A peerless playwright needs pants.
I use pants in the North of England and American sense. Trousers, specifically, not underwear.
The first statue of Shakespeare – his funerary monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon – has no pants at all. Sculptor Gerard Johnson simply opted to cease Shakespeare at the hips. I am not sure how Shakespeare would have felt about this. My guess is, not good.
As Shakespeare became more acclaimed and beloved by writers, and people with lots of money, he was finally accorded pants in Westminster Abbey, though William Kent, the designer of the 1740 monument commissionsed by Alexander Pope, Lord Burlington and a gaggle of other prominent admirers, chose simple, long breeches.
And now we must begin to speculate about the type of dresser Shakespeare was. Was he a fashion conscious chap? Because if he was, the evidence points to a very different set of pants to Kent’s interpretation.
Elizabethans were very proud of their linings. So much so that if there was silk or something sumptuous underneath, they would slash the top layer and pull out the stuff underneath to show it off.
Acclaimed actor David Garrick, whose famous representations of Shakespeare reside at London’s Garrick Club and in his Thameside Temple, chickened out of confronting the whole fashion question. He opted for a bust. Thomas Banks took the breeches route for his Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall in the 1790s.
No: leave it to New York to accord the Bard a firm fashion sense.
Readers yesterday evinced surprise that Robert Burns resides winsomely in Central Park. He does. In fact there’s a small writer’s commune in bronze if you stroll the right way through Central Park. And the Bard himself stands watching passers-by.
Three hundred years after his death in 1564, the New Yorkers decided it was time to put the record straight. They held a charity performance of Julius Caesar, and raised the cash for John Quincy Adams Ward to fashion some decent pants.
We wandered off the street into Central Park, Englishmen in New York. Is it wrong to be drawn inexorably to Shakespeare’s pants? They were absorbing. Every detail the height of Elizabethan fashion. Never have I seen such pants. England, Shakespeare’s birthplace, couldn’t touch them.
They are magnificent, and I feel sure that whatever he wore, Shakespeare would be proud indeed of them.