Have a look at the coat of arms worn by Edwin Booth (1833–1893) in the title role of Shakespeare’s King Richard III. Notice something wrong?
Hint: The conventions Victorian aesthetics aren’t the same as the conventions of medieval heraldry.
Aesthetic rules call for heavier design elements below lighter ones (hence a pyramid of fleurs-de-lis) and bilateral symmetry (hence sets of lions facing each other). But compare the costume’s arms with the actual royal arms, seen here in a detail from a severely unflattering etching of Henry VIII:
And seen here in the upper right of the Sieve Portrait of Elizabeth I (on display in the Founders’ Room at the Folger):
And seen here on the “tails” side of an Elizabethan gold coin in the Folger collection:
The actual royal arms of Richard III, like those of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, have inverted pyramids of fleurs-de-lis and all lions facing to the viewer’s left.
Edwin Booth’s aesthetically balanced but heraldically off-kilter Richard III costume is on display at the Folger through January 12, 2014, in Here is a Play Fitted: Four centuries of staging Shakespeare, curated by Denise A. Walen.