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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

Chapter 16 - Painted Cloths and the Making of Whitehall’s Playing Space, 1611/1612

from Part IV - The Material Conditions of Performances at Court


Rebecca Olson describes the use of painted cloths in the 1611/12 court season, which included The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. Highly portable and useful for creating smaller spaces within chambers, textiles were regular fixtures at both Whitehall and contemporary playhouses. But the actual textiles used at court, including painted cloths, would have been different from those hanging in playhouses: whereas costumes were provided by acting companies, and were therefore likely to have been those used in London, the hangings used at court were procured by the Revels Office. Olson provides an overview of what is known about the period’s once-ubiquitous painted cloths to describe how they would have set the scene for high-stakes performances of some of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. Once dismissed as 'poor man’s tapestry', it appears that painted cloths were in fact preferred in certain dramatic situations, even when more luxurious materials were available. They consequently provide us with a lens through which to reconsider not only what the courtly theatre looked like, but also the degree to which its aesthetic relied on a deliberate blurring of quotidian and elite forms.