This essay examines Catholic vestments on the English stage from the early Reformation through Shakespeare. The changing meaning, status, and usage of Catholic vestments, which crossed the boundary from sacred religious property to secular theatrical costume, enabled the diverse theatrical manipulation of the garments to build on and relieve contemporary social anxiety about Catholicism. This, in turn, demonstrates the self-contradictory attitudes of many early modern English subjects toward Catholicism, theatricality, and sexuality. The discussion begins with the vestiarian controversies caused by the radical Protestants’ stubborn resistance to state control over what to wear in Reformed churches. This controversy can be elucidated by a look at vestment rentals and sales before and after the Reformation. The economic value and cultural history of vestments as well as the related religious polemic played a crucial role in determining where vestments belonged physically and metaphorically. The discussion then focuses on several plays that stage vestments during and after the Reformation and explores what they reflected and represented. From the effort to keep Catholic vestments as the symbol of sacred authority to the strategic movement to reverse their meaning to secularized Catholic hypocrisy, struggles to control the meaning invested in the liturgical Catholic vestments were represented, embodied, and enacted in early modern theater history as well as in the plays staged in the period.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 282-305
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.