Research and costume designs for Gentylnes and Nobylyte, Scene B, performance video.
by Abigail Caywood, Designer
When our production team began discussions for the Gentylnes and Nobylyte videos, we decided that each one would have a different setting and time period in order to demonstrate the variety of ways in which the play could be performed. For Video #1, we chose to put the play in a modern setting filmed at the University of San Diego. For this reason, I began designing the costumes by first imagining who these characters would be in today’s world: who would the modern equivalents of Knights, Merchants, and Plowmen be? By giving myself a modern frame of reference for each of these character types, I could then proceed by imagining how each character would dress and which clothing details and colors would best support the story we were trying to tell.
For dramatic purposes, in the TPP’s Modern English performance text of Gentylnes and Nobylyte, the lone Knight became two knights: man and a woman. In the Tudor period, knights were among the high-ranking moneyed aristocracy. Knight #1 and Knight #2 argue that they are the most noble in society because they have inherited their titles and wealth from their great lineage. I imagined that in today’s world, their equivalents would be playboys and celebrity children, people who have come into the wealth and fame of their families and did not have to work in order to earn it. I wanted the knights to look stylish and wear expensive clothes, but to also have a relaxed air that emphasizes their carefree lifestyles. They are going out to party, not to work, and they dress accordingly. I looked at images of celebrity streetwear for inspiration, and I chose strong jewel tones for their color palette since they live bold, exuberant lifestyles. I particularly wanted both of them to have purple items of clothing, since purple has traditionally been reserved for the most wealthy and noble people in society.
The Merchants in Gentylnes and Nobylyte discuss how they rose to their self-proclaimed nobility through their own enterprise and hard work. They did not inherit their wealth, they earned it themselves and they are very proud of their achievements. It was clear to me that their modern-day counterparts are business magnates, people who worked their way up from nothing to wealth and now hold their own with those who inherited their wealth. So, I wanted to dress the Merchants in expensive business suits to highlight their money and authority, but their suits make it evident that they are spending the day at work while the leisure-class Knights are out partying. I gave the Merchants a more subdued color palette, and I particularly wanted both of them to have some blue items of clothing to emphasize that they originally come from a working-class (‘blue-collar’) background.
In Gentylnes and Nobylyte, the Plowman is a sort of collective character who represents the everyday, working-class people who work hard to keep society thriving but get little credit or attention for their labor. The Plowman is able to see how silly and pretentious all of the arguments are, and she asserts that neither the Knights nor the Merchants are truly gentle or noble. We decided that in today’s world, The Plowman would be would be a custodian, cleaner, or a janitor; she is someone who enters the room to perform her work while the Knights and Merchants are arguing, and none of them takes any notice of her until she joins in and speaks up. Since we were filming at the University of San Diego, we were inspired by the uniforms of the USD custodial staff and were able to borrow a uniform shirt. I paired the shirt with a simple pair of jeans and with sneakers in order to emphasize that The Plowman is grounded, practical, and does not value the flashy material goods worn by the knights and the merchants.
Music is a vital feature of Tudor drama, and in the earlier Tudor period musicians and minstrels in noble households and at Henry VIII’s court had the same social status as other domestic retainers. The TPP’s Modern English performance text of Gentylnes and Nobylyte calls for a musician to play in the transitions between scenes. I was inspired by folk artists, whose music is traditionally about storytelling and is associated with the everyday class of people like the Plowman. I looked at artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger for inspiration, and imagined the musician in a simple striped or plaid shirt, a vest, a pair of jeans and a flat cap. I chose an earthy color palette (olive greens, browns, tans and creams) to suggest that the musician is the voice of simple, practical people like the Plowman.