If it has not yet come to your attention, I’ve developed a mild obsession with the word ‘arras’. I don’t mean the town in France, or the WordPress theme, or the Belgian cyclist, but that thing Polonius hides behind right before Hamlet stabs him.
I don’t know what it is exactly that amuses me so. It’s just a big bit of cloth, basically. To be fair, the arras is quite versatile. You can hang it up, you can throw it on the floor, I presume you can drape it over things but I’d have to check with the Early Modern scholars of my acquaintance to confirm.
I’ve been reading a lot of Early Modern plays recently and based on this Serious Historical Evidence as far as I can tell the Early Modern period was basically one long game of hide-and-seek where everyone’s favourite hiding place was behind the arras. Polonius, of course, does so with rather unfortunate consequences. One of Don John’s minions in Much Ado About Nothing reports that he overheard Don Pedro’s plan to woo Hero for Claudio whilst concealed behind an arras. Falstaff suggests hiding behind an arras. And that’s before we even branch out from Shakespeare.
Now, Christopher Marlowe: there’s a man who loves an arras. I recently wended my way through Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, Edward II and The Jew of Malta and I’m pretty sure there’s an arras in every one of them.
You’d think, based on all the hijinks that happened in the Early Modern period because somebody overheard something whilst concealed behind an arras, that people would learn not to tell secrets when standing by an arras. In fact, probably best just not to talk at all. You see an arras, you stay silent. That would be a good policy for Early Modern peoples. But no, everybody goes blabbing their deepest darkest “oh, she said THAT? Well, I NEVER!”-type secrets all up by the arras. It’s almost like they wanted to create some kind of compelling drama, or something.
With those thoughts I shall leave you. If you need me, I’ll be behind the nearest arras.