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Theatre costume

Theatre costume

  • Date:

    1892 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wool, cotton, metal, paste costume jewels.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Royal Shakespeare Company

  • Museum number:

    S.2741:1 to 6-2010

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Henry Irving (1838-1905) wore this costume in the title role of Act II of King Lear by William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Lear is one of the most important parts to play for any tragic actor of high standing. Irving had first discussed doing so in 1883 and eventually produced the play in 1892. Accounts of his performance vary, but many who saw the opening night felt he had badly misjudged the vocal interpretation, his voice being weak and often inaudible. Although he made adjustments to correct this, the dramatic criticism of the press was based on the first performance. Despite this, King Lear ran for 76 performances, an unprecedented achievement at the time for a play which was not popular with audiences on account of its gloomy and depressing themes.

Irving became a professional actor in 1856, and learned his trade in regional theatres until 1866, when he came to London. He joined the Lyceum Theatre company under the management of H. L. Bateman in 1871, winning great acclaim that year for his psychologically developed characterisation of the guilt-ridden inn-keeper Mathias in Leopold Lewis’s melodrama The Bells. He took on the responsibilities of ‘actor-manager’ in 1878 when he assumed the management of the Lyceum, and remained there until 1902, enjoying star status with his leading lady Ellen Terry (1847-1928). Irving produced a diverse range of old and new plays at the Lyceum, including Shakespeare, historical drama, and literary adaptations. His tireless work to elevate the status of the theatrical profession was rewarded in 1895 when he became the first actor ever to receive a knighthood for services to the Theatre.

Irving specialised in spectacularly staged productions with large casts of performers. He commissioned designers and composers to create appropriate scenery, costume and incidental music, played by a full orchestra. Although electric lighting was available from the 1880s, Irving preferred the softer effects of gas, with lime light to focus attention at key points in the play. Irving toured complete productions outside London, taking the full company, scenery and costumes throughout the United Kingdom and across the United States and Canada. The development of the railway system made his the first generation able to achieve this level of touring productions.

Physical description

Theatrical ensemble, hunting-dress, consisting of gown, tunic, mantle, phrygian cap and shoes, worn by Henry Irving as King Lear, 1892, Act II.


1892 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Wool, cotton, metal, paste costume jewels.


Length: 32 cm S.2741:5-2010, Width: 9 cm S.2741:5-2010, Height: 15.7 cm S.2741:5-2010, Weight: 0.35 kg S.2741:5-2010, Length: 32 cm S.2741:6-2010, Width: 9 cm S.2741:6-2010, Height: 15.5 cm S.2741:6-2010, Weight: 0.35 kg S.2741:6-2010, Weight: 5.1 kg S.2741:5-2010, S.2741:6-2010 with other objects and the box, Length: 32.5 cm S.2741:4-2010, Width: 18 cm S.2741:4-2010, Weight: 2.5 kg Part 4 with its box (other objects included), Length: 360 cm S.2741:3-2010, Width: 138 cm S.2741:3-2010, Weight: 12.6 kg S.2741:3-2010 and S.2742:3-2010 together with the box

Descriptive line

Theatrical ensemble, hunting-dress, consisting of gown, tunic, mantle, phrygian cap and shoes, worn by Henry Irving as King Lear, 1892, Act II.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Holmes, Martin. Stage Costumes and Accessories in the London Museum. London : HMSO, 1968. Catalogue entry 143.


Wool; Cotton; Metal; Paste


Embroidery; Stitched


Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes


Theatre and Performance Collection

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