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Title: Dressing the past : historical escapism' in the costume design of Herbert Beerbohm Tree productions at Her/His Majesty's Theatre, London, 1898-1912
Author: Edwards, Lydia Jenny
ISNI:       0000 0004 2717 254X
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis investigates historical interpretation in late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage costume, approached through a study of Herbert Beerbohm Tree's (1852- 1917) productions. The concept of 'Historical Escapism', an idea developed by the author, will be put forward as an alternative to the more commonly used 'Historical Realism' as a more suitable and all-encompassing phrase. Tree staged many historical eras and covered wildly varying themes, from Shakespearean tragedy to modem comedies. To a large extent the success of these plays depended upon the beauty of the 'stage tableaux' presented. At first glance, surviving stage photographs might seem to be perfectly straightforward representations of a given historical period. On closer inspection it becomes clear that they were, on the contrary, heavily influenced by the contemporary fashionable line-and overwhelmingly so in costume. It is in this respect that the idea of 'Historical Escapism' will be used as an academic theory. Whilst there is a wealth of information on Tree from a theatrical, performance and literary history point of view, practically no scholarly research has been undertaken from the perspective of the fashion and art historian. A practice-as-research technique will be employed here to definitively illustrate to what extent these costumes mirrored or influenced contemporary dress-and therefore how nineteenth and twentieth century practitioners referenced and re-imagined both their past and their own contemporaneousness. This thesis will look at four plays, one costume from each discussed in detail, coupled with an overview of the cultural climate into which the play was launched, and the implications of Tree's staging choices on the art and fashion of the period. Providing such an overview will lead us to a consideration of the reception of the costumes by the audience and press, with emphasis on whether the--often predicted- resurgence of historical fashions in mainstream and couture dress actually happened. Throughout, the question of how these influences were modified or exaggerated in the quest for Historical Realism, familiarity, extravagance and poignant nostalgia on the nineteenth and early twentieth century British stage will be discussed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available