril to my modesty, not death on't,
I would adventure.
If moral controversy over transvestism and the Elizabethan custom
of giving serious attention to the appropriateness of all clothing drew
sharp attention to disguise when it appeared on stage, to a degree no
less remarkable the history of the stage itself provided a vivid vocabu-
lary of meaning to the device. For years in drama there had existed a
tradition of meaning in clothes and in the physical appearance of the
actor. Costume and various personal accoutrements in Greek and Roman
drama and in the English mysteries, moralities and interludes had been
a means whereby characters were more fully represented.
The Greek actor, who enacted a god or a hero, was made to appear
superhuman by means of the cothurnus, padding,and mask. These aspects of
his costume distinguished him from the chorus and audience and revealed
T his character through the concealments. The actor's physical form height-
ened and magnified by cothurnus, and padding, mutely testified to his
relative importance. Komisarjevsky, in analyzing the import of Greek
"reeburg has found apologies similar to these in earlier drama,
outside of Shakespeare. P. 173.
costume, defines the use of the mask. Masks were significative of
character types, especially in comedy. The complexion of the devices
was important: women's masks were white and the men's brownish. The
features had special meaning: impudence, an attribute of the parasite,
was recognizable through the hooked nose, while the snub nose desig-
nated the yokel and old housekeeper.1
The colors of the costumes in Greek drama were carefully selected
with attention to a tradition of color symbolism. Queens appeared in
flowing purple dresses with a train, while other women wore red, or in
Euripides' time, white. Kings wore green.2
In the New Attic Comedy (Menander) men wore the chiton, the dif-
ferent lengths of which signified their standing socially.3 Boys wore
purple; men dressed in brown and old men in wh:te. Black or grey
pointed out parasites and toadies; slaves wore white, and eunuchs striped
material. Women were differentiated by the white of the young woman, the
green or sky-blue of the old woman, or the yellow or multi-colored dress
of the courtesan.
Roman drama continued to transmit the tradition of significant
costuming. Specific aspects of the Roman costume are catalogued in
Bernard Sobel's work. For Roman tragedy the long sweeping robes,
Komisarjevsky, p. 39.
2lbid., p. 34.
3bid., p. 36.
Ibid., p. 37.
syrmata, corresponded to the Greek chiton; for comedy various short
garments recalled costumes of both the Phlyakes and the regular literary
comedy of the Greeks. Wigs (galeri) were worn, and also buskins, cor-
responding to the Greek cothurnus. The Roman comic types each had a
characteristic costume:2 slaves were always recognizable because of
their traditionally short gowns. Similarly, the soldier wore the
chlamys, and the toady a tight himation. All comic actors wore the
low shoe, the soccus.
Aspects of costume such as these are meaningful through estab-
lished convention. In his listing of significant Roman costumes Komis-
arjevsky notes that characters in distress appeared in careless attire.
Thus, it appears that costume was chosen for its intrinsic appropriate-
ness to character or immediate situation as well as for its more
prevalent uses for arbitrary, though fixed, denotation.
Roman comedy continued to attach importance to the color of the
actors' dress. For example, old men wore white; procurers wore a gay-
colored himation. Red portrayed wealth and dark hues poverty.5
The basic dramatic concept of costume--that it should help repre-
sent the character--appeared again in medieval drama. Again, not only
IBernard Sobel (ed.), The Theatre Handbook (New York: The Crown
Publishers, 19501 p. 186
2Komisarjevsky, p. 46.
signs that seem arbitrarily conventionalized but also symbols that are
intrinsically appropriate are used. Physical props were relied upon for
symbolizing character occasionally in the mystery plays. In the Coventry
pageant angels, who of course enjoy a position superior to man in medieval
hierarchy, wore a species of cothurnus or short stilts to appear more
impressive, to represent physically or spatially their metaphysical
status. Since dramatic points of view and perspectives in art will
frequently be compared in my study, it might be noted here that this es-
sentially medieval hierarchial perspective persists into Renaissance
painting. In Botticelli and Parmigianino, for example, there is employed
"a method of scaling figures according to their psychological, social, or
ritual importance, much used in romanesque sculpture."2
Masks and other physical paraphernalia which were revealing dis-
guises were employed with increasing delicacy and intrinsic or psycho-
logical relevance. These devils were made up as snakes, sub species
virginis, i.e. with the faces of virgins. The form chosen for represent-
ing the devil acknowledges his nature: a deceiver frequently poses as
virtue. Similarly, in the moralities Whoredom presents herself as a smart
young lady with a mask.3 Komisarjevsky points out too that various animal
masks were used, thus opening rich resources of animal traits which could
1biid. p. 62.
2Wylie Sypher, Four Stages of Renaissance Style (Garden City,
New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1955), P. 28.
3Komisarjevsky, p. 62.
Ibid., p. 67.
economically help to characterize the human actors.
From Komisarjevsky's listings it is apparent that color, in the
mysteries and the moralities, was serviceable for characterization.
White, a perennial referent for purity, as suitable for the Saved Souls
of the Last Judgment (Coventry pageant), and for the Mother of God, who
changed her costume from blue to white, as death grew imminent. PietA
of the moralities wore white.1
The use of color, significant costume and appearance in general
reflect the medieval dramatist's concern with forcefully exposing what
the character stood for--not the character as a particular individual in
a unique situation, but the character as allegorically representative of
a generalized human situation, one in which metaphysical and moral re-
alities were confronted. Because of the importance of these issues,
not the specific but the general meaning of the character is essential
and must be transmitted, even to the wearing of inscribed headgear, by
the allegorical characters. Komisarjevsky observes that not infrequent-
ly the characters or supers who accompanied them carried boards or sticks
or flags for purposes of mailing the meaning of these characters even more
plain to the audience.2
Allegorical costumes were still seen on the Elizabethan stage, but
infrequently3 and outside of the extensive framework of allegorical
Ibid., p. 68.
significance found in the moralities. Henry IV, Part II opens with a
speech by Rumour, who is represented as being "full of tongues" liter-
ally. Komisarjevsky notes that in Hans Sachs's Stultitia Stupidity wears
a fool's cap. The examples are not numerous.
Colors were still of significance, though the symbols frequently
changed and became more complex and less conventional. The growing
complexity of these symbols and the interest they aroused is, according
to M. Channing Linthicum, indicated in the widespread discussion on the
subject in the work of the Italians Sicile, Morato, Dolce, and Rinaldi.
Although they produced no books of their own, the English "must have been
familiar" with the Italian authors.
Supposedly in keeping with a recognizable convention of the day,
Jonson presented Veneration in ash, Gladness in green, Truth in blue,
Affection in crimson, Safety in carnation. However, Middleton was also
following a scheme of color symbolism when he attired Truth in white,
Error in ash, Envy in red, Zeal inc arnation, and so forth.3
Shakespeare heeded the meaning of colors. Blue, a mark of servi-
tude in the sixteenth century, is noted in The Taming of the Shrew and
Henry VI, Part I.4 Linthicum notes many uses of color in Shakespeare:
green symbolized youth and joy; it was suitably "the colour of lovers"5
2M. Channing Linthicum, Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and
His Contemporaries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), p. 22.
41Ibid., p. 27.
5Ibid., p. 31.
On the other hand the somber green of the weeping willow shared with the
tree itself the symbolism of tragedy and grief.1 (Othello) The wearing
of yellow symbolized hope of marriage2 and was joyfully appropriated by
The long tradition of expository costume was continued through the
symbolic use of types of cloth in the drama of Shakespeare's day. Linthi-
cum catalogues the various uses: Linsey-woolsey, a loosely woven plain
cloth of linen yarn and wool, was always spoken of contemptuously. Some-
times it indicates confused talk, as in All's Well That Ends Well. (IV.i.
13) Russet stood for honesty and simplicity because this homespun,
coarse cloth was not woven or dyed with any deceitfulness and the cloth
was usually left undressed. It functions metaphorically in Hamlet, Love's
Labour's Lost, and Patient Grissel. (I.i.166), (V.ii.413), (Sig. B4)
Among the silks, sarcenet, a fine, soft, thin fabric of taffeta weave,
served to suggest contemptuous slightness in Triolus and Cressida and
Henry IV Part I. (V.i.36) and (III.1.256)5 Velvet, used as a figure
of perfection, can be found in Measure for Measure. (I.ii.35)6
lbid., p. 34.
Ibid., p. 48.
3Ibid., p. 81.
4Ibid., p. 87.
5Ibid., p. 122.
lIbid., p. 126.
THE ELIZABETHAN DOUBLE VISION
"Methinks I see these things with parted eye,
When every thing seems double."
(A Midsummer Night's Dream. IV.i.193-191)
This chapter continues to answer the question of what sort of
attention and response disguise would elicit in Shakespeare's day by
defining the insistent Elizabethan habit of "seeking a further meaning"--
interpreting content through form (appearance) or exploring the nature of
something through analogy or paradox. We have seen that clothes, and
disguises particularly, were interpreted as appearances which made a
statement about their wearers. Such an interpretation represents a
pervasive Elizabethan perspective commonly explained as the deeply al-
legorical temperament of the period. This perspective is a persistent
tendency to juxtapose the outward form of anything and its content and
to take a vivid interest in the relationship perceived between them. A
definition of this mental habit--which we might call the Elizabethan
double vision--will be undertaken in this chapter without reference to
clothes or disguise in drama. We will look to other objects in the life
and expression of the times in order to establish this double vision
which provided a fundamental mode of response to Shakespeare's disguises.
Thin chapter will substantiate the proposition that men's minds searched
for a further meaning through the category of appearance (whether it be
considered trustworthy or deceitful) and through analogy or paradox.
Appearances (outward forms) were thoughtfully considered from two
biases: the medieval tradition of significant form persisted and stressed
that appearances were accurate indices to content, while on the other hand
there were concurrent attitudes which declared the deceitfulness of mere
appearance: that which was immediately confronted.
That appearances were taken as a reliable index to their underly-
ing content was illustrated in public displays. Spectacle and pageantry
presented forms which mutely conveyed moral meanings to the public. For
example, record is made of a firework display, visible to many, which in-
cluded "'the seven Deadly Sins in their lively colours, shape, and char-
acters,' and on top of a pinnacle 'a fierce lion couchant signifying
sudden vengeance.'"l Appearance in this instance--that is, the form
of the couched lion--was intended to direct one's attention to the con-
cept of vengeance.
In addition to directly expressive forms such as the lion, vari-
ous conventionalized forms could be relied upon as signals which clearly
pointed to their significance. The magnetic center of Elizabethan patri-
otism, Elizabeth and her court, were surrounded by an aura of signifi-
cant forms. Pomp and ceremony characterized her comings and goings,
sometimes directly expressive, of course, but often stylized to a
In The First Night of Twelfth Night Leslie Hotson's exhaustive
efforts to reconstruct the background of Twelfth Night recapture the
1Rosemary Freeman, English Emblem Books (London: Chatto and
Windus, 1948), p. 2.
formal, ritualistic character of the Whitehall festivals. The account
of Mikulin, a Russian dinner-guest, portrays perhaps most specifically
the stylization in eating and drinking. Following a ceremony involv-
ing five Cupbearers, these events took place:
And as we sat at dinner, the Queen sent by the Carver a
gift to Grigori--a white loaf on a dish covered with a
napkin, and he spoke to Grigori: "Our great Lady," quoth
he, "Elizabeth the Queen, of her grace bestows on you this
Following this was the ceremonial eating of the bread and salt in con-
firmation of the treaty of peace and friendship.
Another indication of the ritualistic character of the court is
S. the ordinary mode of appointing an important
household officer was by the delivery of a white staff,
which became the symbol of his office, and which at the
funeral of the sovereign he solemnly broke over his head
before the bier.2
Though appearances were frequently, therefore, relied upon as
guides to meaning, Elizabethan people were far from naive. They were
trained skeptics. Especially suspect were appearances of virtue.
Biblical admonition, certainly familiar to the Elizabethan church-goers
and sermon-readers, was instrumental in conditioning minds to seek mean-
ings other than those which outward appearance immediately suggested.
Old Testament and New proclaimed that there are two ways of looking at
objects. I Samuel 16:7 states that "man looketh on the outward
1Leslie Hotson, The First Night of Twelfth Night (London: Rupert
Hart-Davis, 1954), p. 193.
2Shakespeare's England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1916), I, 84.
appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." Admonishing his audience
to assume a more spiritual perspective, Paul proposes that "we look not
at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" (II
Corinthians 4:18) even though, as finite beings we at best "see through
a glass darkly." (I Corinthians 13:12) "Satan himself is transformed
into an angel of light," (II Corinthians 11:14) while false teachers
and false prophets come in Christ's name. Christ exposes false appear-
ances: "Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but with-
in ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." (Matthew 23:28)
The admonition of the emblem and epigram back up scriptural
warnings against deceptions. One of Wither's epigrams, for example,
Bee Warie, wheresoe're, thou bee;
For, from deceit, no place is free.
In another of Wither's emblems a fashionably dressed woman, representing
spiritual deformity, appears to be attractive since she holds before her
hideous face a pleasant appearing mask. The accompanying epigram makes the
Deformitie, within may bee, 2
Where outward Beauties we doe see.
Not only were apparent virtue and superficial beauty to be
scrutinized for underlying corruption, but that which was obviously
secular or wicked was to be re-examined for possible spiritual meanings.
Wither, r. 183.
21bid., p. 229.
A scratch on the surface of falseness could reveal a truth, and much
classical pagan literature revealed its "sacred origins" and contained
helpful admonitions. Or, as the modern critic sees, it was recast into
an allegorical mold and shaped into an object fit for the edification of
Renaissance Christians. No source, no matter how pagan it might super-
ficially appear to be, was to be despised and spurned as unprofitable.
George Chapman, preferring moral to worldly wisdom, read the Iliad as
an allegory of "the body's fervour and fashion of an outward fortitude,"
and the Odyssey as that of %he mind's inward, constant, and unconquered
empire." Francis Meres spoke for his age in Palladis Tamia: "As bees
out of the bitterest flowers, and sharpest thornes, doe Gather the
sweetest hony: so out of obscene and wicked fables some profit may be
extracted."2 And, as Shakespeare's Henry V observes,
Thus may we gather honey from the weed,
And make a moral of the devil himself,
There is some soul of goodness in things evil
Would men observingly distil it out.
In order to see something as it really is the Elizabethan mind
was constrained to regard it indirectly, exploring it through a rela-
tionship, either through double aspects of itself (analogy) or through
its opposite (paradox).
George Chapman, The Odysseys of Homer I, ed. Richard Hooper
(London: Reeves and Turner, 1897), p. xlvii-xlviii.
21rancis Meres, Palladis Tamia (1598), ed. Don Cameron Allen
(New York: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1938), p. 268. Meres is
quoting Plutarch. Another of his adages--apparently one of his own--
makes an amusing contrast with the one quoted here: "Bees abstaine from
withered flowers: so we should abstaine from corrupt,.vicious and obscene
booked P. 266.
The analogical or allegorical habit was deeply rooted and vari-
ously manifest. The widespread interest in emblems, for one thing, at-
tests to the mental habit of a two-sided approach. The emblem books sup-
plemented an abstract moral precept with an emblem--a visual sign of an
idea, reinforcing concept with significant pictorial form. This inclina-
tion to juxtapose picture and concept is defined by Rosemary Freeman as
the enblematical temper of the Elizabethans. She observes that "the
personified figures which Spenser used so frequently might be found
painted on a ceiling, embroidered on a cloak, or woven in a tapestry. ..
Originating in France, the emblem books were introduced into Eng-
land in the 1580'3. Their instantaneous popularity affirms the emble-
matical character of the Elizabethan mind. Tillyard, prefacing a study
of English emblems, summarizes their significance.
Now one of the then habits of mind most prevalent yet
most remote from ourselves was the emblematical . .
The chief general interest of the English Emblem Books
is that they present in a very simple and striking form
one of the ruling mental principles of a whole century.
Their very ingenuousness and their popularity prove how
deeply the emblematical way of thinking had penetrated
the consciousness of England.2
Similar to the emblem is the rebus, a sort of riddle representing
some sentence or object by means of pictures or words, or a combination
of both. Shakespeare's coat of arms is exemplary. A breakdown of his
name into "Shake" and "speare" is the basis for the pictorial symbol:
a bird, at the top of the crest, raising a spear, apparently about to
Freeman, p. 2.
2Ibid., p. viii.
Even superficially considered, Elizabethan language and litera-
ture bear witness to a pervasive love of analogy. This is reflected not
only in whole works but in smaller units. Homonyms were a constant de-
light because of their concise double meanings. And, for another example,
the Petrarchan conceits, on a more sustained basis, provided two levels
Allegory, the most extensive example of this sort of literary
interest, was obviously a popular mode of expression. The Fairie Queen
is no doubt the most influential example of Elizabethan allegory. In
his search for moral truth the Red Cross Knight endured experiences which
find their profound appeal because they are analogous to vicissitudes
that befall us mortals. Of course, within the allegory the poet touches
upon paradox too. The Red Cross Knight frequently acquires new knowledge
through acquaintance with falsehood in its various forms. The quest for
truth in this work is indirect and offers a persistent challenge in the
discerning of true and false, right and wrong. Outward forms, suggest-
ing intrinsic beauty and truth, are not to be accepted uncritically.
Duessa, despite her appearance, ought not to be confused with Una. We
shall presently be further concerned with paradox derived from false
Examples of religious and pious allegory are legion. Even a
brief survey of the Short Title Catalogue will produce a host of titles
testifying to their popularity. The title of Anthony Nixon's allegory
is representative of their subject matter and approach. The Christian Navy.
Wherein is playnely described the perfit course to sale to the Hauen of
eternall happiness, 1602. This long poem describes the best course for
avoiding the rocks and whirlpools of the sea of life. Especially popular
among the middle classes was Richard Bernard's The Isle of Man. Or The
Legall Proceeding in Man-shire against Sinne. Phineas Fletcher's Purple
Island, Or the Isle of Man, 1633, reaches perhaps the limits of unreadable
complexity which characterizes these allegories.
Another type of allegorical literature that satisfied the dual
need of edification and amusement was the beast fable, which continued
in popularity through the time of Elizabeth. Reynard the Fox, for ex-
ample, was reprinted several times. Again, moral and psychological
truths were approached through indirection. By identifying a type of
human being with an animal, the easily recognized traits of the particular
animal reveal more vividly the quality of the more complex human. The
usefulness of animal symbolism is recognized by lizabethan dramatists--
Jonson and Chapman, for example--and is used continuously for economical
Another indirect way of regarding something--in addition to ex-
ploring it analogically--was by examining it in the context of its
opposite, that is, through a paradox.
The recurrent Elizabethan distrust of appearances has already
been discussed. One evidence of the unreliability of appearance is that
Wright, p. 397.
what seems wicked, pagan, or sensual may be a mere facade for the good,
the religious, the spiritual. What lay beneath the apparent was its
opposite, according to this approach.
The eroticism of Ovid, objectionable on its literal level, was
rendered not only innocuous but spiritually elevating through Golding's
interpretations. The Pyramus and Thisbe tale, for instance, shows how
heady love turns to grief, and it vividly portrays how secret sin is
brought to light. Golding's edition of Ovid is prefaced by a laborious
defense of the pagan eroticism in terms of moral allegory.
If poets, then with leesings and with fables shadowed so
The certain truth, what letteth us to pluck those visors from
Their doings and to bring again the darkened truth to light,
That all men may behold therefore earnestly admonished to be
To seek a further meaning than the letter gives to see.1
The Elizabethan practice of "seeking a further meaning" from
classical literature depended upon the sanction and inertia provided
by medieval habit. Pagan writings could be conveniently accommodated
to the demands of the Christian attitude when they were regarded as cor-
ruptions of the true scriptures. At least their sources were good and,
taken allegorically, they were instructive. The role of Virgil in
Dante's Inferno reflects the medieval attempt to reconcile classical
and Christian traditions. Though not a Christian, Virgil appears to be
a suitable guide, a sort of pagan prophet for Christianity. Ovid was
similarly misunderstood in the late medieval period. With characteristic
irony, Chaucer, it will be recalled, has his Prioress in the Canterbury
lVid's Metamorphoses, trans. Arthur Golding, as cited in The
Renaissance in England, ed. Hyder E. Rollins and Herschel Baker (Boston:
D. C. Heath and Co., 1954), p. 541.
Tales wear the badge, "Love conquers all"; the legend was taken from
Ovid, but lacquered with Christian denotations.
In the poetry of Robert Southwell, a Jesuit, the sensual and the
spiritual are two sides of the same coin. This tendency of working
through opposites or working through the physical to the spiritual also
gathers its momentum through the medieval habit of thought. Supported
by Platonism and the tradition of the Petrarchan conceit it finally
reaches fruition in Donne and the metaphysicals, with whom it is usu-
ally associated. Southwell, contemporary with Shakespeare's productive
period, attests to the general search for truth through its varied and
often paradoxical facets. That the sensual is expressive of the spiri-
tual is axiomatic to Southwell. Explicit reference to the hidden quality
of virtue and beauty is to be found in many of his poems. In "New Prince
New Pomp" from Saint Peter's Complaint, 1595, we find that "An orient
perle is often found / In depth of dirty mire."l And"Love's Servile
Lot" presents love as a false mistress, who "shroudeth Vice in Vertue's
veyle."2 The most extensive and successful of these Elizabethan allegori-
cal techniques is, of course, found in Spenser's The Faerie Queene; work-
ing through the sensual and the unlovely, the poem aims at spiritual
beauty and the glorification of the Christian virtues. Moral truth, the
Elizabethan believed, could be discerned not only directly by precept or
historical precedent, but also through a discovery of its opposite--
error--or spiritual truth through the sensual. At the far end of the
'Robert Southwell, The Complete Poems of Robert Southwell, ed.
Alexander B. Grosart (London: Robson and Sons, 1B72), p. 116.
2Ibid., p. 78.
Renaissance, Milton recognized in his Areopagitica that good is known
through evil and that to eradicate evil would be to destroy the complex
which embodied good as well.
The attempt to reconcile opposites and see them as double mani-
festations of an underlying unity permeates every aspect of Renaissance
thinking. Elizabethans adhered to an orderly conception of the uni-
verse which ultimately provided resolution for opposites. Every crea-
ture and condition had its antithesis, but every antithesis found resolu-
tion in a concordant universe. Hot and cold, moist and dry--all ele-
ments fused or mixed to create objects having new, valuable properties.
Elizabethans "recognized that this exactly balanced conflict of opposites
was essential to the settled order of the world." The discussion of uni-
versal proportion in The Courtiers Academy by Annibale Romei, translated
by J. Kepers in 1598, supports this sort of generalization. Here the
beauty and design of the human body is extolled. Man's beauty is in hJi~
proportion--in this respect he is microcosmic--as he combines many op-
posites into a product of great attraction. The complex substance,
which reconciled a great number of opposites, gave much satisfaction to
the Elizabethan. The aesthetic appeal of a diamond is less than man's;
its beauty lies in its white color, only a single quality.2
1James Winny (ed.), The Frame of Order: An Outline of Elizabethan
Belief Taken From Treatises of the Late Sixteenth Century (New York: The
Macmillan Co., 1957), p. 19.
2Ibid., p. 211.
This Renaissance habit of a double vision through opposites is
reflected in the Ramist logic of the day. This system is a dialectic
through which moral truth appears to hang suspended between the af-
firmative and the negative; both sides are debated and every question
is approached through its two sides. Ramus states that dialectic
"proclaims to us the truth of all argument . whether the truth be
necessary, as in science, or as in opinion, contingent, that is to say,
capable both of being and not being." Because something is contingent,
relative, does not mean it cannot be known. Its truth lies within
categories of both being and non-being. Hardin Craig proposes that
this recognition of the double aspect of a moral issue "is an intuitive
response to the spirit of the age." And this interest in dialectic
was a pervasive one in Elizabethan England. "Proficiency in dialectic
with its concomitant rhetoric was the most serious educational and cul-
tural ideal of the age."3
Shakespeare himself reflects in his drama and poetry the Eliza-
bethan concern with the paradoxical and hidden character of truth.
"The Phoenix and the Turtle" concludes that
Truth may seem, but cannot be;
Beauty brag, but 'tis not she;
Truth and Beauty buried be.
Petrus Ramus, Dialectique, 1955, p. 2. as cited in Wilbur S.
Howell, Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700 (Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1956), p. 154.
2Craig, p. 157.
3lbid., p. 152.
And what are they buried in? In the false, in the superficially or
partially true, or in a paradoxically existing mixture of the false and
the true--as Cressida says, "To say the truth, true and not true."
(I.ii.106) Enigmatic or paradoxical statements such as the following
occur throughout Shakespeare's drama: "Truth doth . falsely blind
the eyesight" (Love's Labour's Lost I.i.75-76); "I am not what I am"
(lago, Othello I.i.65 and Viola, Twelfth Night III.i.153); "nothing that
is so is so" (Feste, Twelfth Night IV.i.9); "a natural perspective that
is and is not." (Duke, Twelfth Night. V.1.224).
The literary and educated mind of Elizabethan England appears to
have been sensitively aware of various meanings latent in a single sig-
nificant form. But what of Shakespeare's audience' The spirit of the
age was conditioned by the Biblical and logical tradition of thought and
the widespread occurrence of analogical and paradoxical multiple expres-
sions. Basing my impression of an Elizabethan audience on recent
studies such as Alfred Harbage's and Leslie Hotson's, I assume that in
background and the degree of attentiveness the audience would have been
perceptive to the dramatic, expository and symbolic value of Shake-
speare's disguises. A widespread ability to quote from the plays would
indicate spectator attentiveness. Furthermore, according to Harbage,
"The ability to quote extended beyond the literate and cultivated
Alfred Harbage, Shakespeare's Audience (New York: Columbia Uni-
versity Press, 1941), p. 120.
Harbage suggests convincingly that the educational background,
emotional responsiveness, and general attentiveness of Shakespeare's
heterogeneous audience were on a higher level than has traditionally
been supposed. Unfortunately, railers against theater-goers, upon
whose records subsequent evaluations have been dependent, are, on the
whole, the moralists, who found it convenient to paint a clear-cut
black picture. If future ages judged modern motion pictures by the
censuring commentary of present day evangelists, the complexity of
motives and experiences of all movie-goers would be similarly simplified
Supplementing the biased tone of the moralizers is the "sour
grape" attitude of unsuccessful or disillusioned dramatists. Harbage
discovers that "the most successful writers were less critical when
they had scored a hit."1
The ordinary commoner was trained to detect an abstract meaning
from an outward form; he was accustomed to this way of looking per-
spectively through things. An emphasis upon graphic similarities among
things permeated Elizabethan thinking. The commonness of this analogiz-
ing perspective is summarized by Winny: "The unwearied delight in analogy
and correspondence which sixteenth-century literature exhibits is
nourished by beliefs held in common by theologian, scientist, and poet,
and deeply impressed upon the outlook of all three."
aIbid., p. 130-131.
Winny, p. 15.
Moral truth and the relevance of objects and incidents were
continuously sought after through something else: its analogical
counterpart or its opposite. This sort of perceptiveness resulted
not only from the cultural conditioning that would have been restricted
to certain classes or occupations--the highly literate, or the cleric,
for example--but it was generated by a pervasive allegorical habit of
thinking. The Elizabethan did not have to be an aristocrat or a student
highly trained in scholastic thought to respond to the import of the bon-
fire, mentioned previously, in which a fierce lion signified sudden
Even more universally, this sort of perceptiveness testifies
to the ubiquitous ability or tendency of man to see more clearly that
which is hidden. What one must attend to most carefully, one sees
best. Apart from the conditioning of time and place and even educa-
tion, this psychological phenomenon presents itself in human nature.
Emily Dickinson, who so frequently captures a common but infrequently
expressed psychological reality, succinctly conveys this expository
value of obscuring forms.
The thought beneath so slight a film
Is more distinctly seen,--
As laces just reveal the surge,
Or mists the Apennine.
Or, I would like to propose, as disguise reveals the character so
CHARACTER DEPTH THROUGH DISGUISE
"I am not what I am."
(Viola, Twelfth Night III.i.153)
At its dramatic best, disguise in Shakespeare's work not only
conceals but, paradoxically, reveals through concealment. Or, expressed
in the idiom of Chapters I and II, it is a form of deception which never-
theless becomes not a piece of wickedness but an avenue to truth.
Shakespeare's use of disguise for characterization will be
analyzed mainly through a close study of three disguised characters.
Henry V and the Rosalind of As You Like It serve to illustrate how dis-
guise liberates a character, granting him freedom to express and there-
by reveal himself more fully. Secondly, Rosalind and Coriolanus explain
the function of disguise as a kind of visible metaphor, a means of
epitomizing some quality in the disguised character. An auxiliary and
final purpose of this chapter is to examine disguise as it compares in
effectiveness and dramatic thrift with other techniques for the exposi-
tion of character and as it complements their techniques.
Apart from those qualities of Henry V which disguise reveals, the
king suffers under so heavy a thematic load that it is difficult to
imagine responding to him with sympathy or even with dramatic belief.
The play presents the completed realization of Hal as a king, and it
also brings to a resolution the ideas of power and statesmanship broached
in Richard II. In Henry V a serious and predominating theme is the
establishment of English order after a troubled period of internal con-
flict. Henry is deeply concerned with the legality and ecclesiastical
approbation which underlie his action in claiming the throne of France.
He desires to act "with right and conscience,"--to be right even more
than to fulfill his own interests, so he inquires into the validity of
his claim upon France before he will fight. With a legal foundation
beneath him and a religious demeanor, Henry faces battle "by God's
Grace." With a settled and quiet dignity, which commands respect and
loyalty, he unites the factions springing from various national
In order to support the exalted representation of kingship in
Henry V, it is necessary for Shakespeare to establish and maintain
Henry's royal dignity and moral purpose. Henry heeds a noble obligation
and resolutely pursues it.
However, it is difficult for the main character of a play to arouse
the sympathetic interest of an audience when he is a man without any inner
conflict or human weakness. A new facet to Henry's personality is il-
luminated when he appears disguised in the midst of his discouraged
soldiers in the camp. Ifnry dissembles in the cloak of Sir Thomas Erp-
ingham, one of his officers. Temporarily Shakespeare thereby frees
Henry from his weighty role as the unflinching and righteous monarch,
allowing him to engage in a new identity--in a position no more exalted
than good old Erpingham's. Only superficially, however, is Henry some-
one else; actually he is more fully himself. That is, he reveals aspects
of his essential nature that have been thus far concealed.
Henry's status as king, quite idealized in this play, does not
give an opportunity for the exposure of the common fears that he shares
with the lowliest of his men. But in his disguise Henry can tell us how
he feels, under the guise of interpreting the nature of the king to a
soldier, John Bates. "I think the king is but a man, as I am," he
The violet smells to him as it does to me; the element
shows to him as it doth to me; all his senses have but
human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, in his naked-
ness he appears but a man; and though his affections are
higher mounted than ours, yet when they stoop, they stoop
with the like wing. Therefore, when he sees reason of
fears as we do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same
relish as ours are; yet, in reason, no man should possess
him with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing it,
should dishearten his army. (IV.i.105-ll7)
Shakespeare has chosen an exceptionally effective medium through
which he reveals to us the humanity of Henry, which involves, in part,
both sensitivity to fear and to the responsibility that restrains him
from more direct expressions of personal feeling to his subjects. The
conventional devices for such revelations of feelings that are inex-
pressible because of the demands of the action are the aside and the
soliloquy. Set speeches, however, diverge from the moving plot, or
they are generally uneconomical modes of disclosure, serving a single
purpose. Shakespeare, as his technique develops, learns to do without
Ssoliloquy or else to use it more discriminatingly and with greater
relevance to character and situation; Hamlet comes to mind as the
In Henry V, a comparatively early play, a soliloquy follows the
disguise scene. Disguise dramatically complements the conventional set
piece. The soliloquy makes explicit what has just been dramatized:
outward appearances are misleading or incomplete presentations. The
sorrows and tribulations of a king are laid bare in this impassioned
complaint, which again points beyond the Henry who was revealed only
through his official speeches and royal actions, to offer intimations
Henry inspects the nature of ceremony. According to established
Elizabethan attitudes the regal forms constituting the ceremony of which
Henry speaks, are directly significant of the god-like qualities of the
king, a being distinctively different from the common citizen. Henry,
however, addresses ceremony in this way:
And what art thou, thou idol Ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
Art thou aught else but place, degree, and form.
Ironically, those ceremonious forms which were respected by Elizabethans
as revealing the nature of kingship are exposed as incomplete guides,
whereas Henry's disguise, the assumption of garb that hid his position,
actually proved the means for expressing his innermost being.
Through the combined effects of these indirect and direct dis-
plays of personal pathos, we are made aware of the problems and fears
facing the king--problems and fears which, because of the demands of
his situation, he must never undisguisedly disclose. Henry emerges
not simply as a capable and righteous ruler or one whose initial propo-
sitions are simply tested and made to triumph, but he emerges also as a
more dynamic human person and thereby arouses from the audience the
sympathetic response due a dramatic hero.
Disguise serves another purpose in Henry V. As an English king,
personally qualified for his noble role, Henry can no longer associate
closely with his old cronies Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph. But he is some-
what liberated from unrelieved seriousness when he assumes a disguise,
talks freely with his men, and indulges in a bit of joking, in a spirit
reminiscent of the fun-loving Prince Hal of the Henry IV plays. Donning
Sir Thomas' cloak, Henry again jokes with his old friend, Pistol. In
his elevated position as king, Henry can no longer be his comrade, how-
ever; and the degree of the difference between the two--a difference
which combines with other aspects of the play to exalt Henry--is ex-
pressed here as Henry, through his disguise, is temporarily in a posi-
tion to banter with Pistol. The import of Henry's jesting eludes the
naive Pistol because of its sophistication. For example, when Pistol
asks Henry his name, the king replies, "Harry, le Roy."/ "Le Royl a
Cornish name. Art thou a Cornish crew?" asks Pistol, obviously ig-
norant of French. (IV.i.48-50) The disparity between the characters is
now almost too great to permit a mutually satisfying, reciprocal species
of joking. Henry's old sense of humor is somewhat recaptured and com-
bines with his revealed fear and compassion to humanize him; and at the
same time Henry's transcendent status is re-emphasized through his evi-
dent superiority, even while he is in disguise, to his former comrades.
The Elizabethan mode of expression through opposites underlies the dis-
guise technique: what the king is is more clearly seen through what he
is not. With his characteristic condensation the dramatist accomplishes
several things at the same time, through a smoothly adapted convention
which--unlike soliloquy--does not retard the movement of the play.
The disguise of Rosalind in As You Like It is similar in function
to that of Henry V; it allows for a more complete picture of the charac-
ter through an artistically controlled conventional device. Disguise
grants Rosalind freedom of action and language, which her femininity
would otherwise have restricted. Through the artifice of disguise
Shakespeare also offers dramatic statement of qualities essential to
Again it is necessary to examine the play as a whole before
considering the special role of disguise. The play is essentially about
love, from the most earthy love of Touchstone and Audrey to the etheri-
alized, sentimentalized relationship between Silvius and Phebe. Rosa-
lind is also a lover, and in this role she is the median for love; Rosa-
lind dominates the drama not merely by virtue of her attractive per-
sonality, but because she stands between all the extremes of the play--
including excesses of many sorts, but excesses in attitudes toward love
in particular. When Jacques says be likes his melancholy better than
laughing, Rosalind reproves him: "Those that are in extremity of either
are abominable fellows." (IV.i.5-6) And to Silvius she says, "You are
a fool, and turned into th' extremity of love." (IV.iii.22-23) Rosalind
interprets the excesses constituting these extremes and helps to resolve
them by offering the realistic type of love which she represents.
Even her own lover, Orlando, comes within the commentary of her
values. Though loved by Rosalind, he romanticizes love too much for
Rosalind's taste. Through her disguise Rosalind assumes the more ag-
gressive role of a man and can criticize Orlando's sentimentality,
which she could not do directly. Rosalind and Orlando are in love
throughout the play. Rosalind fell in love with Orlando immediately
and completely; she had little opportunity to know him well. In the
forest of Arden Rosalind is slightly taken aback when she finds that the
young lover, whose verses she and Celia--prompted by Touchstone--have
found so ridiculous, is none other than her Orlando. Orlando has been
characterized as comely, strong, gentle, brave, modest and in all as-
pects quite ideal as a lover for Rosalind. However his sentimentality
is not in accord with her more realistic approach to love. Orlando
says he will die of love; this, Rosalind says, is nonsense.
Orlando obviously must be re-educated in the nature of love and
Rosalind, through her disguise, is an eminently qualified critic and
instructor, but one always in keeping with the established tone of
comedy, which dominates the play. As the median or the synthesizer,
"the golden girl" in a drama of many extremes, Rosalind, through her
disguise, is allowed to be both an amusing and penetrating critic on
the excesses of love.
For such an aggressive role as Rosalind has to play, Shakespeare
no doubt had some problems. In literature, the troubadour tradition of
the passive and aloof female was not so entirely replaced in Shakespeare's
day, that overbearing women would appear attractive. And according to
the accredited faculty psychology of the times, certain proprieties were
imposed upon the female nature: under an influential convention Rosa-
lind, as a woman, was expected to be passive and phlegmatic. Disguise
does much to liberate the heroine from such restrictions.
In actual life, the froward woman was strongly reproached. Each
age seems to have its distinctive species of controversy over women and
sixteenth and early seventeenth century England was certainly no ex-
ception. Burgher writers in particular were voluminous and spirited in
their pronouncements concerning woman's place in society.1 Growing in-
terest in discussions of the relations of the sexes was provoked by the
increasing liberty of women.2
Venting their displeasure, the conservatives reproached women for
their masculine boldness and growing sphere of activity. Husbands were
ordered to assume more firm regulatory roles and to maintain leadership.
One among the many evils of the female nature was talkativeness. Another
was scheming. Intriguing females, whose prototypes are Eve, Jezebel,
Herodias, and other Biblical characters, were included in the diatribes.
On both accounts Rosalind and other vivacious and dissembling women
from Shakespeare would undoubtedly be subject to a barrage of vitupera-
tion, had they been actual Elizabethans.
1Wright, p. 465.
2lbid., p. 466.
The number of books recording this sort of censure was legion.
For illustration, Abraham Vele's publication in 1560 will serve: The
decyte of women, to the instruction and ensample of all men, yonge and
olde, newly corrected. This supplied in addition to the text,
a pictorial warning to husbands, in a woodcut on the
title-page fearsomely presenting a woman astride her
spouse, who goes on all fours with a bridle in his mouth
as she flogs him with a three-lashed whip. The prologue
maintains that only frowarl and deceitful women need take
offense at the book . .
Such books were in popular demand and their contents were evidently well
known if not always agreed with. Critics of the anti-feminists, as one
might suppose from a period that was fond of logical disputation, chal-
lenged the ideas of their opposition point by point.
Hic Mulier: Or, the Man-Woman, though it appeared as late as 1620,
is nevertheless representative of the distrust of women that character-
ized the period when Shakespeare was producing his plays. Opprobrium is
heaped upon "you Masculine women," "that are the gilt durt, which im-
broaders Playhouses."2 And this is Rosalind's position precisely. She
is "gilt durt," in keeping with the scriptural tradition of deceptive
women, even though, the moralists would claim, her intention was not
malicious. Or, to use another contemporary expression, Rosalind is a
contemptible "guilded pill" as are all who dissemble, particularly those
who use cosmetics. Through the following unattractive metaphor William
lbid., Fp. 470-471.
2Hic Mulier: Sig. A4, as cited in Wright, p. 494.
Prynne, who can always be counted on to analyse the wickedness of women,
makes this analogy: "To conclude, whosoever she be, shee's but a Guilded
Pill, composde of these two ingredients, defects of nature, and an
artificial seeming of supplies, tempered and made up by pride and
vanity, and may wel be reckned among these creatures that God neuer
Shakespeare was aware of this line of thinking--this censure of
assertiveness and the attitude that the very nature of the woman was
altered by the assumption d' disguise. As was mentioned earlier, Shake-
speare's heroines make disarming statements implying that no immediate
and pat conclusions concerning their natures can be.reached merely on
the basis of their use of disguise.
Rosalind is vindicated in another way. Her disguise is an al-
legedly evil form out of which good actually comes. That we are here
confronted with a dramatic statement flatly contradictory to the allega-
tion that disguise is evil because it produces evil consequences is
clear. We are not dealing with an accidental. Within the comic frame-
work of plays such as The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night, to men-
tion just two, good comes of disguise. Good comes of Henry's disguise;
certainly it is the consequence of the Duke's disguise in Measure for
Measure and of Kent and Edgar in King Lear. Although Shakespeare's
William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix The Players Scourge, or, Actors
Tragaedie, Divided into Two Parts (London: Printed by E. A. and W. I.
for Michael Sparke, 1633), pp. 60-61.
plays abound in pernicious dissemblers and impersonators of many sorts,
nowhere after the early Henry VI is a physical disguise assumed with a
In yet another manner Shakespeare provides a defense for Rosa-
lind's disguise. It is an oblique defense, but cogent.
This oblique defense of Rosalind and its effect upon her charac-
terization will be best understood if we first establish the mode of
argument which underlies it as both typically Shakespearean and also as
a form of rhetoric well known to Elizabethans.
This mode of argument consists of using an opponent's argument as
a means of refuting his major contention. It is enticing to think of
Shakespeare's using the very form of what is criticized--the disguised
woman--to vindicate it or at least to render it innocuous and appealing.
The rhetorical device of using an objection to turn it back against him
who made it would certainly have been known to Shakespeare, and its use
is consistent with his practice elsewhere. Characteristic of Shake-
speare's drama is an amused, gibing attitude towards contemporary but
unreasonable ways of thinking or fixed beliefs. One way of mildly and
subtly counteracting them without relying upon direct satire, is to al-
lude to the questionable object or actually to employ it and somehow
through its use, parody or otherwise undermine it. This is accomplished
through classical modes of argumentation, with which Shakespeare is
thoroughly at home. For example, Shakespeare grants his critic the
critic's own ground through Julia's speech in The Two Gentlemen of
Verona. "It is the lesser blot . women to change their shapes,
than men their minds." (V.iv.l10-109) The argument against disguise--
that it is a blot--is conceded, but its desirability over inconstancy
of intent sets it advantageously in a new light,because it is observed
as relative to what is worse. Rhetorically this type of defense and re-
buttal is metastasis. This device involves the turning back of an ob-
jection against him who made it.
There is in Antony and Cleopatra an instance of the use of metas-
tasis for an amusing gibe. Stubbes in his Anatomie of Abuses, written
1583, condemns plays in which bawdiness, lechery, and adultery appear in
"infinite varieties" 2 What context Shakespeare put this pejorative
phrase in is well known: "Time cannot wither her," says Enobarbus, "nor cus-
tome stale/ Her infinite variety." In the prevailing moral code of
Elizabethans such as Stubbes and in the eyes of the Romans the "infinite
variety" of Cleopatra is vicious. Yet the whole force of Cleopatra's
triumphant personality turns the phrase back upon itself--helped, of
course, by the admiring tone of Enobarbus' eulogy. A phrase initially
pejorative becomes the means of memorable praise. Thus Shakespeare ac-
cepts an anti-feminist's phrase and so treats it that the original
intention is precisely reversed.
The type of argument behind this allusion can be more clearly seen
in the development of Antony's oration in Julius Caesar. Here the
1Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence (1577), P. 18o, as cited
in Sister Miriam Joseph, Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1949), p. 383.
2Stubbes, p. 143.
metastasis is employed in its conventional context of verbal argument
rather than transformed into a dramatic device. Following Brutus' speech
defaming the murdered Caesar, Antony begins with the premise of the
"noble Brutus"--that Caesar was ambitious. Antony uses this premise,
in the guise of agreeing, to eventually undermine it and establish a
new conclusion. Brutus' speech has succeeded. Through his established
character of a good, noble man and his appeal to his audience as reason-
able men, he has successfully convinced these auditors that Caesar was
overly ambitious. Antony in attacking Brutus must work through the pre-
mise of his opponent and through the attitude of Brutus toward his
audience that had been fundamental to the establishment of this premise.
That is, the audience, appealed to as reasonable men, are convinced of
Brutus' honor and Caesar's infamy on this basis. It is the aim of
Antony, however, to lead them, by appealing to their emotions, into a
sympathetic attitude towards Caesar. Unable to violate the assumptions
of the crowd at the moment, Antony must condition the assumption with a
not too obvious "if";
The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
If it were so . .
Repeatedly Caesar's ambition is presented as the conclusion of the
noble Brutus. If Caesar isn't ambitious--and Antony increasingly in-
sinuates that he isn't--then Brutus' nobility is put in question. And
if his nobility is put in question, so is the assumption that the crowd
has behaved reasonably by receiving Brutus. Thus Antony prepares the
way for appealing to them as men of passion.
It is not meet you know how Caesar lov'd you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And being men, hearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad.
The necessity of disarming and refuting through accepted modes of
thought, which is the common factor in the examples of rebuttal cited
above, is certainly not beyond the interest and practice of Shakespeare
on a scale that is larger than these incidental occurrences. Shakespeare
frequently exposes a character's inappropriate reliance upon conventional,
facile approaches to truth. In Julius Caesar use is made of Brutus'
reliance upon idealistic precept to expose its inapplicability in a
specific situation. Hamlet's reliance upon example or precedent--
Horatio and Fortinbras--has no efficacy in the solution of his own
Our excursion into examples of Shakespeare's use of a rhetorical
mode of argumentation has taken us through devious by-ways. However, by
defining this typically Shakespearean and Elizabethan way of looking at
things, this discussion provides a basis for insight into the dramatist's
use of disguise. Now back to Rosalind.
Rosalind assumes a disguise, implying her deceitful nature. That
is, in an Elizabethan frame of reference she is two-faced, two irreconcil-
able things at the same time, which nevertheless produce something new--
a new creature, one not created by God--a hermaphrodite, Prynne would
proclaim. Dramatically, too, she is a new creature. In a sense, Prynne
is right. His premise is granted; a new statement about Rosalind's
nature is proffered through her assumption of a disguise. But the
spectacle of disguise dramatically imposes a new conclusion upon this
premise, just as Julia, in the statement already referred to, recast
the traditional criticism against disguise and just as Antony used the
statement of Brutus and Shakespeare the phrase of Stubbes to force new
conclusions upon them. Rosalind is a rounded character composed of op-
posite qualities of masculinity and femininity that are in their com-
plexity much more realistic and convincing than the conclusion of the
moralist who depends upon a false belief in the connection between
clothes and their wearer.
Compared with the moralists who objected to disguise, Shakespeare
is more modern and, of course, artistic in his approach, using disguise
to show how many facets of Rosalind's personality--a personality in
which the traditionally accepted distinctions between male and female
are not mutually exclusive. As in Ramist logic, "to be and not to be"
are really one; they are aspects of being in its more comprehensive
scope. Or, as in the rhetorical device of prosapodosis, none of the
alternatives are rejected: the device of prosapodosis "overthroweth noe
part of the Division, but returneth some reason to each member . .
affirms and keepes all sides upp." Rosalind's personality is allusive
and realistically complex, one that twentieth century anthropologists
such as Margaret Mead could acclaim as lifelike, recognizing as they do
that many of the qualities commonly attributed to either the male or
female as intrinsically peculiar to that sex are actually the products
of conditioning cultures.
1Hoskyns, p. 160, as cited in Sister Miriam Joseph, p. 362.
Clearly, therefore, at all points where Shakespeare was defending
Rosalind's disguise against the objections lodged in his audience's
minds he was accomplishing positive dramatic disclosures of material
vital to his play's total statement. The dramatically important matter
is, of course, the positive statement made possible by disguise, and to
illustrate such positive statement we shall now more extensively explore
the contrasts implicit in Rosalind disguised.
Disguise reveals Rosalind through offering a contrast between
what she is--a woman--and what she appears to be--a man. Disguise not
only establishes Rosalind as a personality composed of both masculine
and feminine qualities, but it accentuates her femininity through the
concealment. This is generally the effect of the disguised heroine to
Those who witness performances of the plays. It is true especially of a
play whose dialogue helps to center attention on the real identity of the
woman in disguise. Not only Rosalind but also Viola, for example, in an
actual dramatic production of Twelfth Night emerges much more emphati-
cally feminine than if the romantic action of the play had not involved
masquerading. And her femininity is not merely accentuated by the con-
trast between her physical woman's body and its man's dress. Because of
disguise she is both somewhat masculine and more than ordinarily feminine.
SShe is more womanly in disguise because of the constant and unmistakable
reference to what she isn't--a man. This reference is provided less
by her disguised appearance than by the double entendres, the postures
and gestures, the mannerisms, and the whole set of relationships
occasioned and sustained by this situation.
The effect of this constant emphasis on Rosalind's and Viola's
feminine-masculine duplicity is relevant to the larger interests of the
plays. Both plays abound in a spirit of love and joy in la difference;
and a conspicuous means of establishing la difference is disguise. The
nature of the comedy that emerges in these plays and is heightened by
disguise is incomparably more delicate than is common to the Plautine
and Italian conventions.
Differences are more apparent when resident in a single form.
The pun can be a way of establishing a new attitude through the presented
differences, just as a rhetorical device can force together argument and
refutation through the same premise.1 With reference to Macbeth Kenneth
Muir regards Shakespeare's mature pun to be an "uncomic pun" in the sense
that it functions with serious, far-reaching dramatic effects.2 For one
thing it links together unrelated imagery, acting as a solvent for mixed
metaphors. This is by analogy a statement of the effect of Rosalind-in-
disguise, inasmuch as she can be interpreted as a visual pun.
The contrast offered by a woman in the disguise of a man is, as we
observed in the rhetorical device, prosapodosis, dependent upon a coin-
cident presentation of opposites, not upon an alternation between one
part of an antithesis and the other. Shakespeare uses simultaneous
1Shakespeare suggests a thing by saying its opposite, more obvious-
ly, through the verbal statement. In King Lear, for example, the Fool
counsels Lear: "But I will tarry; the Fool will stay,/ And let the wise
man fly./ The knave turns fool that runs away;/ The Fool no knave, perdy."
(II.iv.83-86) Suggested by Hudson in the Furness ed., p. 145.
2Kenneth Muir, "The Uncomic Pun," The Cambridge Journal, III (May,
contrast in a number of ways besides disguise and the pun. It is the
operating force behind the oxymoron and other verbal paradoxes or al-
literative devices that permeate Shakespeare's art. E. E. Stoll in Art
and Artifice in Shakespeare analyzes the dramatic effect achieved through
contrast, particularly with regard to the simultaneous existence of op-
posite qualities in the personality of a single character. Othello, for
example, does not vacillate between love and hate; he both loves and
hates concurrently. This juxtaposition of opposite qualities is explained
more fully in the following quotation, in which Stoll briefly--and in-
triguingly--allies it with the "situation of disguise."
Instead of the conflict and contention, oscillation or fluc-
tuation, resolve and counter-resolve, of the Racinian or
Cornelian hero, there is, through all the changes, a contrast,
continually reappearing, of the two feelings side by side.
He is not now loving again, now jealous, but both together.
There are Juxtaposition and opposition instead of contention
and alternation; and this very much as in ancient tragedy, the
Antigone, the Oedipus, or the Agamemnon, and somewhat as in
the situation of disguise, of Titus' and Hamlet's feigned
madness, or of Macbeth's present horror of the deed which he
is doing. Through the mask of Othello's hatred the eyes of
his love are ever looking:
"Come, swear it, damn thyself
Lest, being like one of Heaven, the devils themselves
Should fear to seize thee'"l
Reference has been made to Rosalind as a visual pun. Dramatically
this is her effect--what she is is expressed in terms of what she appears
not to be--and the possibility of her being recognized as such is con-
sonant with the Elizabethan mode of double vision: looking at something
iElmer Edgar Stoll, Art and Artifice in Shakespeare: A Study in
Dramatic Contrast and Illusion (New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1933),
Much of the Elizabethan double vision employed one of its objects
for the sake of expressing the other. The emblem existed as pictorial
reinforcement for the epigram. The sensual was frequently merely a con-
veyance for the spiritual, as in Golding's Ovid. For the sake of examin-
ing Shakespeare's complexity in the framework of the Elizabethan double
vision, the eyes of modern aestheticians are directive. Maurice Grosser
helps to define the Elizabethan double vision when he discusses the use
of double images in art. How to look at paintings is the problem at-
tacked by his study The Painter's Eye. Grosser discusses double images
in modern art, nothing that as a technique of painting it is not new.
Allegory, which was the subject matter of so much of the
painting and poetry of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance,
is but the systematic use of double images. Decorative
painters, like the sixteenth century Arcimboldo, for example,
often painted landscapes, or still-lifes, which seem from a
certain distance become grotesque faces. But here the double
image was only a decoration or a joke; or, as with the al-
chemists, was used to conceal knowledge in an impressive and
secret alphabet; or, as in allegory, furnished the painter
with a useful framework for composing the world he knew into
large, rich pictures, at the same time exhibiting his philosophy
or his wit.1
At any rate, one meaning in the double image existed for the sake
of another. Modern art, Grosser proposes, is distinguishable because all
of its meanings are equally important. Of which perspective is Shake-
speare typical? He is modern in his concern for life-like complexity.
Rosalind's masculinity does not merely reveal by contrast her femininity.
-Maurice Grosser, The Painter's Eye (New York: The New American
Library of World Literature, Inc., 1956), pp. 168-169.
It does not exist merely for the sake of the underlying femininity. The
masculine aggressiveness and resourcefulness and her capacity for rather
coarse jesting while she is in disguise are authentic parts of her total
personality. Her total meaning does not reside in an either-or dialectic
between what are traditionally accepted as opposites but in the combina-
tion of the two, plus qualities revealed through her very willingness
to assume disguise: that is, an adventuresome willingness, defying
modesty, to try a new experience.
The shock of Rosalind and Viola in disguise is a type of counter-
point that can be expressed also in terms of what Grosser calls Neo-
Classicism in art. He mentions the Neo-Classicism of Picasso's Mother
.and Child "where a family portrait is disguised as a late Roman fresco";
of the same painter's costumes for Satie's ballet Parade, "where the in-
effectual managers are clothed in the monumental style of a New York
skyscraper"; of the films of Mae West, "where an up-to-date and brazen
sensuality is displayed in the rococo trappings of a decade supposed to
be more prudish than our own."l In all these examples the shock of
double image comes from the incongruity between the content and its
form. The effect of these juxtaposed incongruities is obviously un-
like the effect of medieval and Renaissance allegory. The two elements
of the modern double vision say something about each other and, as in
the case of Rosalind's incongruity, the total is more than the sum of
1Ibid., p. 171.
The assumption of a disguise, as we have seen, can be revelatory
of character through liberating him from the demands of a restrictive
role or through visual punning. The visual pun, commenting as it does
upon the nature of Rosalind, functions symbolically. The symbolic use
of disguise will be examined more closely with reference to Coriolanus:
his disguise--the very act of its appropriation and the way in which it
is discovered--is emblematic of Coriolanus' nature.
The long dramatic tradition of significant costuming which is be-
hind Shakespeare has already been discussed, in Chapter I, and has pre-
pared the way for our understanding of Shakespeare's symbolic disguises.
Clothes and costume generally were endowed with significance. But even
more to our point, disguises of various sorts were used symbolically.
The mask, for example, has been alluded to briefly as a means for char-
acterizing which was much used in early drama; as a symbolizing device
which reveals as it conceals, it is analogous to Shakespeare's symbolic
Arthur E. Haigh in Attic Theater has found that figures such as
Justice, Persuasion, Deceit, and Jealousy were represented by special
masks in Greek drama.1 These masks quickly, conventionally, and vividly
signified the forces which the characters represented. Green drama,
early English liturgical drama, and Japanese drama are alike in their
Arthur Elam Haigh, The Attic Theater (Oxford: The Clarendon
Press, 1898), p. 221.
religious origins and in their symbolic use of disguise.1 Though they
grew independently, these plays originate in religious rites: Greek
from the worship of Dionysus, English from the worship of Christ, and
Japanese from the contemplation of the Shinto deities and Buddha. The
symbolic use of the mask, which reveals as it disguises, is most clearly
seen in the Japanese Noh drama, which is alive and unaltered in present
times. This poetic drama has been "transmitted almost unchanged from
one perfected form reached in Kioto in the fifteenth century."2 In the
Noh plays the artifice of the mask becomes a vital stylistic element
which gives precision and intensification to the character. Masks are
used not for quick identification but for transmitting through a tradi-
tionally sanctioned form, a statement which achieves tremendous anima-
tion. In a nation which has remained homogeneous and static until recent
years these artifacts are significant forms invested with life. It is a
Noh saying that, "The heart is the form."3 A species of dramatic life
strikingly similar to that which persists in Japan was once felt in the
tradition to which Shakespeare belonged.
Symbolistic disguise appears in English drama before Shakespeare.
In Skelton's Magnificence disguise is used symbolically. For the most
part, the hero mistakes vice for virtue simply because wicked characters
BErnest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound, 'Noh' or Accomplishment: A Study
of the Classical Sate of Japan (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1916),
2Ibid., p. 102.
3Ibid., p. 52.
change their names--Fancy for Largess, Crafty Conveyance for Sure Sur-
veyance, Cloaked Collusion for Sober Sadness. In one instance, however,
disguise, imbued with symbolic denotation, augments the change of name:
Cloaked Collusion wears some sort of vestment or priestly garment to
represent Sober Sadness.
An advance in the attempt to represent character through emble-
matic disguises is noted by Freeburg. In Sir David Lyndesay's Satire of
the Three Estates Flattery, Falsehood, and Deceit change their names to
Devotion, Sapience, and Discretion; but in addition all three of these
vices put on the costume of friars.
Early in the play The Three Ladies of London, a late morality,
Dissimulation comes upon the scene, "having on a farmer's long coat and
a cap, and his poll and beard painted motley."2 It is of significance
that Dissimulation appears as a farmer and that he is unwilling to risk
the chance of being taken too literally, as a mere farmer or as a farmer
arbitrarily. He explains himself to his audience:
My name is dissimulation, and no base name I bear
For my outward effects my inward zeal do declare;3
Dissimulation thus proclaims his zeal as similar to that of the industri-
ous farmer. He is soon followed by Simplicity as a miller and Fraud as a
Freeburg, p. 19.
2R. W., The Three Ladies of London, 1584, ed. W. Carew Hazlitt,
Old English Plays (London: Reeves and Turner, 1874), p. 251.
3bid., p. 252.
The pattern that these disguises follow is a carry-over of medieval
allegorizing--allegorizing for the purpose of revealing an abstraction of
some sort, a moral truth or a particular vice, just as, in Grosser's dis-
cussion of the double image, one image was regarded as existing for the
sake of the other. The abstraction of the medieval drama and the dis-
guise of Shakespeare are both modes of allegorizing; whereas the medieval
abstraction has the effect of simplifying character, to the point where
it is summed up in a single word--Folly, Flattery, Deceit--Shakespeare's
disguise often has the effect of presenting new facets of an individual
character (as in the case of Rosalind), or, if we look at it with an ap-
petite for generality, we find that the general proposition is far from
that which will fit in the compass of a single noun.
Shakespeare uses disguise metaphorically, as a spectacle to repre-
sent some character trait, something going on within a character. The
assumption of disguise, the way it is employed, or the way in which it
is recognized may offer indirect statements regarding character. In
Coriolanus the spectacle of disguise has meaning that actually extends
beyond matters of character, inasmuch as Coriolanus and his political
import is the continual focus of the play. All is subordinate to it--
subsidiary characters, the background of family and populace--all func-
tioning as choric echoes or commentaries on the problem of Coriolanus.
In Coriolanus we find that disguise is used partly as it was in
Henry V, for the purpose of putting a character in another role tempo-
rarily to accentuate some quality about him. After Coriolanus is
banished from Rome and has taken leave of his family, he disguises
himself as a beggar and proceeds to Antium to join forces with his
rival, Aufidius, against Rome. There is a very practical reason for
Coriolanus' assuming this disguise. He naturally would not wish to
risk being identified and perhaps assaulted by his former enemies, be-
fore he has an opportunity to declare his friendly intentions.
Beyond this practical reason for the disguise, the warrior's
concealment has ironic implications with regard to the characterization
of Coriolanus that is developed throughout the play.
An explanation of these ironic overtones necessitates a review
of the characterization and actions of the central figure, Coriolanus.
The play is concerned with the downfall of an individual dominated by
driving pride and a straining after superhuman standards. His pride
and standards are so lofty that even praise is despicable to him. Plac-
ing Coriolanus in an atmosphere of social and political opposition,
Shakespeare presents a man whose understanding of his relation to Rome
will not allow him to do the things necessary to acquire the title which
will satisfy his personal pride; yet when he tries to compromise with his
nature, when he humbles himself to be something he despises, he can no
longer function as a whole person. His destiny is enacted against a
setting of opposition, one which brings to a critical test Coriolanus'
ability to compromise with his nature--to debase himself in his own
eyes by appearing before the commoners and displaying his wounds in order
to receive the consulship. After an agonizing conflict as to whether or
not he can force himself to this humiliating posture, Coriolanus lays
aside his convictions of nobility and attempts to fulfill the role which
his family and political associates press upon him. Appearing before
the people, Coriolanus holds up just so long; at last his temper and
characteristic hatred of the populace break through. As a result, he
is banished from Rome.
Inappropriate clothing, like the setting of social opposition,
provides a means through which we can trace the fall of Coriolanus.
The literal, eye-deceiving disguise situation in Antium represents a
larger--indeed the comprehensive--situation which forces Coriolanus to
assume a pose in conflict with his own self-esteem. Repeatedly Cori-
olanus cannot pretend to be what he isn't; even when he assumes the pose
of a beggar and is therefore treated as one, he cannot maintain this
attitude. In a sense, Coriolanus temperamentally cannot assume a dis-
guise. He cannot do so because he cannot debase himself to the extent
that he despises himself; no matter what the circ-umstances, he must
attempt to remain true to his sense of nobility and personal pride.
His attitudes are always recognized by the populace for what they
are. The play opens with the angry discussion of the mutinous citizens,
who perceive well enough the character of Coriolanus. All agree that
Coriolanus is proud and seeks personal satisfaction in his public life
and that he is constrained this way by his nature and is victimized
thereby. In Act II several officers discuss the inability of Coriolanus
to dissemble. The second officer explains the attitude of the warrior:
Faith there hath been many great men that have flatter'd
the people, who ne'er loved them; and there be many that
they have loved, they know not wherefore; so that, if they
love they know not why, they hate upon no better a ground.
Therefore, for Coriolanus neither to care whether they
love or hate him manifests the true knowledge he has
in their disposition, and out of his noble carelessness,
lets them plainly see't. (II.ii.7-17)
Entreated to display his wounds and receive the consulship,
Coriolanus pleads, "Let me o'erleap that custom; for I cannot/ Put on
the gown, stand naked and entreat them. For my wound's sake to give
their suffrage." (II.ii.140-142) Succumbing to Menenius, Coriolanus
at last appears in the gown of humility. He carries off the pose satis-
factorily, but not without a sense of inner tension through his impos-
ture. He is eager to relieve himself of the dissembling garb.
May I change these garments?
Sic. You may sir.
Cor. That I'll straight do, and, knowing myself again,
Repair to th'Senate-house. (II.iii.153-155)
The tension between appearance and reality is further emphasized
in the speech of Brutus, just after Coriolanus leaves to take off his
gown. "With a proud heart he wore his humble weeds." (II.iii.161)
Projected against this background the disguise spectacle in
Antium provides poetic reinforcement to both the character of Coriolanus
and his situation. By having Coriolanus again try to dissemble in clothes
that conflict with his nature, Shakespeare forces his audience into a
realization, too, that Coriolanus has changed; he is less patient in
carrying through the imposture. A sense of dramatic movement and
accumulating conflict results, vitalizing the action by forcing
As in the previous scene, before the commoners, Coriolanus en-
acts a false role, but only up to a point. A servant at Aufidius'
house asks the beggared Coriolanus to leave.
What have you to do here, fellow?
Pray you, avoid the house.
Cor. Let me but stand;/ I will not hurt your hearth.
3. Serv. What are you?
Cor. A gentleman.
3 Serv. A marv'llous poor one.
Cor. True, so I am.
Considering Coriolanus' hatred and repulsion of common people, he had
to exercise restraint here, in adapting himself to a beggar's role.
But when the servant continues,
Pray you, poor gentleman, take up some
other station; there's no place for you. Pray you,
Coriolanus must be himself as he says,
Follow your function,
go and batten on cold bits,
pushing the servant away from him.
Coriolanus' inability to disguise his real nature is also re-
flected in the comments made between these servants, after they discover
who "the beggar" really is. "Yet my mind gave me his clothes made a
false report of him," said the second servant, and "I thought there was
more in him than I could think," said another; these comments reinforce
the suggestion prevalent in the play that Coriolanus' nature, though
proud and untactful, is yet fearfully admirable and propelled by an
almost supernatural spirit that cannot be covered by actions, words,
or disguise. Disguise, then, adds another level through indirect,
poetic means, to the multiple statements made about Coriolanus' nature
and his fall. The disguise episode is in itself a symbol of something
that the whole play is involved in demonstrating.
When disguise is conceived thus metaphorically or for purposes
of character revelation, literal plausibility of the disguise is ir-
relevant. Shakespeare has too frequently been criticized on the basis
of the implausibility of his disguises or the inconsistency between
the complexity of the disguise and the ease with which it is discerned,
and so forth. This kind of criticism arises, it seems, from too prosaic
an approach to the artifices of Shakespeare. Everyone familiar with
Shakespeare's drama can recall many instances of what Aristotle so
aptly labels probable impossibilities. Carefully leading his audience
from the real to the poetically possible, Shakespeare creates a plausible
world and one which Elizabethans grew up on, so to speak. The whole
theatrical scene--daylight, unimaginative props, male actors, and so
forth--compelled the audience into imaginative habits of perception.
Another factor leading to the acceptance of the artifices was
the tone of consistency in all the improbabilities. Thus if Shakespeare
iThe usefulness of disguise may go beyond interests of characteri-
zation, reaching into matters of theme. Disguise provides the artificial
means for allowing a character to demonstrate some quality that is im-
portant to the general meaning of the play. This will be examined more
intensively in Chapter IV. For a brief example: Viola's love is con-
stant and abiding; it survives apart from direct declarations. Hgw arc
we to know then of the nature of her love, which differs so from that of
the Duke and Olivia? Through the spectacle of disguise. Through the
double talk permitted by disguise Viola can both conceal and disclose her
love. Her disguise is a reminder to the audience of her nature. It is
rather like a sign worn by the morality actor, because Viola's presence
on the stage is a constant referent to her meaning. Kent, in King Lear,
functions similarly. Through disguise the exiled Kent can return as a
servant to Lear; thus he is put in a position in which his loyalty and
humility can be exercised. His presence on the stage keeps Lear's folly
in remembrance. His disguise permits the indirect assertion of a quality
presents a character disguised in a merely physically unconvincing dis-
guise, the disguise is not destined to dramatic ineffectiveness, if the
total atmosphere of the play testifies to an unabashed invitation to ac-
cept it as the acknowledged artifice.
Disguise is more easily taken as a sort of spectacle, as emblematic,
if other artifices or stylizations support this meaning. The Greek mask
and the Noh mask depend for their effectiveness upon an established atmos-
phere of stylized and dignified, almost liturgical representation. Cori-
olanus shares some of this atmosphere of the Greek spectacle through the
choric-like public, the entreaties of the family, and so forth.
Setting, for example, may combine with disguise in the creation
of an imaginatively true artifice. In As You Like It, as we have seen,
it is possible through disguise to isolate the qualities in Rosalind that
would be difficult to present otherwise, without sacrificing her at-
tractive feminine quality. Rosalind in disguise has a structural func-
tion that is similar to the function of the Forest of Arden setting in that
both disguise and setting facilitate the simultaneous presentation .of
disparate ideas. It is quite apparent that Shakespeare's Forest of
Arden, made up as it is out of heterogeneous elements, established the
improbable but poetically plausible setting necessary to the suspension
of one's disbelief. It serves as a non-realistic, artificial arrange-
ment through which love and ways of life can be seen unobstructed by
that is essential to the meaning of the play. Loyalty and disloyalty,
pride and humility are inescapable themes of King Lear. Chapter V will
pursue these matters further.
distracting details of the familiar world. Rosalind, similarly, is
freed by disguise from many of the restrictions imposed by real life
upon the feminine role.
Shakespeare takes liberties with disguise and setting that need
not be disturbing. It might be distressing to notice that the ease
with which disguises are recognized does not always depend upon the
concealing ability of the disguise. Although Henry V is able to com-
pletely conceal his regal personage by wrapping Erpingham's cloak about
his shoulder, Bottom, who is completely buried beneath the head of an
ass, is nevertheless easily recognizable by his fellow craftsmen. Be-
neath the ease or difficulty with which these disguises may be penetrated
lies Shakespeare's over-all purposes in the particular play. Appropriate
to the character himself or to his perceiver, Coriolanus does not succeed
in his disguise; Lear never does recognize the disguised Kent, and various
partial recognition are suggested (Gloucester, and in Cymbeline), in
keeping with the situations and the personalities of the deluded
Shakespeare's use of disguise was a highly economical expository
device for characterization. As we noted earlier, Freeburg admires a
playwright's dramatic compression through which two persons are repre-
sented in one. He illustrates the value of such duality by citing Chap-
man's Widow's Tears. Chapman found a story containing a dead husband,
a widow, and a soldier lover. He arranged his source in a new, more
economical framework; the husband was merely supposedly dead.but really
disguised as the soldier lover. Thus Chapman "actually eliminated a
character, but multiplied the dramatic results." This sort of dramatic
economy refers to the compression of quantities of characters through
disguise. Also the two characters of the disguised person include the
personality maintained for the companions, who are deceived, and the
other personality for the spectators who are not deceived. The coalescing
personalities are the real and the fictitious. Freeburg values dramatic
economy for the compression of quantities of characters through disguise;
but Shakespeare's disguise upon occasion goes beyond this sort of
economy to the enlargement of qualities of character, as it provides a
new, humanizing dimension in Henry V and a more complete characterization
of Rosalind. Shakespeare's economy not only saves but earns something.
It has the effect of the poetic artifice. Through formal restriction
essential and subtle meanings can best be liberated, as in the pun or in
the repetition of a word which forces one into making comparisons and
The dramatic effectiveness and general usefulness of disguise can
be examined in the light of a more conventional expository device--the
soliloquy or the aside. Opinions on the dramatic value of these devices
vary. William Archer's comment is of special interest because it places
the soliloquy in a relationship with visual expository devices notable
in medieval drama. A drama with soliloquies and asides is like a
picture with inscribed labels issuing from the mouths of the figures.
In that way any bungler can reveal what is passing in the minds of his
Treeburg, p. 15.
Arthur C. Sprague's study in tectmiques of exposition commends
the use of the soliloquy enthusiastically; it is first in importance
among all the conventions Shakespeare employed for expository purposes.
In soliloquies and asides "character and motive are unfolded, plot and coun-
counterplot set going, events narrated, and the issues of the play made
clear." Expressed in these generalities Sprague would seem to be cor-
rect. However, "plot and counterplot" are not always "set going" by
soliloquy. It tends to be a retarding device which may be detrimental
to the movement of any particular play. In Henry V disguised talk and
soliloquy appear side by side, making possible an easy comparison, one
which reveals the advantage of disguise in keeping the plot moving and more
compactly constructed. The extended scenes in which Henry appeared
in disguise served multiple purposes as compared with the limited
function and effect of the soliloquy. Also, soliloquy reveals character--
admittedly--but what if the soliloquizing character is not by nature
strongly reflective? It is improbable that he would express himself
through soliloquy. There must be an appropriateness between the es-
tablished character and his modes of revealing himself.
1William Archer, Play-Making (London: Chapman and Hall Ltd., 1912),
2Arthur C. Sprague, Shakespeare and the Audience: A Study in the
Technique of Exposition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935),
Ibid., p. 72.
Harley Granville-Barker offers insights into this problem. He
discusses Shakespeare's use of soliloquy in relation to his increasing
concern with elucidating character. "What he learns to do is so to
vivify and dramatize soliloquy that, the convention accepted, the illu-
sion of character will not be broken."1 "Dramatizing soliloquy" is in
Shakespeare close to techniques of exposition through dual-personality
devices, to be defined and analyzed in Chapter V.
Granville-Barker notes that Shakespeare "as he advances in mastery,
either turns it [soliloquy] to significant account or largely does without
it."2 It is interesting to examine the expository devices employed in
these cases in which Shakespeare eschews soliloquy. In the tragedies
which focus upon introspective character, the soliloquy is used with great
effectiveness and with delicate appropriateness to character and the play's
larger framework of meanings. The very act of soliloquizing as well as
its revealing content is of expository value and is also in keeping with
the plays' tempo and rhythms in Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello (lago).
Where the heroes are by nature men of action new modes of exposition
must be utilized. One of these modes is disguise.3
1Harley Granville-Barker and G. B. Harrison, A Companion to
Shakespeare Studies (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1937), p. 69.
2Ibid., p. 69.
3A stimulating discussion of the disguise of Rosalind and Viola
appears in a recent short study of Wolfgang Clemen which has come to my
attention since the completion of this present study: Schein und Sein Bei
Shakespeare (Munchen: Akademie der Wissenachaften, 1959). There are
gratifying points of agreement between our contentions. However, whereas
my interest is in the use of disguise for a communication from the drama-
tist to the audience, Clemen--concerned with many aspects of schein and
sein--observes that disguise is a form through which the disguised charac-
ter' own being becomes more painfully conscious to him and through which
he comes to know himself more fully.
MISAPPREHENSION AND MISCONCEPTION IN COMEDIES OF ERRORS
"Our very eyes are, sometimes like our judgments, blind."
While disguise is useful for purposes of characterization, it may
possess so many correspondences with other dramatic statements in a given
play that it acquires the force of a symbol, the symbol of a concept which
encompasses the meaning of the play. Disguise thereby serves as the most
conspicuous reinforcement for a structure of false ideas or misconcep-
tions upon which the play is built. False physical appearances, that
is misapprehension, together with misunderstandings, support a frame-
work of wrong attitudes which must be righted before the dramatic ac-
tion rests. This alliance of misapprehension and misconception can be
found throughout Shakespeare's work--in his drama and poems--and within
the dramatic tradition both before and after Shakespeare's time, as we
shall see. Shakespeare begins to ally misapprehension and misconcep-
tion in the early comedies, but Twelfth Night will be found to express
Shakespeare's developed interest in "blind judgments"--in the relation-
ship between seeing and perceiving.
That Shakespeare was consciously attentive to the alliance
between misapprehension and misunderstanding appears not only in the
organization of his plays but also in explicit statements at all points
in his career. Analogies or juxtapositions of one's perceptions and
one's judgment occur in both the plays and sonnets. Imogen, seeing the
dead body of Cloten but mistrusting her eyesight, says, "Our very eyes
are, sometimes like our judgments, blind," (Cymbeline IV.ii.302) while
in Henry V mention is made of young maids, who are "blind though they
have their eyes." (Henry V V.ii.336) Much use is made of the analogy
between perceiving and conceiving in the sonnets, the most extensive
use being found in sonnet 73, "That time of year thou mayst in me be-
hold." The sonnet obviously breaks into three sections, each involving
imagery that intensifies the transiency of the speaker's life and the
imminence of his death. Each image concerns a visually perceived ob-
ject, clearly portrayed as such: "That time of year thou mayst in me
behold"; "In me thou see'st the twilight of such day"; "In me thou
see'st the glowing of such fires"; and finally, in summation, "this
thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,/ To love that well
which thou must leave ere long."
In several of the sonnets Shakespeare's "love-is-blind" interest
crops up. Again, seeing falsely is inextricably bound together with
judging falsely. In sonnet 137 the writer laments,
Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes
That they behold, and see not what they see?
Why of eyes' falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
The false perspective of love is again behind the plaintive cry of
0 me, what eyes hath Love put in my head,
Which have no correspondence with true sight!
The accusation and queries recur in sonnet 150.
The dramatic tradition behind Elizabethan drama also exemplifies
the viewing of false appearance and false attitudes together. Although
the secular, Plautine comedies of errors depended entirely upon mis-
taken physical appearances for their complication and denouement,
earlier dramatic use of disguise aligned misunderstanding with misap-
prehension. For example, in Euripides' Bacchae,the god disguises him-
self as a mortal; the disguise is effective and the king treats him with
contempt. The king is both unaware of the true physical identity of
the disguised Bacchus and skeptical of the very existence of the diety.
Guilty of the sin of hubris, the king exults in his own eminence.- The
error of his thinking is made dramatically effective through the visu-
ally perceived spectacle--the ironic presence of the disguised god.
In other religiously oriented drama, disguise is also symbolic.
As we have seen in Chapter III, the morality play tradition gradually
linked false physical appearance with mentally undiscerned qualities
or false attitudes. At first the well-intending "everyman" was con-
fused in his moral discernment because of impersonators. In Magnifi-
cence it was just as difficult to distinguish between wrong and right
as between Counterfeit Countenaunce and his impersonation--Good De-
meyaunce. Vices not only dissembled through the assumption of false
names but through false appearances: in keeping with a late medieval
trend in ecclesiastical satire, the garb usually employed for the mas-
querade of Vice was that of the friar, as in Satire of the Three Es-
tates. Gradually the false appearances became more individual and
specific. In The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom Idleness is not always
recognized as such, whether conceptually or perceptually, because he
appears as a doctor, beggar, priest, and so forth. In all these cases,
the misapprehension of a disguised person exists as a commentary upon
the inscrutability of moral qualities.
That this coupling of misapprehension and misconception is not
to be relegated to a merely historical interest but is almost inevitable
in a drama that scrutinizes the human predicament is clear. Religious
and moral symbolistic disguise appears also in modern drama. The ten-
dency to equate perceptual blindness of some sort to conceptual blind-
ness is deep-rooted and ubiquitous. Charles Rann Kennedy's The
Servant. in the House, a poetic drama of the early twentieth century,
in the manner of Ibsen, involves the disguise of Manson, who poses as
the new servant in the house of his brother, a Vicar. Despite their
faqades of righteousness, the vicar and his associates are corrupt and
selfish, specifically in their program for building a new church.
Manson, who is not only the long absent brother but actually God in-
carnate, effects a reform of the church and the Vicar's household,
which necessitates a thorough cleaning of the putrid drains and rotten
foundations of the old church. Repellent in his capacity as a begrimed
sewage worker, he is nevertheless finally recognized for the beauty and
integrity that underlie mere outward appearance. Outward appearance is
proved to be deceiving both in disguised virtue (Manson) and disguised
evil (the Vicar). Needless to say, the relationship between error and
deceptive physical appearance is fundamental to the full impact of the
play's didactic purpose.
Forces of evil are also, in modern drama,-by this means repre-
sented as difficult to discern. Whereas it is primarily God who is in-
scrutable in Kennedy's play, the Devil is the illusive character in
Ferenc Molnar's The Devil. The inability to recognize evil is in the
course of the action rapidly equated with the inability of the charac-
ters to recognize Dr. Miller, who is actually the Devil.
The drama of the Elizabethans, like that of Plautus, employed
mistaken identity most conspicuously for the comic complication of
plot. In The Comedy of Errors we do not have to meditate for a single
moment over the inability of the two Dromios to distinguish their
masters. Dromio of Ephesus, for example, simply could not distinguish
his master, Antipholus of Ephesus and his identical twin. Dromio was
far too busy carrying messages and dodging a thrashing to wonder
whether his inability to distinguish his "true" master symbolized his
inability to discern between God and the Devil. Matters of false per-
ception and comical, erroneous actions dominate the plays growing from
the Plautine tradition. Matters of theme and characterization only
faintly intrude into the low comedy of situation.
Twelfth Night is the outstanding example in Shakespeare's drama
of the combination of the mistaken identity framework with his mature
dramatic interests, involving indirect means to explore truth--mistaken
ideas as a means of canvassing the nature of truth in a specific situa-
tion. The success of his mature use of disguise is best seen when we
compare Twelfth Night with his earlier comedies: The Comedy of Errors,
Love's Labour's Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and A Midsummer
Night's Dream--all of which depend upon mistaken identity and indicate
SShakespeare's growing concern with integrating misapprehension and
The Comedy of Errors is entirely dependent on mistaken identity
for its plot construction. And in this play, as indeed in the other
three plays mentioned above, mistaken identity is used more extensively
than in any known sources. Shakespeare explores the comic effect of
disguise, doubling the use of mistaken identity over Plautus. In no
other play, however, does Shakespeare use mistaken identity apart from
some elements of a theme based upon misunderstanding or misconception.
a Disguise begins to serve new interests in Love's Labour's Lost.
It is used sparingly for comic complication. The play is not a comedy
of situation, but a comedy of wit that develops a theme. The action is
neither initiated nor resolved through the misidentities immanent in
disguise. Disguise is not the basis for the main situation of the plot;
that is, the rejection of women by the would-be scholars of Navarre,
the subsequent betrayal of their scheme, and the final acknowledgment
of their folly. The basic situation involves misconception, not mis-
T apprehension. The scholars have agreed to pursue knowledge to her very
sources, to search for "things hid and barr'd . from common sense."
(I.i.57) In pursuing the depths of truth, however, they must come to
realize that "truth falsely blinds" the eyesight to more fundamental
truths that must be acceded to in practical living. Any ideas of
self-development--learning, specifically--must take into consideration
that we are human beings living in a human world, which consists of
women as well as scholars.
The pact to ignore women is broken by every scholar, for as
Young blood doth not obey an old decree.
We cannot cross the cause why we were born;
And in another speech,
From women's eyes this doctrine I derive;
They are the ground, the books, the academes
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
The main action of the play involves the change of the scholars
to a more realistic, common sense attitude towards their too idealistic,
scholarly goals. Has this original delusion and the enlightenment that
follows any relation to the elements of disguise appearing in the play?
The relationship between misconception and misapprehension in Love's
Labour's Lost appears to be casual. The folly of the men is somewhat
highlighted, however, by their inability to recognize the disguised
women. By the end of Act IV the men, having discovered that they have
all surreptitiously engaged in amorous schemes, adopt a more practical
and hones attitude toward themselves. Disguise has nothing to do with
thematic revelation and change of character.
In the last act, disguise produces comic effects. Perhaps to
reiterate and vivify the importance of women, the Princess of France
and her retinue have invariably had the edge on the men. This is
especially true here when the men of Navarre, who disguise themselves
as Muscovites to court the women of France, are again following a scheme
which is frustrated by the women. Upon discovery of the "Muscovites'"
approach, the ladies mask themselves and exchange favors to confuse
their identities, thus meeting the oncoming disguise with a disguise
of their own. The men had earlier assumed a pose through which they
pursued truth, finding eventually that "truth falsely blinds"; now
they assume a disguise and find that the real identities of the vari-
ous women lie hidden beneath the misleading, false outward or super-
ficial appearance. Thus they confront a false appearance, while still
acting on the basis of a false assumption. Through the merriment of
the dual disguise, the men again eventually appear ridiculous; and the
folly of their original plan to disregard women is even more emphati-
cally exposed in this disguise situation, because the scholar-lovers
had intended to save face and avoid admitting their imprudence through
their incognito love-making. Their transformation takes a further step;
they must not only acknowledge the necessary existence of women, but
they must be willing to reveal themselves for what they are.
Disguise and theme thus come into common focus even in Shake-
speare's early drama and indicate his developing concern in probing
the surfaces of appearance and assumption. In Love's Labour's Lost, a
play of wit, double entendres, and the love chase, disguise is not
merely an agent of comic complication; it has a function that relates
to something outside itself. In its gesture towards bringing theme
and disguise into some sort of focus, Love's Labour's Lost prefigures
Shakespeare's more mature, thoroughgoing accomplishment in Twelfth
Shakespeare first uses the disguised female page--a contribu-
tion of Italian comedy--in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. As in Love's
Labour's Lost, Shakespeare is interested in mistaken identity not
merely as the provocation for a comic situation, but as it is instru-
mental in the exploration of a theme. Accordingly, as Freeburg notes,
Shakespeare's method in this play varies significantly from that of
the Italian dramatists. The disguise of Julia as a man is not, for
example, counterbalanced by the disguise of Proteus as a woman--that
would have been the Italian way. Shakespeare's method, as we shall see,
is indicative of his interest in focusing attention upon the character
of the disguised female--compare also Rosalind and Viola--rather than
in producing great complexity of plot.
Disguise in The Two Gentlemen of Verona is put to serious use
in the exploration of loyalty and disloyalty in friendship and love--
loyalty as it is embodied in Julia, who faithfully loves Proteus, and
disloyalty, in Proteus. After Proteus is sent by his father to Milan,
Julia follows him, disguised as the page, Sebastian, and is instrumental
in advancing his love suit with Silvia. Silvia, however, was first
T claimed as lover by Valentine, friend of Proteus. Proteus emerges,
then, as an unfaithful friend and lover.
The constant and patient love of Julia, which is antithetical to
Treeburg, p. 70.
the fickle love of Proteus, in evident through the speech and action
allowed her because of disguise, as Proteus' page. Her frequent
presence, ostensibly as a page though she is really herself, serves
as a constant reminder of her rights and the quality of her love, both
of which provide a perspective that diminishes Proteus. While thus
disguised, Julia is a first-hand witness of his infidelity; yet she re-
mains true to Proteus and to an ideal of loyalty held also by Valentine
and Silvia--one by which Proteus himself finally acts. Up to this
point Proteus is blind both to the allegiance he owes Julia and to
her identity when she is disguised. He is corrected on both accounts.
Because of the relationship between mistaken appearances and
mistaken affection and the similarity between Julia and her situation
and Viola and hers, The Two Gentlemen of Verona can be regarded, to-
gether with The Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost, as elemental
in the creation of Twelfth Night.
Shakespeare explores the connections between mistaken identity
and mistaken affection in another early comedy, A Midsummer Night's
Dream. In this play no formal elements of disguise appear, although
it is akin to the original comedy of situation based on mistaken iden-
tity. The characters are less troubled by misleading physical appear-
ance than by mistaken affections. The original spirit of the mistaken
identity play prevails: a web of complication and a general atmosphere
of "things not being what they seem to be" uiite the two types of
comedy. The action of A Midsummer Night's Dream is similar to that
of Twelfth Night insofar as both plays begin with characters who have
false objects of affection and end with the union of true levers.
An interpretation of Twelfth Night based upon its mistaken
identities and mistaken attitudes does more justice to the play than
the more usual interpretations of the meaning of the whole play. In-
terpretations of Twelfth Night tend towards one of two extremes: the
play is taken as a loosely constructed farce or as a serious study of
social struggle--or, at any rate, as a play whose meaning is dependent
upon topical references. A program from a recent enactment of the play
gives the following description:
It [Twelfth Night] is a hodgepodge of foolishness, put
together for our entertainment, seasoned with high
comedy, low comedy, good humor, bad puns, roistering
rowdyism, gentle dignity, fine poetry, false courage,
and appalling inconsistency. It has no more serious
intent than a musical comedy or extravaganza. .. .1
The same play that provoked this statement stimulated another
critic, John Draper, to say that Twelfth Night is "the comedy of the
social struggles of the time"; it is "Shakespeare's play of social
security."2 The unity of the play--so runs this argument--resides
in a search, on various planes, for security. To add weight to his
argument, Draper de-emphasizes qualities that savor of romance. Twelfth
Night is most frequently regarded as a play uf love; Draper remonstrates:
1Taken from a program used for a University of Connecticut
production of Twelfth Night at Storrs, Connecticut, 1959.
2John W. Draper, The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience
(Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1950), p. 250.
But, if love were the theme, would not at least one of
these courtships, as in Much Ado, follow normal Eliza-
bethan convention? But in each case, the girl, unaided
and unadvised, chooses the man, an unusual procedurein
actual Elizabethan life. In Twelfth Night neither father
nor brother nor next of kin bestows the hand of Viola,
Maria, or Olivia.1
Draper's assumed premise--that a play of love is a play involving
conventional courtship--is disputable. Furthermore, Viola, the romantic
heroine in the love chases, does not "unaided . choose the man." The
quality of her constant, passive and altruistic love to the Duke, only
indirectly revealed, is in sharp contrast to the ill-founded, overly
verbal and assertive passion of Olivia for her lover.
Emphasizing the realistic problem of attaining social security,
Draper also tones down the "poetic cast" and the "etherial" atmosphere
of the play.2 Illyria is tied down to the "then and there" as closely
as Draper can tie it,but the very attempt to give the setting and ac-
tion of the play a temporal and topical framework helps to accentuate
the illusiveness and "what-you-will" atmosphere permeating Twelfth
Leslie Hotson's study, The First Night of Twelfth Night, con-
structs a possible first performance of the play and suggests several
topical allusions. Hotson vividly pieces together what he concludes to
be the scene of this first performance, depending largely upon actual
Ibid., pp. 247-248.
21bid., p. 214.
accounts of the Twelfth Night festivities for his re-creation. How-
ever to explain the play topically--even if we were to grant Hotson
success in his attempt--does not do full justice to its meaning. The
perennial success of Twelfth Night has obviously been dependent not
upon occasional allusions but upon basic structures of universal oc-
currence, common to human experience apart from conditions of time and
place. These basic structures are those of misidentity and misunder-
standing, which account for all the complication of the play.
False love and true love, delusion and disguise, inconstancy
and constancy dominate the play and impose a sense of structure upon
the variety of incidents making up Twelfth Night. The play is typi-
cal of Shakespeare comedy in the respect that it is about love. The
unity of the play, however, does not--indeed, cannot--reside merely
in this interest, however central it is: love here is subsumed into
the larger design and becomes only the most conspicuous expression
of the delusion-reality theme. The play's concern with ways of look-
ing at love is part of the pervasive preoccupation with false appear-
ances and false ideas.
Disguise in Twelfth Night has a metaphorical function in the
characterization of Viola and in the over-all structure of the play;
1With a viewpoint similar to my own Joseph H. Summers' "The
Masks of Twelfth Night," The University of Kansas City Review, II
(Autumn, 1955), 25-32, is concerned with the extensive mask-like quality
of various poses assumed by the characters. That is, they have "masks."
We laugh at those who don't see the mask they have assumed. Characters
are explicated in terms of their poses; Malvolio and Sir Andrew, for ex-
ample, "fail to perceive the comic gaps between themselves and their