Costumes clarify the play.  Costumes act as exclamation points to emphasize characters and punctuate the narrative.  In costume characters are quickly identified.  Actions are dramatized, scenes embellished, and turning points accented.  Costumes turn teachers into directors, allowing them to emphasize what they consider important for student understanding.  Which characters in Romeo and Juliet should I costume?  What lines do I want my class to remember? 

Costumes produce strong visual images of time, style, and class.   Costumes provide information about play context.  Vivid clues about era, fashion, and society, they set the stage even before lines are spoken. 

Costumes get attention.  Costumes are engaging.  They spark both conversation and anticipation as initial flurry about appearance soon turns into speculation about performance.  With classroom eyes focused on costumes, students are more readily involved in play discussion. 

Costumes transform students.  In costume, students are able to step out of themselves and into their characters.  They become other people.  Risk-taking and embarrassment  are now acceptable because costumes symbolize entrance into an imaginary world where acting is expected.  Costumes shield students, freeing them to create personalities outside themselves. 

Costumes encourage expression.  Dressed as characters, students must make decisions  for their roles.  Interpretation becomes important.  What kind of voice should my character have?  Should I emphasize this word?  Should I gesture here?  Costumes encourage acting because they transport students beyond the printed text and into play performance.           


Costumes create expectations.  How will this student interpret the role?  How will the next person interpret the role?  How will I interpret the role?  What is expected of me as a witch?  Can I cackle?  Should I cackle?   Does my teacher expect this?  Do other students expect this?   What will their reaction be?   Costumes commit students to character portrayal and push them into role development.


Costumes give confidence. Costumes envelop students, enclosing them in the thoughts, feelings and voices of their characters.  Visual reminders that they are now other people, costumes help students play their roles by making them appear their roles.  If I look like Romeo, then I can be Romeo.  If I look like Lady Macbeth, then I can be Lady Macbeth. 

Excerpted from Costumes in the Classroom by Susan Day 

The Shakespeare Newsletter 

Summer 2002