The Symbolism of Gloves in the 17th Century, By Deborah Swift
" In the 16th and 17th centuries so much etiquette developed around them that men’s gloves in particular grew wider and more decorative as they were so often carried rather than worn. It was taboo to offer to shake a hand wearing gloves, or to accept a gift in a glove. Nor was it acceptable to remove them with the teeth. Approaching an altar in Church, men had to remove their gloves, and the right glove had to be removed when coming into the presence of a social superior as a mark of respect. The keeping on of your gloves indicated that you retained power by declining physical contact, whereas the removal meant you deferred to a higher position....
"From the symbolic use of gloves the custom grew up of presenting them to people of distinction on special occasions. The wardrobe accounts for Charles I record the making of more than 1,000 pairs of gloves during a three-year period."
Not all men carried or wore stylish gloves in the 17th Century. Gentlemen wore or carried gloves.
E.g. in 1667 -- having risen in the world -- Samuel Pepys Esqr: (so John Evelyn has addressed him in letters) remarks concerning a fellow-vocalist that "[Benjamin] Wallington...did sing a most excellent bass, and yet a poor fellow, a working goldsmith, that goes without gloves to his hands [i.e. in readiness]. http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1…
Gloves in the 17th century were indeed a feature of both women and men of the the higher classes
(See *The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England*, By Holly Dugan. Chapter Five: Oiled in Ambergris: Ambergris, Gloves, London's Luxury Market
Shakespeare was a glover's son, and therefore fluently spoke the language of gloves. In Elizabethan-Jacobean England gloves had meanings hard to understand today. It was a luxury item, replete with status and complex symbolic meanings, and were highly regarded gifts.
Gloves were a customary New Year's gift, sometimes being substituted for by "glove-money". And gloves were the traditional gift of suitors to their betrothed.
In ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ Hero mentions, "these gloves, the count sent me, they are an excellent perfume" (III. iv.).
The glove signified a deep reciprocal bond between giver and receiver in many situations.
The Clown, in ‘The Winter's Tale,’ remarks, "If I were not in love with Mopsa, thou shouldst take no money of me; but being enthralled as I am, it will also be the bondage of certain ribbons and gloves" (IV. iv.).
In ‘Henry V’ the King exchanges gloves with the lowly soldier, Williams (IV. i.).
An example of swearing on a glove is in The Merry Wives of Windsor (I.i.) when Slender swears to Falstaff "by these gloves" that Pistol had picked his purse.
But it’s ‘Love's Labour's Lost’ that has kept Shakespeare buffs frustrated for decades. It is his most teasing play, hinting at hidden meanings. Plus it appears to be the only play whose plot he composed himself. The basic situation is explained in Ferdinand, King of Navarre’s first speech:
"Our late edict shall strongly stand in force:
Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
Our court shall be a little academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.
You three, Berowne, Dumain, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years' term to live with me,
My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes
That are recorded in this schedule here:
Your oaths are pass'd; and now subscribe your names,
That his own hand may strike his honour down
That violates the smallest branch herein:" (I. i. 11-21).
Despite the scholars pledging to 3 years of celibacy, some visiting ladies led by the Princess of France subvert their resolutions by winning their hearts. The references flash by in a constantly jesting manner, but gloves only appear in the final scene -- twice:
Princess: "But, Katherine, what was sent to you from fair Dumain?"
Katherine: "Madame, this glove."
Princess: "Did he not send you twain?"
Katherine: "Yes, Madam; and moreover,
Some thousand verses of a faithful lover;" (47-50).
This is plain: the suitor Dumain has sent a pair of gloves, which Katharine has accepted.
More complex is the case of the love-stricken Berowne, who proclaims:
"and I here protest,
By this white glove (how white the hand, God knows),
Henceforth my wooing mind shall be express'd
In russet yeas and honest kersey noes." (410-13)
PART 2 -- Shakespeare's language of gloves:
It probably would have been unthinkable for a lady to send Berowne a pair of gloves, but what was the function of the one white glove? In the next line he swears to Rosaline, "My love to thee is sound, sans crack or flaw."
The point is his swearing an oath of love on a white glove that the audience of the time would assume to have been received within the circle of his fraternity. They would automatically relate it to an initiation ceremony.
In saying, "how white the hand, God knows", Berowne is confessing that he has put in jeopardy his virtue by breaking his oath of initiation. But there is a double irony, for what is the value of a love pledge made upon such a glove?
An authority on the relationship of hands to oaths, Thomas Dekker explains it best in his play Satiro-Mastix… of 1602 when he has Sir Walter Terill say,
"An oath! why 'tis the traffic of the soul,
'Tis law within a man; the seal of faith,
The lord of every conscience; unto whom
We set our thoughts like hands: …" (V.i.)
Berowne's glove problem hints at Ferdinand, King of Navarre's "little academe" being a masonic lodge, and this raises fascinating possibilities.
Was Shakespeare a Freemason? Gloves indicate he may have been.
In contrast to the ample surviving records of Scottish freemasonry, little has survived about the English masonic tradition before 18th century. The Masonic historian, James Anderson says in his 1738 ‘The New Book of Constitutions’ p. 105: "… many of the Fraternity's Records of this [Charles II's] and former Reigns were lost in the next [James II's] and at the Revolution ; and many of them were too hastily burnt in our Time from a Fear of making Discoveries …"
For more information on the Impact of Freemasonry on Elizabethan Literature see http://www.levity.com/alchemy/h_f…
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.