Master of Fine Arts
In order to design a costume for a period show, a costumer must unify the personality of the character in the appropriate historical style with the director's concept for the production. My study endeavors to aid the costumer in search of the historical clothes of the Medieval and Renaissance court Fool. Lack of time to do extensive research often imposes limitations on a designer's creativity. Through extensive research. into Medieval and Renaissance art, with the aid of Robert Armin's jest book, and descriptions of the household accounts of the period, I have compiled a document that will save a harried designer time and leg work.
There are several books available on the personality of the court Fool as presented in drama, and studies are available about the history of the court Fool. However, no one, to my knowledge, has collected and presented a study solely dedicated to the clothes of the court Fool. Costume book authors either ignore the Fool or present only one illustration. Many of the most interesting illustrations are in books printed in the 1800's; and, therefore, they are not available to most researchers. Als·o several of the books are written in French; and, therefore, they must be translated before the text can become valuable to most American designers. Some writers have concentrated on various special characters such. as servants or royalty; other writers have specialized in costume piece.s or special periods of clothing.
The plan followed in this study was first to carefully view the art of the Medieval and Renaissance courts. I studied paintings and etchings and searched for the court Fool in the background. Then I would sketch or xerox the Fool and isolate him from the rest of the picture. His clothing was analyzed by breaking it down into four categories: hood, bauble, coat, shoes. Note was taken of any other accessories such as swords or jewelry. The Fool's wardrobe is distinguished by several recurring traits. To be included in this study, traditional Fool's clothing must have ass's ears, bells, cockscomb, or some type of a tail. The Fool may carry one of several types of baubles or marottes. The basic garment may be either a tunic of varying length or a body suit. The shoes may be long and pointed, or they may reflect the contemporary fashion.
My second approach was to read source books containing documents pertaining to the household accounts of the period and literature providing references to the court Fools. From these. I gleaned such. information as money allotted for the Fool's clothes, descriptions of the clothing, insights into the social position of the Fool, and the function of the court Fool in the noble household.
In order to provide a study encompassing all the design possibilities, my third approach. was to scour costume books, assembling a series of costumes that prominent costume writers advocated for the court Fool. I included secondary sources because my purpose was to compile a document containing all the costume possibilities available for a designer. The secondary sources provided adaptations of the historical garments and stylized designs based on the writer's historical research.
Since there are. numerous fool characters in the plays of Shakespeare, children's· drama, and musicals like Once Upon A Mattress, my goal is to fill a void by providing a fingertip reference for a costume designer. My hope is that with the aid of the study a costume designer can quickly scan the various costume possibilities. Therefore, a designer could create designs for the court Fool of greater variety that would combine the personality of the character and the director's vision.
© The Author
Is Part Of
VCU University Archives
Is Part Of
VCU Theses and Dissertations
Date of Submission