Category Archives: Creating ‘The Noble Fool’

An unusual setting for a touchstone

Deciding how to set the touchstone was a major design decision. In ‘As You Like It’ Touchstone is most comfortable in Court, the Forest of Arden is his unusual setting. But how was I to show that in jewellery?

I wanted to ‘set’ a touchstone in my piece and it was important to set it in a way that reflected the character of Touchstone in the play. Whilst other characters change in the play, Touchstone never fully embraces life in the Forest of Arden and I therefore decided to retain the stone’s original functionality.

So I created a precious metal testing kit: A silver box pendant with a swivel hinge opening that holds a fragment of a real touchstone, which can be removed and used with the Touchflower pendant to test precious metals.

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

Many of the fools I looked at in past productions of the play wore the traditional ‘motley’ patchwork of a Court Fool. This ‘harlequin’ patchwork inspired the diamond shape of the box. The fretwork pattern common to both pieces was inspired by the embroidery on the costume worn by Touchstone in the RSC’s 2000 production. The fretwork lines around the edge of the front and back of the box were inspired by the marks made on real touchstones during testing.

David Tennant's Touchstone costume from the RSC's 1996 production of 'As You Like It'

David Tennant’s Touchstone costume from the RSC’s 1996 production of ‘As You Like It’

Sketchbook work on the fretwork pattern using swatches of fabric from Touchstone's court costume in the RSC's 2000 production of 'As You Like it'

Sketchbook work on the fretwork pattern using swatches of fabric from Touchstone’s court costume in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘As You Like it’

The Touchflower was inspired by historical images of decorative touch needles, its shape being reminiscent of a flower that appears in an Elizabethan tapestry depicting a forest scene. The tapestry was inspiration for the RSC production that I researched for this piece. Each petal of the flower acts as a touch needle for a known alloy: 925 sterling silver, 9ct, 14ct, 18ct and 22ct gold.

Sketchbook work - looking at flower shapes in an Elizabethan tapestry that features on the front cover of the programme for the RSC's 2000 production of 'As You Like it'

Sketchbook work – looking at flower shapes in an Elizabethan tapestry that features on the front cover of the programme for the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘As You Like it’

The Touchflower

The Touchflower

As a set, the Touchflower represents the Forest of Arden and the box pendant represents Touchstone trapped in his Court persona. He is able to step outside his ‘box’ on occasion to enjoy the freedom of the Forest, but he always returns to the comfort of what he knows.

The quote that appears on the back of the box – “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (Act V, sc i) – is to me both a good illustration of Touchstone’s character in the play and a great reflection of the actual role a touchstone plays in the identification of counterfeit or sub-standard precious metals.

The back of the box and touch flower

The back of the box and touch flower

Please note: Although I have taken inspiration from its productions and costumes, the Royal Shakespeare Company has not endorsed my jewellery collection or had any direct involvement in this project. I would like to thank the RSC for granting me permission to use images obtained during research as part of this blog. 

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Acting the Fool – the Goldsmith’s Apprentice

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Statue of Touchstone Henley Street, Stratford Upon Avon

The other area of research for ‘The Noble Fool’ was touchstones.

I had been keen to look at the character of Touchstone, the fool in the play, and early in my research, I discovered that Shakespeare wrote the character for a new member of his company called Robert Armin, who had originally been an Apprentice Goldsmith.

This link was really exciting for me: Imagine, my first major piece of research into a Shakespeare play to create jewellery and I stumble across a Goldsmith who inspired one of my favourite characters!

Touchstones, usually slabs of black stone or slate, have been used by the Assay Office for more than 700 years to test precious metals. A streak would be made by the gold or silver to be assayed (tested) and then it was compared with streaks made by touch-needles or strips of gold or silver of known quality.

Through my research, I found out that this link was used by Shakespeare quite explicitly in the creation of his character. Touchstone always ‘tells it like it is’ in the play – he is the measure of all things, exposing counterfeit and falsehood, in the same way that a touchstone is the method used by Goldsmiths to test metals, identifying counterfeits.

I decided that I wanted to include a real touchstone in my piece and so my next task was to work out how to set it…

The picture is of a touchstone that is used every day by the samplers at the Assay Office. The pattern created by their scratching and acid tests looks like patchwork and gave me inspiration for my final design.

The picture is of a touchstone that is used every day by the samplers at the Assay Office. The pattern created by their scratching and acid tests looks like patchwork and gave me inspiration for my final design.

 

Forming attachments

The Noble Fool was my final piece for my three-year jewellery design course. My starting point, once I’d chosen As You Like It for my focus, was to look at Elizabethan costume fabrics and patterns and the fastenings used. Alongside my more academic studies of the play, I wanted some visual inspiration for my design work and initial research suggested that period-style costume would give me plenty.

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A page from my sketchbook – after my initial visit to the RSC Collections Warehouse in Stratford Upon Avon

I had decided to look particularly at hook-and-eye fastenings, lacing and corsetry, since these offered interesting design options. I was not short of examples to look at, but was a little surprised to find a prevalence of velcro being used – not particularly Elizabethan obviously, but as it turned out, far more convenient when performing a quick costume change in the Wings before going back onstage.

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Hook-and-eye fastenings. M. Le Beau, As You Like It, RSC 2000

It was, in fact, the incredible black-and-white costume of Monsieur Le Beau that inspired my research into the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the play in 2000, designed by Kaffe Fassett and Niki Turner.

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Initial work on patterns using the M. Le Beau costume, As You Like It, RSC 2000

Not only did this production inspire my final design, but the time spent at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust looking at production photos, production records and Costume Bibles, cemented a new and happy, but quite unexpected relationship between Shakespeare’s plays in performance and the jewellery design process.

Please note: All costumes owned and courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company Collection. Although I have taken inspiration from its productions and costumes, the RSC has not endorsed my jewellery collection or had any direct involvement in this project. I would like to thank the RSC for granting me permission to use images obtained during research as part of this blog. 

Into the unknown – research begins

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

When I began my research for ‘The Noble Fool’, I chose As You Like It because it was one of my favourite plays. It’s a play I have been in twice and seen on stage five times (three of which were at the Royal Shakespeare Company).  It’s a popular play, with interesting characters and settings and a richness of themes.  I have never seen it staged the same way twice and it lends itself to a variety of interpretations.

Starting out, I was particularly interested in the character of Touchstone, the fool; the character of Rosalind who disguises herself as a man for the majority of the play; the contrast between the beginning of the play in court and the remainder of the play which takes place in the Forest of Arden; Orlando’s love for Rosalind; and his idea to pin poetry to the trees in the Forest.

It’s amazing to look back now at my starting point, the beginning of a journey that took me more than four months to complete. In design, where you start is very rarely an indication of where you will end up and I could never have envisaged my final piece when I set out on this project.

The thing that excites me most though, is that I can revisit my starting point again and again and never end up with the same result. So now that ‘The Noble Fool’ is finished, the question is, where shall I go next with this play?

Currently, I have no answer, but if I do, I’ll let you know…