In Hamlet, Polonius tells Laertes, “Apparel oft proclaims the man.” That truth becomes doubly so when it comes to costuming a character for purposes of performance. The character I have chosen for this paper is Cleopatra, and more specifically, Elizabeth Taylor starring as the Egyptian queen in the1963 movie directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Before I focus on the queen’s attire, it is pertinent to spend a few lines on the cultural and historical significance of Cleopatra as the queen of Egypt. Because of the iconic significance of the role, it is crucial that the queen is dressed and bedecked in a lavish and visually opulent manner. Cleopatra stands for feminine grace and yet strong enough to command a country and, of course, Anthony. In Suzman’s words, “Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is the tragic story of a once-mighty hero obsessed by the Queen of Egypt, an obsession so fatal that it drags him to his doom” (Suzman 1). While this may be somewhat true, one must not forget that the story is about the queen rather than Anthony.
Cleopatra’s costume, as seen in the image, is extremely significant for the role Elizabeth Taylor plays. The make up as well as the royal attire brings about the characteristics of the queen in many ways. Her queenly nature is brought out by the unparalleled nature of her garb. Culturally significant is also the use of gold in her crown as well as he dress. Lamotte claims “[t]he main criticism of Costume Designers is that [they] take too much 'license,' that is, [they] alter what [they] know 'authentically' about some historical situation, character, or item of military equipage” (Lamotte 50). In this case, however, the costumer has played much attention to all the details of Liz Taylor’s costume, making it historically and factually accurate yet opulent enough for the big screen.
Gigantic film undertakings such as this are open to criticism on a global scale. De Gruyter states: “Robert Burgoyne argues that the “recent release of several spectacular films set in the ancient and medieval past” attests to the double voicing at issue in a monumental re-enactment of history on screen” (De Gruyter 218). One might say that Elizabeth Taylor’s low cut dress might be historically inaccurate; however, one cannot overlook the immediate regal as well as sexual appeal the dress and head gear evoke.
Also significant in Cleopatra’s costume are the lavish accessories and make up. The elongated eye lines and the alabaster skin adds much to the film and also to the queen’s exceeding sex-appeal as the story is one of passion, lust, and carnal pleasures among other things. Behind the vastly glamorous proportions of the dress and accessories is a woman whose eyes tell a trembling tale. That is, of course, entirely up to the actress and the director. The exuberant costume when coupled with the frailty of the queen does effectively trigger pathos.
An important task of the costumer is to collaborate with other members of the team ranging from actors and directors to dramaturgs and technicians. A gigantic project like Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra is never a single man’s genius but the collaborative efforts of hundreds, maybe even thousands. Wanger and Hyams state: “When I began writing this book with Joe Hyams, we studied the millions of words written about Cleopatra. Together we interviewed many of the people who worked in the film” (Wanger & Hyams 28). The interview process alone attests to the collaborative nature of the project and thereby brings out the complexity of the costumer’s task, which depends to a great extent on the aesthetic brilliance of multiple persons.
De Gruyter. "Monumental Cleopatra: Hollywood’s Epic Film as Historical Re-
imagination." Anglia 131.2 (2013): 218-35. Print.
La Motte, Richard. "Designing Costumes for the Historical Film." Cineaste 29.2 (2004): 50-54.
Suzman, Janet. "On Playing Cleopatra." Shakespeare in Southern Africa 25 (2013): 1-12. Web.
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Wanger, Walter, and Joe Hyams. "The Trials and Tribulations of an Epic Film." Saturday
Evening Post 1 June 1963: 28-63. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.