Disguise and Deception

 

Disguise and Deception

 

The importance of appearances in Elizabethan and Jacobean England

A Pedlar’s Trunk

Chest filled with Catholic vestments and liturgical objects. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College
 Neil MacGregor explores the world of Shakespeare and his audience through twenty objects from that turbulent period. Mondays to Fridays 1.45pm; 7.45pm on BBC Radio 4.

  • Chest filled with Catholic vestments and liturgical objects. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College Chest filled with Catholic vestments and liturgical objects. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College
  • A deep zoom of the trunk. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College A deep zoom of the trunk. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College
  • The chest is covered with pony skin. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College The chest is covered with pony skin. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College
1 of 3 : Chest filled with Catholic vestments and liturgical objects. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College Hide Caption Start  Slideshow.
 
Datec.1600-1630SizeH (closed):345mm, W:850mm, L:370mmMade inUnknownMade byUnknownMaterialWood, Pony skin, Paper, TextilesThere were all sorts of people travelling the roads in Shakespeare’s day. Many were just tramps or petty thieves but walking amongst them were some people known as ‘pedlars’.

Although they operated on the fringes of society, pedlars were welcome arrivals in the towns and villages of England (land?) because, at a time when a village shop was not common, they brought with them all manner of fine wares for sale. Pedlars also brought with them news, scandal and gossip from other villages…and once they had made their sales, they would be off to the next village for more of the same.

This particular pedlar’s trunk holds a secret that its owner certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be known to people in the street. For the owner of this trunk disguise wasn’t just a dramatic device used by actors on the stage, it was a matter of life or death.

Background

  • This chest is typical of a type used by pedlars (travelling salesmen) who sold threads, sewing materials and small household items
  • The contents of the trunk contain virtually everything necessary for a Catholic priect to perform Mass
  • Disguise in Shakespeare’s plays is a fairly light-hearted affair and is used frequently in his comedy plays
  • Perhaps the only disguise of any importance in the tragedies is Edgar’s role as Poor Tom in King Lear

This object is from Stonyhurst College

Watch a video of the Pedlar’s Trunk

British Museum Blog: The role of the pedlar by Margaret Spufford, historian

 

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