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Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama

Farah Karim-Cooper

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This original study examines how the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries dramatise the cultural preoccupation with cosmetics. Farah Karim-Cooper analyses contemporary tracts that address the then-contentious issue of cosmetic practice and identifies a 'culture of cosmetics', which finds its visual identity on the Renaissance stage. She also examines cosmetic recipes and their relationship to drama as well as to the construction of early modern identities.

Key Features

  • The only in-depth study of cosmetic culture and its visual representation on the Renaissance stage
  • Provides original views of Shakespearean and Renaissance drama by examining its preoccupation with cosmetic ingredients, metaphors and the staging of painted beauty
  • offers insight into Renaissance women's cosmetic practice by uncovering a wide range of ingredients, methods and materials used in the construction of cosmetics
  • Includes numerous cosmetic recipes found in early modern printed books, never before published in a modern edition


List of Illustrations
Chapter 1: Defining Beauty in Renaissance Culture
I. 'Beauty's red and virtue's white': Treatises on Beauty
II. The Poetry of Love, Beauty and Courtship
III. Beauty in Pictures: Plays and Emblem Books
Chapter 2: Early Modern Cosmetic Culture
I. 'The Devil's craft': The Opposition to Cosmetics
II. 'She Shal Appeare to be the Age of Fifteene Yeares'
III. Painting the Queen
Chapter 3: Cosmetic Restoration in Jacobean Tragedy
I. 'The artificial shine': Painted Language
II. Cosmetic Revenge Tragedy
III. 'Dainty preserved flesh': Fetishising the Painted Body
IV. Catholic Ritual and Cosmetics
Chapter 4: John Webster and the Culture of Cosmetics
I. Beautified and Heroic: Webster's Painted Ladies
II. Rethinking Webster's Imagery
A. Cosmetics and Catholic Imagery
B. Cosmetics and Witchcraft
Chapter 5: Jonson's Cosmetic Ritual
I. 'Pieced Beauty': Cosmetics as Prosthetics
II. Constructing Gender in Jonsonian Comedy
III. Jonson and the Cosmetics Debate
Chapter 6: Cosmetics and Poetics in Shakespearean Comedy
I. Painting Players
II. Beautifying Poetic Drama
Chapter 7: 'Deceived with ornament': Shakespeare's Venice
I. Cosmetic Materials in The Merchant of Venice
II. Cosmetic Symbolism and Othello
Chapter 8: 'Flattering Unction': Cosmetics in Hamlet
I. Appearances and Realities: Painted Faces in Hamlet
II. Mousetraps
III. Cosmeticised bodies and the female interior
A. Inside Gertrude's Closet
B. Ophelia's Beautifying Craft

About the Author

Farah Karim-Cooper is the Globe Education Lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe and Visiting Research Fellow of King’s College, London. Her research interests lie generally in the field of Renaissance drama and culture, and specifically, in material culture.


"Provides a fascinating perspective on how early modern culture dealt with the growth and transformation of cosmetics into an 'industry' and offers exciting insight into how cosmetic textual imagery might have been interpreted in stage performance."

Tom Healy, University of Sussex

"Karim-Cooper's rich and suggestive interpretations of the plays that she takes in hand convincingly demonstrate the relevance of the period's cosmetic culture to theater and performance, and make this book required reading for critics and students of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage."

Comparative Drama