Importance of Costumes in As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Henry IV, Part One

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Importance of Costumes in As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Henry IV, Part One

The Jewish holiday Purim celebrates the rescue of the ancient Jews of Persia from certain destruction at the hands of Haman. The fair queen Ester tricks the villain, and Haman betrays himself before the king. Each year the story is read aloud amidst great celebration. The children, and even the adults, dress up as their favorite character in the story. Each time Haman’s name is uttered, everyone makes as much noise as they can to blot out his evil name. According to Jewish tradition, the adults should become so intoxicated on Purim that they can not distinguish Haman from the heroes, Mordechai and Ester. (This is one of the few times that overindulging of this sort is condoned.)

On the eve of Purim Jews dress up as part of the holiday celebration. Being in costume gives a certain freedom of action because one is not “himself.” This same freedom prevails in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Rosalind dresses up as the male character Ganymede. Hidden behind the costume of Ganymede, she speaks freely with Orlando as she would not be able to in her female role, and Orlando loses his shyness and lack of words. Similarly in Henry IV, Part One Falstaff and Prince Henry play the part of the king. They are putting on a mini-play within a play and are filling roles that are not their own.

In order to enter the holiday spirit, people must leave their everyday selves and put on a costume. In the modern world, people have their working and studying attitudes and their free-time costume. The costume may not be literal, although it could be in the case of a costume party, but these attitudes are easily put on and taken off to fit the occasion. Prince Henry, after a discussion with Poins about the great jest they will play on Falstaff, changes his speech pattern from prose to blank verse. Hal speaks to himself about when he will eventually become a serious man and “when this loose behavior I throw off/And pay the debt I never promised” (I.ii.205-6). He very easily switches from the free pattern of prose to the more serious blank verse.

Ester's tricking Haman was more serious than a mere practical joke.

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