By Lorraine Frueh
Molière's plays have been put on since the 1600s, and they continue to be performed today. One of the most important aspects when performing a play is the actor’s costume. It illustrates the character's attributes and makes a scene feel more realistic. But how have the costumes in Molière’s plays changed over the centuries they have been performed?
During the 1600s, fashion was grander and certainly more elaborate than that of today. Men would wear linen shirts with collars shaped with wire in order to make them stick out straight. Loose breeches were worn to just below the knee, and tight-fitting panty hose were worn to the knee. Coifs and capes were in style, as well as long hair and a pointed beard. Women wore high collars, and their gowns had a shorter bodice than those of previous centuries. Corsets were worn over the bodices, and skirts were also shorter, although only slightly. Wigs were popular as headwear, as well as lace scarves over the hair. As these were in fashion when Molière’s plays were originally performed, we can infer that these were the kind of costumes worn by the actors on stage during the plays. Certain costumes may have been made to imitate certain famous people, such as royalty. However, little record remains of the exact costumes used in Molière’s original performances.
As for modern performances, costumes often vary. For movies made based off of Molière’s plays, most directors choose to portray their actors in the dress of the play’s original time. Some professional stage productions also choose this approach. However, others choose to have the actors perform in modern clothes. This gives the play a timely feeling, and allows the audience to relate more to the play’s values. Ultimately, the type of costumes worn by the actors is the director's choice, and there are many variables that go into that choice.
While costumes are a very important visual in movies and plays, they are not the most vital aspect of these performances. The works of Molière have lived on through the centuries because of the universal messages portrayed throughout his plays. The costumes in his works are only another way to show these messages, as well as allow the audience to truly connect with the characters they see on the stage or on the screen.