An Inventory of Theatrical Apparel (c. 1601/2) - MSS 1, Article 30

MSS 1, Article 30 (MSS-1/Article-030/01r)

S. P. Cerasano

MSS 1, Article 30 was termed an ‘inventory of theatrical apparel’ by W. W. Greg, but that is simply a complex way of characterizing this list of clothing items in the handwriting of Edward Alleyn. The manuscript is undated, and in the head note to his transcription of it in The Henslowe Papers (1907) Greg also mistakenly thought that the manuscript belonged to the period between 1590 and 1600. Contrary to this conclusion, it does not seem to have been related to another familiar ‘inventory’—of apparel, properties, and playbooks—purportedly written by Philip Henslowe in March and April 1598. Edmund Malone claimed to have seen the original manuscript of Henslowe’s list, which is now lost; the only extant copy is the one produced by John Payne Collier.

In the manuscript illustrated here, Alleyn divided the page (consisting of a single sheet) into six columns in which he catalogued ‘Cloakes’, ‘Gownes’, ‘Antik sutes’, ‘Jerkings and Dublets’, ‘french[h]ose’, and ‘venetians’ (a kind of hose or breeches that were made to come below the garters). Altogether, some seventy-three items are listed, which would seem to be a modest collection given the large number of plays in the repertory of the Lord Admiral’s Men. However, costumes were the most expensive part of the budget for any stage production, and there is some evidence, from Henslowe’s Diary, that, in general, the acting companies only purchased a new costume for the lead actor in a production. Consequently, it would appear that other actors borrowed whatever clothing they could from the tiring house, with the result that apparel was used and reused as long as it was in reasonable condition.

Other telling and even perhaps surprising information can be gleaned from this manuscript list as well. For example, the colors of cloth in the descriptions (‘scarlett’, ‘purpell’, and ‘yelow’), the kinds of fabrics employed (‘damask’, ‘velvett’, ‘silk’, and ‘cloth of gould’), and even some decorations (‘gould butens’ and ‘spanngles’) remind us of the expense of the apparel. Also, some of the descriptions recall specific characters in the plays of the Admiral’s Men’s repertory: ‘faustus Jerkin his clok’ and ‘pryams hoes’. One particular player in the Admiral’s Men, Will Parr, seems to be mentioned by name in ‘A cloth of silver for parr ’. Also striking are the items for female characters (‘wemens gowns’) as well as several items designated specifically ‘for a boye’.

Although much of the apparel would have been worn by actors playing a variety of characters, and is therefore relatively undistinguished, three items in particular—‘hary ye viii gowne’, ‘a cardinalls gowne’, and ‘will somers cote’—might conceivably refer to the two parts of Cardinal Wolsey which were in production in 1601 and 1602. These annotations would suggest that scholars should date MSS 1, Article 30 to coincide with the production of Henry Chettle’s play. R. A. Foakes has hypothesized that perhaps the manuscript coincides with a slightly earlier date, when Alleyn returned to the stage to launch the opening of the Fortune Playhouse in the autumn of 1600.[1]

If MSS 1, Article 30 has become well known because of its interest for historians of early modern dress, it is perhaps equally well known for the interlinear forgeries in it by John Payne Collier. In three separate places Collier added the names of characters (‘Romeos’, ‘Pericles’, and ‘Leir’) to suggest that the costume list is relevant to Shakespeare’s plays and perhaps even that the list was produced during the summer of 1594 when the Lord Admiral’s Men and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men briefly performed together at Newington Butts. In another instance, Collier added ‘in Dido’ to suggest that ‘pryams hoes’ was somehow related to Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, despite the fact that Priam is deceased prior to the opening of the play. Also, Collier added two words (‘in Venus’) following ‘i blew damask cote the moro’, probably in an attempt to connect this entry to Shakespeare’s Othello, subtitled The Moor of Venice.

Regardless of Collier’s intrusions into Alleyn’s list, the manuscript, as with others in the Dulwich collection, provides significant evidence of the sizeable financial interest that Henslowe and Alleyn maintained in the Lord Admiral’s Men. Throughout the company’s history—which lasted over a decade—these men were the actors’ primary financiers, advancing literally hundreds of pounds of their own money to purchase playbooks and apparel, without which the acting company never could have succeeded. In preparing this list of apparel, Alleyn apparently intended to detail precisely which pieces of clothing the actors had in their possession. From Alleyn’s standpoint this was simply good business practice. Yet he might have had other motives in mind, possibly because Henslowe’s earlier list of apparel noted, right at the beginning, that ten items that were ‘Gone and loste’, including two particularly expensive items—‘Harey the fyftes dublet’ and ‘Harey the fyftes vell[v]et gowne’. Interestingly, there is less apparel in the 1598 inventory than in Alleyn’s later catalogue, but a few of the items are repeated, including ‘will somers cote’ which, if Collier was honest in making his transcription of the 1598 inventory, had been characterized by Henslowe as ‘Will. Sommers sewtte’.


1.Henslowe's Diary, ed. R. A. Foakes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. xliii) Back to context...