Costume recommendations for Hamlet


James Robinson Planché, playwright and theatre producer, was the first professional to introduce carefully researched, historically accurate stage costumes to the theatre. During the 1820s Planché primarily worked for the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, under the management of Charles Kemble, who shared his enthusiasm. 

This work, shown here, displays Planché’s designs for a proposed production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. It dates from 1825 and contains lithographed figures, short descriptions, and details of original source materials. The King of Denmark’s costume, for example, is primarily scarlet because this was ‘the colour originally worn by the kings, queens, and prices of Denmark, [as] appears from several old Danish ballads’. 

Costume of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Hamlet is part of a wider series that features other Shakespeare plays Planché worked on. By publishing his designs, Planché hoped to influence British theatre practice and also, perhaps, the expectations of theatregoers. 

The prints

Each costumed figure is a hand-coloured lithograph created by George Johann Sharf, Bavarian-born draughtsman and lithographer. During the early 19th century Sharf was one of a few London-based artist-lithographers.  

Lithography originated in 18th century Germany. It is a printing technique closest to drawing directly onto paper and allows the artist a high degree of predictability. A lithograph is made by drawing a mirror-reversed image onto a smooth piece of limestone with greasy wax crayons, or a similarly composed liquid solution, after which water and then a greasy ink are applied. As water naturally repels grease, the ink only transfers onto the waxed drawing. To add definition, the wax can be built up to different degrees. The image can then be printed onto paper. Unlike other printing techniques, lithography uses a chemical reaction rather than creating a physical relief through carving or etching.

Full title:
Costume of Shakespeare's ... King John (King Henry the Fourth-As you Like it-Hamlet-Othello, and Merchant of Venice) selected ... from the best authorities ... with biographical, critical and explanatory notices, by J. R. Planche´.
1823-25, London
Book / Illustration / Image
J R Planché, J K Meadows, G Scharf [illustrator]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Related articles

Hamlet: the play within the play

Article by:
Gillian Woods
Tragedies, Deception, drama and misunderstanding

From The Murder of Gonzago to Hamlet's pretence of madness, Hamlet is a work obsessed with acting and deception. Gillian Woods explores how the play unsettles distinctions between performance and reality and how it thus exposes the mechanisms of theatre.

Theatre in the 19th century

Article by:
Jacky Bratton
Popular culture

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were only two main theatres in London. Emeritus Professor Jacky Bratton traces the development of theatre throughout the century, exploring the proliferation of venues, forms and writers.

Character analysis: Gertrude in Hamlet

Article by:
Tamara Tubb
Tragedies, Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage

Focussing on key quotations and theatrical interpretations, Tamara Tubb explores the character of Gertrude in Hamlet and her role within the play.

Related collection items