Theatre costume

1893 (made)


[pallium] Length: 101 cm Lappett, including fringe

S.2752:1, 2-2010 T&P

Theatrical ensemble of tonsured wig and archiepiscopal pallium, worn by Henry Irving as Becket, 1893.

[wig] Tonsured wig with fringe of grey/brown hair. Paper mache base painted flesh colour with a waxed interior. A fringe of human hair has been attached to the bottom edge. [pallium] Archiepiscopal pallium of white fur, with attached crosses. The pallium is a narrow band with a loop in the centre resting on the shoulders over a chasuble; two dependent lappets, before and behind, so from the front and back it looks like a Y. White fur, possibly rabbit, appliqued crosses have now faded to white but appear to have originally been deep purple. The end of each lappet is trimmed with a gold fringe. Lined with gold coloured ribbed silk.

This tonsured wig and pallium, or mantle, were worn by Henry Irving (1838-1905) in 1893, in the title role of Becket by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). The events of the play focus on the historical figure of Thomas Becket (1118-1170) during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended with his murder. Becket is traditionally depicted with a tonsured scalp, where the hair is partially cut away as a symbol by a religious person of their renunciation of worldly things. The success of Irving's production led him to keep it in his repertory of plays, and it was the last role he performed before his death. His last words on stage were those of the dying Becket, saying "Into thy hands, O Lord, into thy hands". Later that evening Irving collapsed and died in the entrance hall of the Midland Hotel in Bradford. 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.

[pallium] Museum of London note: 'This was previously labelled as 56.4/40d [S.2753:4-2010] - logically as 56.4/40 includes the chasuble - but it has been decided to follow Holmes who groups it with the wig in 56.4/39 [S.2752-2010].'

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website