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The Edinburgh Companion to Shakespeare and the Arts$

Mark Thornton Burnett and Adrian Streete

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780748635238

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748635238.001.0001

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Shakespeare and Early Modern Music

Shakespeare and Early Modern Music

(p.119) 7 Shakespeare and Early Modern Music
The Edinburgh Companion to Shakespeare and the Arts

Christopher R. Wilson

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter pursues an archaeology of emotions, situations and materials, pinpointing when songs were sung and how, in the plays. It determines the instruments used, and the meanings attached to them, that single out for comment vocal forms (the madrigal and the ayre), composers and genres and the part played by musical references in theatrical production. It addresses the relationship between the music and songs of Shakespeare's plays and early modern music and musical practice. The use of song as interjected distraction or entertainment is rare in Shakespeare. The physical sound of instruments in Shakespeare's theatre had two functions: one to accompany entrances and exits, the second to add symbolic significance. Shakespeare cites vocal and instrumental genres of contemporary music and dance; he employs performed music from both art and popular cultures as mimetic and non-mimetic kinds. Music for Shakespeare was an essential part of his dramatic and thematic material.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, early modern music, madrigal, ayre, composers, genres, musical practice, theatre

THIS ESSAY EXAMINES the relationship between the music and songs of Shakespeare's plays and early modern music and musical practice. Music for Shakespeare meant performed songs and instrumental cues, and musical terms used as symbolic reference and metaphor. Very little music survives that can be identified with a first or early production but dramatic context and descriptors usually provide sufficient information on the type of music required. In Twelfth Night, for example, we know that a catch is performed by Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste when Sir Toby asks: “Shall we rouse the night-owl in a catch that will draw three souls out of one weaver?” (2.3.53–5). The stage direction “catch” (2.3.64) indicates that the catch was actually sung. Shakespeare even gives clues in the text as to what catches might be appropriate: he cites “Hold thy peace, thou knave” for which two early sources and one contemporary variant survive (Duffin, 2004, 200–2). It is not possible to determine which was used nor is it essential. Too literal performances in modern productions sound stilted in any case. What is important is to know how Elizabethan catches were rendered and why. Whilst the term is found applied more loosely to other kinds of songs including rounds and canons, in its strict sense it has specific application. It is a short song, normally for three or four voices, which follow each other in imitation at the unison or octave. The catch is not a sophisticated art song; it is intended to sound spontaneous, indulgent and fun for the performers, not necessarily the listeners. It was the preserve of male society of various social groups. Its rendition was often crude and its words tended towards bawdy innuendo, detested by Puritans. Clearly, this specific kind is the one Shakespeare intended rather than the “round” which generally eschewed bawdy and the “canon” with its more sophisticated musical technique. Presumably, Shakespeare intends the same specificity of performance and context when Caliban in The Tempest asks Stefano “Will you troll the catch / You taught me but while-ere?” (3.2.112–13). As David Lindley contends, “the musical nature of the ‘catch’ … is symbolically appropriate for a conspiratorial combination [Stefano, Trinculo, Caliban]. The unaccompanied, proletarian song stands for that which opposes Prospero's harmonious purposes” (Lindley, 2002, 20).

The most prominent forms of vocal art music in England in the 1590s and early 1600s were the madrigal and the ayre. There are no performed madrigals in Shakespeare's plays and only one reference, in The Merry Wives of Windsor (3.1.14). The reason probably relates to the essential art music characteristic of the madrigal. The words are intended as a vehicle for musical representation and their collective sense, as a poem, is of secondary (p.120) importance. Madrigals were composed for three to six voices, the norm being five voices involving soprano, alto, tenor and bass pitches. Such a performative prerequisite would not be practicable on the Elizabethan stage. Moreover, madrigals were intended as domestic music for adult singers of reasonable accomplishment. Shakespeare's company contained at best one recognized adult singer and no females.

The ayre became established in England following the publication of John Dowland's The First Booke of Songes or Ayres … with Tablature for the Lute in 1597, although manuscript sources indicate that it was a separately identifiable genre in England from the 1560s. Ayres or lute songs were characterized by a melodic solo line for voice with instrumental (typically lute) accompaniment. Because of its texture, and because there is little repetition or melisma, the words of an ayre are more accessible to the listener than the performer-oriented madrigal, and therefore more suited to dramatic context. Consequently, a number of ayres are performed on-stage by various protagonists as part of the continuing action. In Much Ado About Nothing, a solo song or ayre, “Sigh no more, ladies” (2.3.56), prefigures the potential mix-up about to be enacted, as Benedick ironically observes immediately before the song: “Now, divine air! Now is his [Claudio's] soul ravished. Is it not strange that sheep's guts [i.e. lute or viol strings] should hale souls out of men's bodies? Well, a horn for my money, when all's done” (2.3.53–5). Balthasar's song urges the ladies to take their love-making less solemnly. The stage direction in the 1600 Quarto has “Enter prince, Leonato, Claudio, Musicke” (2.3.31) and six lines later, “Enter Balthaser [sic] with musicke” (2.3.37). In the First Folio, the second stage direction is omitted and the name “Iacke Wilson” is substituted for “Musicke”, suggesting the identity of an actor-singer who played the role sometime before 1623, although he is not included in the list of “Principall Actors” in the prefatory material in the First Folio. Several commentators (such as Long, 1955, 132; Sternfeld, 1967, 107; Lindley, 2006, 176) link Balthasar's song with a contemporary setting by Thomas Ford (c. 1580–1648) which survives only in manuscript (Oxford, Christ Church MSS 736–8). Whilst Ford published a collection of ayres and instrumental duets in 1607 (Musicke of Sundrie Kindes), his “Sigh no more, ladies” is in a post-1625 musical style and for three voices, not one as needed in the play. Moreover, Ford's text is significantly divergent.

Much closer to a pre-existent lute ayre is Sir Toby's allusion to Robert Jones' “Farewell dear love, since thou wilt needs be gone” in his The First Booke of Songes & Ayres (1600). Sir Toby and Feste between them render a version of Jones' ayre in dialogue form — a type not uncommon in contemporaneous publications of ayres — alternating lines with interspersed dialogue from Maria and Malvolio, and conflating stanza one and two with necessarily altered words to fit. Both this ayre and “Sigh no more” point up one side of Shakespeare's use of pre-existent song; his adaptation of suitable ayres from a variety of sources rather than writing new words himself.

In several instances in Shakespeare, and many in Elizabethan plays, the texts of (preexistent) songs are missing, either because of printing problems, commercial restrictions or, as Sternfeld (1967, 22) surmises, “where the text of a song was not given … any song would do”. “Blank” or “lost” songs are not always clearly identifiable. In Shakespeare there are at least six that can be located. At the beginning of Act 3 of Love's Labour's Lost, Armado urges his boy servant, Mote, to “Warble, child; make passionate my sense of hearing” (3.1.1). Mote's response, according to the text, is the seemingly meaningless “Concolinel” to which Armado remarks, “Sweet air”, that is “pleasing tune or song”. Clearly something (a song?) designated “Concolinel” has been sung. To date this has not (p.121) been identified.1 In 1 Henry IV, the stage direction “Here the lady sings a Welsh song” (3.1.240) is unequivocal, yet no text is given. Lost songs are alluded to in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pericles and Macbeth. Were it not for the 1623 Folio, the famous “Willow Song” in Othello (4.3) would also have been “lost”. The 1622 Quarto has the stage direction, “Desdemona sings” (4.3.38), but no text is given for the song after she has lamented, several lines earlier, that “My mother had a maid called Barbary … She had a song of willow … she died singing it” (4.3.25–9).

The use of song as interjected distraction or entertainment is rare in Shakespeare. In As You Like It, the ayre “It was a lover and his lass” (5.3.14) serves as a musical interlude. The dramatic flow pauses and the pages sing four stanzas of the ayre. A contemporary version survives in a unique copy of Thomas Morley's The First Booke Of Ayres, Or Little Short Songs (1600), now housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Apart from a few minor textual variants in stanzas one and four, the versions are the same. It is not clear whether Morley used Shakespeare's text or if Shakespeare conveniently incorporated Morley's ayre.2 But given Shakespeare's apparent practice elsewhere, it is likely that the latter was the case. The song is a typical strophic light ayre of the period. No indication is given on how the song was performed but with Morley's music there is scope for an imaginative rendition by the two pages.

Modern scholars contend that near contemporary settings of composed songs exist for two songs in The Tempest.3 A version for voice alone of “Full fathom five thy father lies” (1.2.400) in what seems a hybrid (lute) ayre and continuo song style (i.e. post 1620) survives in two later seventeenth-century sources (John Wilson, Cheerfull Ayres, 1659; Birmingham City Reference Library, MS 57316) ascribed to Robert Johnson (c. 1583– 1633). Robert Johnson was the son of the professional Elizabethan lutenist, John Johnson (d. 1594). From 1596 to 1603, he was a member of the household of George Carey, the Lord Chamberlain, and afterwards associated with the King's Men. There are no significant textual variants between the music sources and the folio. It is likely, therefore, that Robert Johnson's song is contemporaneous but not necessarily the one Shakespeare intended. Howell Chickering's close analytical reading of Johnson's music (1994, 158) therefore may not be appropriate.

The other song is “Where the bee sucks, there suck I” (5.1.88) which survives in several sources. In Oxford, Bodleian MS Don.c.57, it is attributed to John Wilson, as it is in John Playford's Select Ayres and Dialogues (1659) and also in his Catch that Catch can: Or the Musical Companion (1667). Folger Library MS V.a.411 is thought to be scribed by Playford where the song in a three-part version is ascribed to Dr Wilson. In the Birmingham Library MS 57316, Robert Johnson's name is signed in, and in Wilson's Cheerfull Ayres (1660), Johnson is also the named composer. Like “Full fathom five”, the music style with its phrasal regularity and (implied) harmonic simplicity suggest a post-1620 date of writing.

“Full fathom five” includes directions for a burden (“exit”) in the text and extra “small” notes in the Birmingham manuscript. It is not certain how the song was performed but the musical intricacies in this song and others in The Tempest may reflect the increased musical resources available to the King's Men at the indoor Blackfriars theatre that they used from 1608. One of the significant musical attributes of the Blackfriars, inherited from the children's companies, was the availability of the mixed consort, a group of professional court musicians playing lute, bandora, bass viol, cittern, treble-viol and flute (either transverse flute or recorder). This was the combination for which Morley published his Consort Lessons (1599) and Rosseter, a theatre musician, his Lessons for Consort (1609). It was (p.122) the mixed consort that played the inter-act music whilst the candles were renewed in the indoor theatre. Inter-act music spread to the outdoor theatre after 1610. The extra musical resources at the Blackfriars theatre may well account for the more ambitious theatricality of The Tempest, especially the inclusion of the masque scene (4.1).

The masque genre developed, without any fixed form, in the first decade of the seventeenth century, after the accession of James I. It was essentially a multi-media genre, involving dance, music, visual spectacle and, to a lesser extent, poetry — although Ben Jonson vehemently defended the importance of the words in his “Expostulation with Inigo Jones” (1622). The Jacobean masque was an opportunity for ostentatious courtly display, as Norfolk observes in Henry VIII, commenting at first hand on the entertainments for Henry's visit to France in which the masque on the first night was upstaged by that on the second:

  • Now this masque
  • Was cried incomparable, and th'ensuing night
  • Made it a fool and beggar. The two kings
  • Equal in lustre, were now best, now worst,
  • As presence did present them. (1.1.26–30)

The masque was an expensive, lavish, one-night-only courtly entertainment in which the most significant element was the entries of the masquers — noblemen and/or ladies in costume or disguises. In most courtly masques there were three main masquers' entries articulated by music (entries, dances and songs). After the third entry, the formal masque was dissolved by the more extensive “revels” or social dancing when the masquers danced with members of the invited audience in a variety of less stylized dances, usually galliards, measures and corantos. The evening concluded with a song of farewell and a final dance. From 1609, courtly masques often began with an antimasque as a contrast in theme and presentation to the main masque. It was performed by professional actor-dancers and served to emphasize the entry of the main masque in its signification of “the resolution or dispersal of the ‘antic’ prelude” (Wilson and Calore, 2005, 265).

The masque episode in The Tempest is, as Lindley purports, not “an example of the court masque, but a partial representation of it” (Lindley, 2002, 16). Its allegory is uncomplicated and its emblem apposite, as he points out:

Its deities are chosen to celebrate elemental concord. Iris, the ‘watery’ goddess of the rainbow, brings down Ceres, goddess of the earth, and introduces Juno, goddess of the air and patroness of marriage, and the subsequent dance of the fiery reapers and watery naiads enacts the fusion of male heat and female coldness in the ideal temperate marriage. (13)

In fact, the masque episode printed in the folio may well not be the one originally intended by Shakespeare but a substitute for a second court performance, possibly at the marriage festivities for Princess Elizabeth and Frederick, the Elector Palatine in 1613, as Irwin Smith argued (Smith, 1970, 213–22). Antimasque characteristics, Lindley contends, are to be found elsewhere in “the fabric and design of the play” (Lindley, 2002, 15). The entry of the “shapes” (3.3.19), accompanied by “marvellous sweet music” as they bring in the banquet, may function as a quasi-antimasque. The early seventeenth-century relevance and signification of the courtly masque are crucial for a contemporary account of The Tempest. Later generations have found the interpolation of the masque problematic and (p.123) have substituted alternative, less emblematic, entertainment. The influence of the masque and masque episodes are also found in other late plays, including The Winter's Tale, Pericles and Timon of Athens.

The increased use of music cues, songs and other musical devices in the post-1600 plays may reflect changing tastes in theatre and court music, but instrumental cues and performed music were integral throughout Shakespeare's theatre career. The physical sound of instruments in Shakespeare's theatre had two functions: one to accompany entrances and exits, the second to add symbolic significance. The most common instrument in the outdoor theatre was the trumpet. Trumpets, placed in the hut above the stage cover — according to a drawing of the Swan theatre by the Dutchman Johannes de Witt — were sounded three times to announce the impending start of a play. This practice is confirmed by stage directions and dialogue in contemporary plays such as Ben Jonson's Every Man out of his Humour (1600). Trumpets signalled the arrival on stage of a person of rank. This was standard practice in the histories and tragedies, but is found in the comedies as well. A “flourish” accompanies the entry of Duke Frederick, with his Lords, Orlando and Charles his wrestler in As You Like It (1.2.121.SD). Parodying this practice, “Flourish trumpets” marks Quince's entry as the Prologue in A Midsummer Night's Dream (5.1.107.SD). Sometimes hoboys were used with or replaced trumpets. At the opening of 2 Henry VI, the stage direction indicates a “flourish of trumpets, then hautboys. Enter, at one door, King Henry … Enter, at the other door, the Duke of York”. The differentiation in sound may have a hierarchical significance. In Hamlet (3.2.122.SD) the folio direction “Hoboyes play” replaces the quarto “The trumpets sound” as the dumb show enters before the Mousetrap. In the First Quarto of Titus Andronicus (1594), as Titus is about to serve Tamora a pie containing her dead sons, the stage direction indicates “Trumpets sounding, a table brought in. Enter Titus like a cook, placing the dishes” (K2r). In the folio (5.3.25.SD), hoboys replace trumpets, following the convention that hoboys usually accompany banquets, as in Timon of Athens (1.2.SD): “Hautboys playing loud music. A great banquet served in; and then enter Timon”.

Indoor and private theatres preferred the smaller, mellower cornett to the brazen din of the trumpet. Increased occurrences of stage directions specifying cornetts in post-1600 plays attest to this. In Shakespeare's plays, only the folio edition identifies cornetts. In The Merchant of Venice, for example, when the Prince of Morocco makes his first entry, the stage direction reads: “Enter Morochus a tawnie Moore all in white, and three or foure followers accordingly, with Portia, Nerissa, and their traine. Flourish Cornets” (2.1.SD). The earlier quartos (Q1, 1600; Q2, 1619) do not mention cornetts. It could well be that cornetts were not used in the first performances at the Globe and that the 1623 folio edition derives, as Frances Shirley argues, from a later revival or indoor theatre production (Shirley, 1963, 75). John S. Manifold's theory, based on stage directions in Coriolanus (which indicate cornetts for senators), that cornetts were sounded “to distinguish minor dignitaries … the trumpets distinguish royalty and major dignitaries” (Manifold, 1956, 49) does not seem to have taken into account the differing performing conditions in early seventeenth-century theatres.

The use of trumpets, hoboys, cornetts and other instruments as auditory cue signifiers is standard theatrical practice, which was as much understood in Elizabethan times as it is today. The use of trumpet signals as symbolic signifiers would not be meaningful today but would be immediately recognized in contemporary performances of Shakespeare's plays. Royalty and high-ranking military persons could be identified by their own trumpet signals. When Othello arrives in Cyprus, trumpets sound. Iago immediately knows who it (p.124) is, ends his conniving aside, and announces: “The Moor — I know his trumpet” (2.1.177). In Titus Andronicus, a special trumpet signal identifies Saturninus the emperor, as Lucius confirms: “[Flourish] The trumpets show the Emperor is at hand” (5.3.16).

In Shakespeare's day, the trumpet was not an art music instrument; it was a military and civic signalling instrument. As a military instrument it had specific signals. These had vital significance, as Gervase Markham (1568–1637) affirms in his The Souldiers Accidence, or an Introduction into Military Discipline:

The first and last Lesson belonging unto the Horse-troope, is to teach the Souldier the Sounds and Commands of the Trumpet, and to make him both understand the Notes and Language of the Trumpet, as also in due time to performe all those duties and Commands, which are required by the Trumpet.

(Markham, 1625, 100)

It is evident that a contemporary audience would be able to identify the various signals; why else would Shakespeare specify them? The “Cavalry March” or tucket was one such signal. Shakespeare uses the term “tucket” more than any other early modern playwright. As Dessen and Thomson note in their Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580–1642: “of the roughly twenty signals for a tucket many are in the Shakespeare canon” (Dessen and Thompson, 1999, 239). A correct military application is found in Henry V as the Constable urges the French cavalry to battle before Agincourt:

  • Then let the trumpets sound
  • The tucket sonance and the note to mount,
  • For our approach shall so much dare the field
  • That England shall couch down in fear and yield. (4.2.34–7)

In fact, this is the only use of the term by Shakespeare in dialogue. It occurs elsewhere as a sound directive.

Individual tuckets also help to identify certain characters. In the folio version of The Tragedy of King Lear, a tucket specifically announces the entry of the Duke of Cornwall (2.1.77.SD) and a little later, Goneril (2.2.347.SD): “Tucket within What trumpet's that? / I know't, my sister's.” The tuckets are not specified in the 1607–8 First Quarto. Similarly, in the folio The Merchant of Venice, a tucket sounds the arrival of Bassanio, as Lorenzo reminds Portia: “Your husband is at hand. I hear his trumpet” (5.1.121). This musical sound effect is not specified in the earlier quartos.

More exclusive than the tucket is the sennet. It was reserved for kings and emperors, and occasionally for princes and victorious generals. Except for one instance (Q1 King Lear), all cues for sennets appear in the folio. In that edition, the more generic term “trumpet” of the earlier quarto is replaced by “sennet”, as for example in Richard III: “Sound a sennet. Enter [King] Richard in pomp, Buckingham, Catesby, other nobles” (4.2.SD). Arguably, Shakespeare's use of “sennet” shows an awareness of the arrival in England of new Italian trumpet music during the early seventeenth century which coincides with the increased employment of professional players in Shakespearean theatres.

If the trumpet is associated with the cavalry in Elizabethan times, then according to contemporary accounts, the drum is connected with the infantry. Contrary to our modern perception, Paul Jorgensen argues that “the drum, rather curiously in view of modern standards, was a more precise as well as a more connotative military instrument than the trumpet” (Jorgensen, 1956, 24). Often, Shakespeare will indicate “drum and colours” (i.e. drummer and colours bearer) to accompany soldiers on stage to represent a marching (p.125) army. The impending battle between the French and British armies in the folio of King Lear is prepared for in the stage direction, “Enter with drum and colours, Cordelia, Gentlemen, and soldiers” (4.3.SD). A messenger announces to Cordelia that “The British powers are marching hitherward” (4.3.21). After the entry of the mad Lear, the dialogue quickens; a “drum afar off” reminds the audience of the approaching battle. The reconciliation between Lear and Cordelia intervenes before the battle commences in Act 5: “Enter with drum and colours, Edmond, Regan, gentlemen and soldiers”, followed by the opposing French army led by Cordelia with her father. A drum announces the English victory: “Enter in conquest with drum and colours Edmond; Lear and Cordelia as prisoners” (5.3.SD). The drum has acted as aural prompt structurally through this episode in the play. Shakespeare uses this device elsewhere in his histories and tragedies.

If various specific types of drum occur in military contexts, social and domestic situations are linked with the small tabor often played with a pipe by one person. The contrast between war and peace is neatly juxtaposed in Much Ado About Nothing when Benedick belittles Claudio's propensity for falling in love, thereby observing his fickle moods: “I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife, and now had he rather hear the tabor and pipe” (2.3.12–14). Love for Hero seems to have transformed the brave soldier in Claudio.

There are around 2000 references to musical terms in the works of Shakespeare and a wide range of performed types of music, including art songs, popular songs, part songs, improvised songs and instrumental cues, ranging from simple flourishes to composed consort music. The small selection of examples of music in Shakespeare cited above aim to give a snapshot of how Shakespeare incorporated and exploited contemporary practice and kinds. Modern critical accounts of Shakespeare's use of music have aimed either to locate Shakespeare's music as reflecting musical theory and practice in Elizabeth society, or as a dramatic structural device, or sometimes both. Two examples, separated by forty years, will suffice. In his recent Arden Critical Companion, David Lindley opts for the first approach in his densely packed and lively discussion:

This book is concerned primarily to explore the ways in which music in Shakespeare's plays might have been comprehended by the audiences at the Globe and Blackfriars theatres … It focuses, therefore, on the particularity of musical events — instrumental and vocal — as they occur in the plays, attempting to place them within the period's wider cultural understanding of music both as a symbol and as something experienced in the world beyond the theatre.

(Lindley, 2006, vi)

His book does not attempt to “engage with the fascinating musical afterlife that Shakespeare's plays have engendered” (vi). This is the subject of Julie Sanders' (2007) intensely wide-ranging study of musical responses to Shakespeare from seventeenth-century adaptations to twentieth-century diverse media interpretations. Nor does Lindley include any musical examples. Instead we are referred to Ross Duffin (2004) and other sources. Nevertheless, Lindley's account does include chapters on music education, music philosophy, symbolic music, instrumental cues and dance, mimetic songs and, drawing the argument to a climactic close, a case study of “musical thematics” in Twelfth Night and The Tempest.

In contrast, F. W. Sternfeld's pioneering book (1963) deals essentially with the role of music, derived partly from the author's experience of providing “authentic” music for H. B. Williams' post-war productions at Dartmouth College, USA. Following the example (p.126) of Poel, Craig and Granville Barker, and partly also drawing upon Sternfeld's own rigorous historical approach to musicology, Sternfield's book proceeds according to what was thought to be Elizabethan practice. The study is divided into two main areas: the role of the songs in the plays and the role of instrumental music. Each chapter has an appendix of music examples of the earliest known settings. As if complementing Sternfeld's work, Peter J. Seng's 1967 critical history of the stage songs attempts “to make available to the modern student a chronological history of the textual and analytical criticism of the songs, information about the original or early musical settings when these exist, and a critical examination of the dramatic functions of the songs within the plays” (Seng, 1967, xiii). Since the 1960s, work has progressed on interpreting the role of songs in the plays and more recently the vast subject of musical imagery in both the plays and the poems. The changed emphasis among present-day scholars in regarding the plays as performative objects rather than as just literary texts has influenced musical criticism and has opened up new approaches, or at least the revision of older theories.

Musical References and Imagery

In order to chart the full significance of the shift outlined above, it is necessary first to say something about early modern attitudes to music. The meaning and application of the word “music” has never been straightforward. Whilst for many the explanation of the term has seemed unnecessary, throughout the ages writers have been reluctant to define “music” and in their divergence have manifested uncertainty about its significance. The foremost theorist of early modern England, Thomas Morley (1557–1603), hesitatingly remarks that “amongst so many who have written of musicke, I knew not whom to follow in the definition” (Morley, 1597, Annotations to part 1). What he says shortly after indicates that he is aware of several, if not many, possible contemporaneous and historically derived meanings and invites the reader to choose which is preferable:

The most auncient of which is by Plato set out in his Theages thus. Musicke (saith he) is a knowledge … whereby we may rule a company of singers … (or choir) … But in his Banquet he giveth this definition. Musick, saith he, is a science of love matters occupied in harmonie and rythmos.

(Annotations to part 1)

He refers obliquely to the principal medieval source, De Institutione Musica, compiled by the mathematician and philosopher, Severinus Boethius (c. 475–525), and his division of music into two activities relating back to ancient Greece:

Boetius distinguisheth and theoricall or speculative musicke he defineth … As for the division, Musicke is either speculative or practicall. Speculative is that kinde of musicke which by Mathematical helpes, seeketh out the causes, properties, and natures of soundes by themselves, and compared with others proceeding no further, but content with the onlie contemplation of the Art. Practical is that which teacheth al that may be knowne in songs, eyther for the understanding of other mens, or making of ones owne.

(Annotations to part 1)

That division is effectively between musical philosophy and music theory, including composition, as expounded in music treatises of the period up to 1630.4 Performed music does not occupy a prominent position in Boethius' hierarchy; it is referred to in one of the subdivisions of his “speculative” music.

(p.127) Whilst Boethius' five books on “musica” (printed 1491–2) were not widely read in early modern England, his subdivision of speculative music into musica mundana, musica humana and musica instrumentalis continued to have resonance. The first, highest level depends on the concept of an earth-centric cosmos. “World music” was the aural identity of the cosmic order of the heavens, the allegorical harmony of the planets and fixed stars as they rotated and made a sound. This was the “music of the spheres”, as Pericles reminds us:

  • O heavens, bless my girl! But hark, what music?
  • [Celestial music]
  • But what music?
  • HELICANUS My lord, I hear none.
  • PERICLES None? The music of the spheres. List, my Marina.
  • Rar'st sounds. Do you not hear?
  • LYSIMACHUS Music, my lord?
  • PERICLES I hear most heav'nly music.
  • It raps me unto list'ning, and thick slumber
  • Hangs upon mine eyelids. Let me rest. (5.1.209–20)

Such music has the power to affect, in this case sleep and rest as a preparation for Pericles' vision of the goddess Diana.

A contemporary explanation of how music was produced by the motion of the planets and stars was provided in Dowland's translation of Andreas Ornithoparcus' Musice active micrologus (1517), published in 1609:

When God … had devised to make this world moveable, it was necessary, that he should governe it by some active and moving power, for no bodies but those which have a soul, can move themselves … Now that motion is not without sound: for it must needs be that a sound be made of the very wheeling of the Orbes … The like sayd Boëtius, how can this quick-moving frame of the world whirle about with a dumb and silent motion?

(Ornithoparcus, 1609, 1)

The most evocative, and best known, allusion to the music of the spheres metaphor is in Lorenzo's soothing entreaty to Jessica in the last, romantic scene in The Merchant of Venice:

  • And bring your music forth into the air.
  • How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
  • Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
  • Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night
  • Become the touches of sweet harmony. (5.1.52–6)
  • There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
  • But in his motion like an angel sings,
  • Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.
  • Such harmony is in immortal souls,
  • But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
  • Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. (5.1.59–64)

(p.128) Plato's vocal sirens are replaced by singing angels, Christianized following the transmission of neo-Platonic theories of music by Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) in his De triplici vita and Epistola de musica, both of which appeared in the Opera omnia published in Basle in 1576. But Shakespeare does not adopt the detail of the myth. The angels do not each occupy one of the spheres (planets), nor together do they sing God's praises, but rather act as a simile for heavenly music. The conventional reasons why mortals cannot hear the music of the spheres — either that it is too big, too loud or too familiar — are not given here. Instead, as John Hollander suggests, Shakespeare's “unheard music is related to immortality, and by extension to a prelapsarian condition” (Hollander, 1961, 152). Shakespeare does not enlarge on the metaphor of the harmonizing power of heavenly music; he moves from the cosmos of the imagination to the aural world around us. In order to “awake” Portia, Lorenzo calls for actual music to be performed so that it may “with sweetest touches pierce your mistress ear” (5.1.65). The term “sweet” here links the two concepts. In sixteenth-century musical philosophy, “sweet” refers to consonance, concord and unity of sound. Thus the music of the spheres affects concord by the “touches [i.e. sounds] of sweet harmony”; musicians play a hymn “with sweetest touches”.

Recourse to neo-Platonic philosophies of music, the symbolic associations and the power of music to affect idealized human emotion, though commonplace, were outmoded by the end of the sixteenth century. However, the concept and theory of “sweet” music links Boethius' next subdivision of “speculative” music, musica humana, with the first. Music in humans produces “sweet harmony”, concord and the soul at one with the body: a state of well-being and contentedness both within the person and in relation to the outside world. Boethius called this “temperament” which “unites the incorporeal activity of the reason with the body … as it were tempering of high and low sounds into a single consonance”. This musical metaphor is found transmitted in Dowland's translation of Ornithoparcus in his definition of “Humane Musick”:

The Concordance of divers elements in one compound, by which the spirituall nature is ioyned with the body, and the reasonable part is coupled in concord with the unreasonable, which proceedes from the uniting of the body and the soule … we loath and abhorre discords, and are delighted when we heare harmonicall concords, because we know there is in our selves the like concord.

(Ornithoparcus, 1609, 1)

As Shakespeare describes it in The Merchant of Venice:

The man that hath no music in himself,

Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,

Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. (5.1.82–4)

This theory of harmonious music depends on contemporaneous practice of consonance/ dissonance treatment in contrapuntal composition as expounded by the great Gioseffo Zarlino (c. 1517–1590) in his Istitutioni armoniche (Venice, 1558, Lib III) and transmitted to England through Thomas Morley's treatise A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (London, 1597). Consonances were intervals or pitches, which, when sounded together, produced pleasantness; dissonances resulted in harshness and unpleasantness. Most English treatises of the period attempt to differentiate between concords and discords. In The Pathway to Musicke (Anon, 1596), the author states that concords are “sweetly sounding unto the eare” whereas discords are “naturally offending unto the eare” (Pathway, 1596, 39). Morley confirms that concord is “a mixt sound compact of divers (p.129) voices, entring with delight in the eare, and is eyther perfect or unperfect” (Morley, 1597, 70). Discord, he says, is “a mixt sound compact of divers sounds naturallie offending the eare, and therefore commonlie excluded from musicke” (71). Shakespeare invokes the musical opposites, consonance and dissonance, extensively in a large variety of contexts.

Shakespeare does not use the terms “consonance” and “dissonance”, even though they appear in contemporary literature. Instead he employs “accord”, “concord”, “concent”, “harmony”, “sweet” and their antonyms “discord”, “jarring”, “harsh”. Music that is “well-tuned” or “in tune” as opposed to “out of tune” is similarly concordant not discordant. Sonnet 8 depends on these precepts for its rich musical imagery. The youth, the subject of the poem, shies away from his marital obligations when he contemplates what should be “harmonious music”:

  • If the true concord of well-tuned sounds
  • By unions married do offend thine ear,
  • They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
  • In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear. (5–8)

He will be sad and “un-tuned” if he does not enter into marital bliss. Analogously, the perfect harmony between Desdemona and Othello is disordered by Iago as he “untunes their music”: “O, you are well tuned now, / But I'll set down the pegs that make this music” (2.1.197–8). By loosening the tuning pegs (of a viol or lute), Iago causes the music to play out of tune. Iago turns the marital union of Desdemona and Othello into discord and destruction. When Othello realizes that Cassio has not been killed his act of murder is “out of tune” because he has managed to destroy only one half of the alleged adulterous relationship (King, 1986, 158): “Then murder's out of tune. / And sweet revenge grows harsh” (5.2.124–5). Tuning and harmony are both central to the imagery and structure of Othello.

The technical aspects of music, its composition and acoustic properties constitute Boethius' third level, music instrumentalis. For Boethius, the musician not only creates music, s/he knows how it is created in the world order of things. The mathematical rationale of intervals (2:1 for the octave, 3:2 for the fifth, 4:3 for the fourth) deriving from Pythagorean theory demonstrates this principle. For the Elizabethan, the technical elements of music were the rules governing composition starting with the “gamut” or scale and proceeding to making music either through composition or performance. All Elizabethan music treatises introduce the gamut. For example, in The Pathway to Musicke (1596), the author stresses “first of all it is needful for him that will learn to sing truely, to understand his Scale, or (as they commonly call it) the Gamma-vt” (Pathway, 1596, A2r). In The Taming of the Shrew, Hortensio is conventional in urging Bianca to begin with learning her gamut:

  • HORTENSIO Madam, before you touch the instrument
  • To learn the order of my fingering,
  • I must begin with rudiments of art,
  • To teach you gamut in a briefer sort,
  • More pleasant, pithy, and effectual
  • Than hath been taught by any of my trade;
  • And there it is in writing, fairly drawn.
  • [He gives a paper]
  • BIANCA Why, I am past my gamut long ago.
  • HORTENSIO Yet read the gamut of Hortensio.
  • (p.130) BIANCA [reads]
  • ‘Gam-ut I am, the ground of all accord,
  • A — re — to plead Hortensio's passion.
  • B — mi — Bianca, take him for thy lord,
  • C — fa, ut — that loves with all affection.
  • D — sol, re — one clef, two notes have I,
  • E — la, mi — show pity, or I die.'
  • Call you this gamut? Tut, I like it not.
  • Old fashions please me best. I am not so nice
  • To change true rules for odd inventions. (3.1.62–79)

Bianca's irritable response suggests she is not impressed by Hortensio's theoretical approach to music making.

In addition to neo-Platonic theories behind the affect of music transmitted primarily through Boethius, Shakespeare draws on other myths deriving from classical antiquity. One of the most current in Renaissance literature and music surrounded the figure of Orpheus, the “Thracian singer”. Sources, in their original or translation, come from Virgil's Georgics IV and, most importantly for Shakespeare, Ovid's Metamorphoses, books 10 and 11, as translated by Arthur Golding (1536–1606). In Ovid, the Orphic myth divides into three parts: the descent into Hades to retrieve Eurydice; the divine power of his music; and his violent death at the hands of the Maenads. These three sections are alluded to in turn by Shakespeare: obliquely in Titus Andronicus (2.4.50–1) and in The Rape of Lucrece (552–3) in connection with the desecration of women; in The Merchant of Venice (5.1.78–81), The Two Gentlemen of Verona (3.2.77–80) and Henry VIII (3.1.3) in relation to the power of Orpheus' music; and evasively in A Midsummer Night's Dream (5.1.48–9), where one of the interludes proposed by Philostrate is “The riot of the tipsy bacchanals, / Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage” only to be rejected by Theseus in his preference for another Ovidian tale from book 4 also found in Golding's translation: “A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus / And his love Thisbe, very tragical mirth” (5.1.48–9, 56–7). Allusions and parallels to the Orphic myth are arguably also present in the late romances, notably Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter's Tale.

The soothing power of music in Renaissance philosophy does not depend on the Orpheus myth. It was a commonplace describing music's ability to cure the troubled mind and assuage melancholy. It was used extensively by Shakespeare. In King Lear, for example, Cordelia pleads that her father will recover from his mental affliction:

  • O you kind gods,
  • Cure this great breach in his abused nature!
  • The untuned and jarring senses, O, wind up
  • Of this child-changed father! (4.7.14–17)

The term “jar” or “jarring” is often used in this context, referring to the unpleasant sound made by the strings on an instrument such as a lute or viol when they are out of tune. Cordelia begs that the strings of the instrument be wound up to bring them into tune. One of the only cures for melancholy, usually induced by love sickness, was uplifting music, as Bright affirms:

So not onely cheerfull musicke in a generalitie, but such of that kinde as most rejoyseth, is to be sounded in melancholicke eares … That contrarilie, which is (p.131) solemne, and still … are hurtfull in this case, and serve rather for a disordered rage, and intemperate mirth.

(Bright, 1586, 301)

In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, merry music is called for to lift Julia's sad disposition: “Come, we'll have you merry. I'll bring you where you / Shall hear music, and see the gentleman that you asked for” (4.2.29–30). Unfortunately, the music does not have the required effect. However, in Measure for Measure, music and the boy's song lift Mariana's spirits and dispel her melancholy:

  • I cry you mercy, sir, and well could wish
  • You had not found me here so musical.
  • Let me excuse me, and believe me so:
  • My mirth it much displeased, but pleased my woe. (4.1.10–13)

As the (disguised) duke reminds us: “'Tis good; though music oft hath such a charm / To make bad good, and good provoke to harm” (4.1.14–15).

So if Shakespeare's inclusion of Renaissance musical philosophy is extensive, then his recourse to performed music is equally important, either as imagery and reference or as audible adjunct. As we have seen, Shakespeare refers to Renaissance and some medieval instruments of Western art music as well as military and hunting instruments such as trumpets and horns; he cites vocal and instrumental genres of contemporary music and dance; he employs performed music from both art and popular cultures as mimetic and non-mimetic kinds. It is to these last two examples that I now turn.

The most significant art-music instruments cited are the lute and the viol. Shakespeare exploits their social and symbolic associations and their physical attributes as imagery and metaphor. The lute was the most popular instrument in Elizabethan England in both domestic amateur and public professional settings. It was used as a solo instrument either to accompany song or to play instrumental pieces; it was also ubiquitous in consorts and larger ensembles. Its characteristic pear shape, steeply angled pegbox or head, and bulbous vaulted back made it visually distinctive. Other features to which Shakespeare alludes are its fretted neck and the six courses of strings — pairs of strings that are plucked by the fingers of the right hand and “stopped” by the fingers of the left. The lute was a versatile instrument capable of playing a large variety of music including popular and courtly dances, vocal and consort music arrangements and a burgeoning idiomatic repertoire of preludes, fantasias and “passemezzi”. The method of low-tension stringing and the use of gut strings gave the lute a relatively soft, almost sensuous sound unmatched by cruder guitar cousins and successors. Players such as Francesco da Milano (1497–1543) and the English John Dowland (1563–1626) enjoyed huge reputations throughout Europe. Dowland is named alongside Spenser in Richard Barnfield's poem “In Praise of Musique and Poetrie”:

  • If Musique and sweet Poetrie agree,
  • As they must needes (the Sister and the Brother)
  • Then must the Love be great, twixt thee and mee,
  • Because thou lov'st the one, and I the other.
  • Dowland to thee is deare; whose heavenly tuch
  • Upon the Lute, doeth ravish humaine sense:
  • Spenser to mee; whose deepe Conceit is such,
  • As passing all Conceit, needs no defence. (Barnfield, 1598, 1–8)

(p.132) Despite his prowess as a player and composer, Dowland was not offered a court post in England until late in his career and would not have performed for Shakespeare productions. Court and theatre lutenists who might have played include John Johnson, Robert Johnson, Francis Cutting, Philip Rosseter, Francis Pilkington, Daniel Bacheler, Robert Jones and Alfonso Ferrabosco (father and son).

As Barnfield suggests, it is the ravishing sound of the lute that enraptured listeners and attracted poetical metaphor and imagery. On a philosophical level it could affect emotions, as Proteus tells Thurio in The Two Gentlemen of Verona:

  • For Orpheus' lute was strung with poets' sinews,
  • Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,
  • Make tigers tame, and huge leviathans
  • Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands. (3.2.77–80)

The power of music to soothe is also an element of the Orphic myth, especially Orpheus singing and playing the lute. This is confirmed in Henry VIII when Queen Katherine commands one of her lady attendants to sing a lute song in order to assuage her troubled mind:

  • Orpheus with his lute made trees,
  • And the mountain tops that freeze,
  • Bow themselves when he did sing.
  • To his music plants and flowers
  • Ever sprung …
  • … Everything that heard him play,
  • Even the billows of the sea,
  • Hung their heads, and then lay by.
  • In sweet music is such art,
  • Killing care and grief of heart
  • Fall asleep, or hearing, die. (3.1.3–14)

On a sensual level, the music of the lute could ravish the senses, giving delight and pleasure. In 1 Henry IV, Mortimer delights in the charming attributes of Glendower's daughter:

  • for thy tongue
  • Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penned,
  • Sung by a fair queen in a summer's bower
  • With ravishing division, to her lute. (3.1.203–6)

If in its purest intent the lute symbolizes pleasure and the affect of love, paradoxically in the wrong context it can be associated with lasciviousness and lust. Among other similes, Hal compares Falstaff's melancholy, his self-pity and love sickness, to “a lover's lute” (1 Henry IV, 1.2.66). The lute's representation of vice as opposed to virtue recurs in the opening soliloquy of Richard III, as Richard contemplates his potential to enjoy domestic pleasures following his military exploits:

  • And now — instead of mounting barbèd steeds
  • To fright the soul of fearful adversaries –
  • He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
  • To the lascivious pleasing of a lute. (1.1.10–13)

(p.133) The lute as an emblem of peace as opposed to war, the latter often signified by trumpets and drums, is also implicit here. Similarly, that opposition is invoked when the irascible Katherina smashes the lute over the head of her amorous music teacher, Hortensio:

  • BAPTISTA What, will my daughter prove a good musician?
  • HORTENSIO I think she'll sooner prove a soldier.
  • Iron may hold with her, but never lutes.
  • BAPTISTA Why then, thou can'st not break her to the lute?
  • HORTENSIO Why no, for she hath broke the lute to me. (2.1.142–6)

A broken lute, or even a lute with a snapped string (e.g. in Holbein's painting, The Ambassadors) was a Renaissance symbol of discord and tension. The ability to play the lute and sing, in private, demonstrated grace and high etiquette among Elizabethan ladies. So the fact that Katherina refuses to learn to play the lute confirms her lack of refinement and conformism. In another juxtaposition of peace and war, Shakespeare sets up an intense atmospheric scene involving music. In Julius Caesar, on the eve of the battle of Philippi, Brutus asks his servant (boy) to sing and play “a sleepy tune” (4.2.318) to him in the quiet of the night. The stage direction “music and a song” and the context suggest the mimetic and symbolic appropriateness of a lute song (a text has not been found). The domestic association of the lute contrasts with the violent militariness of the battle about to commence.

The distinctive sound and appearance of the viol made it apt for symbolic imagery, in particular social refinement, calm and healing, and sexual innuendo. In Twelfth Night Sir Andrew Aguecheek boasts he can play the “viol de gamboys” as well as speak “three or four languages word for word without book” (1.3.21–3) as a mark of his social standing and education. In 2 Henry IV, the king in his sickbed asks for quiet except that some soft and gentle music be played to sooth his distress:

  • Let there be no noise made, my gentle friends,
  • Unless some dull and favourable hand
  • Will whisper music to my weary spirit. (4.3.133–5)

The viol is not mentioned but would be the most suitable instrument or ensemble according to the stage direction “still music”, especially given the slower, smoother type of music it generally played. The curvaceous shape of the body of the viol and its slender neck made it apt for sexual allusion, especially in connection with the female. When Pericles uncovers the incestuous goings on between King Antiochus and his daughter, he disparagingly likens the princess to an immature viol:

  • You're a fair viol, and your sense the strings
  • Who, fingered to make man his lawful music,
  • Would draw heav'n down and all the gods to hearken,
  • But, being played upon before your time,
  • Hell only danceth at so harsh a chime.
  • Good sooth, I care not for you. (1.1.124–9)

Any modern viol maker will attest to the unpleasant sound an unseasoned viol makes.

Among the large number of references to medieval and Renaissance instruments, the recorder in Shakespeare deserves some attention. It was a popular instrument among both amateur and professional players, being at one level a relatively simple instrument (p.134) to learn, at another a versatile consort instrument as Jeronimo Bassano's fantasias of the 1580s confirm. This paradox is described when Hippolyta comments on Quince's performance of the prologue to the nuptial play, Pyramus and Thisbe, towards the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hippolyta compares Quince's faltering delivery to a child playing a recorder: “Indeed, he hath played on this prologue like a child / On a recorder — a sound, but not in government” (5.1.122–3). The child can play the notes on the recorder but not with much control or fluency: “in government”.

One of the most famous passages referencing the recorder is in Hamlet. After the performance of “The Mousetrap” by the itinerant players, the stage empties leaving Hamlet and Horatio alone to ponder on their world before Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter. At this point, Hamlet calls for some music: “come, the recorders” (3.2.268). Musicians with recorders enter. Hamlet asks Guildenstern if he will “play upon this pipe” (3.2.322) and he says he cannot. Hamlet chides his former school friend and proceeds with a brief and accurate instruction:

'Tis as easy as lying. Govern these ventages [holes] with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most excellent music. Look you, these are the stops. (3.2.329–31)

Shakespeare exploits the notion that the recorder is the easiest instrument to learn when he reprimands Guildenstern for presuming to manipulate him:

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me. (3.2.334–41)

Shakespeare also alludes to the paradoxical qualities of the recorder. Whilst it is a simple instrument to learn it can also play complicated music. If Guildenstern does not know the basics how can he play a difficult piece?

In addition to the mainstream Renaissance instruments cited above, Shakespeare alludes to a number of other contemporary and older instruments. Among the latter are the psaltery (a kind of zither) in Coriolanus: “Why, hark you, / The trumpets, sackbuts, psalteries, and fifes, / Tabors and cymbals” (5.4.43–5). Another is the rebec (a kind of bowed lute or fiddle) mentioned in Romeo and Juliet. When the Capulet serving man asked why music had “her silver sound”, the second musician, punningly called Hugh Rebec, replies “because musicians sound for silver” (4.4.155), a reference to professional music groups or minstrels. The rebec was known to be an instrument played by medieval and Renaissance minstrels. The list of contemporary instruments ranges from non-art horns and bagpipes to more sophisticated citterns, virginals and organs. The extent of Shakespeare's involvement with and engagement of musical terms and instruments reflects the gamut of musical sounds of early modern England.

Music in Theatrical Production

Music in Shakespearean production from the sixteenth century to the present has varied between newly composed songs, instrumental cues, pre-curtain and interlude music, to (p.135) the use of pre-existent work. From the later seventeenth century to the early twentieth, Elizabethan music was not regarded as either essential or even relevant, just as the original text and staging conditions were neither commonly observed nor understood. In the early twentieth century, isolated attempts that sowed the seeds of change were made to recreate historically informed productions of Shakespeare, including music. This interest in Elizabethan music coincided with scholarly research and publication of “early music”. We might mention Breitkopf and Härtel's publication in 1899 of Fuller Maitland and Barclay Squire's edition of the vast collection of English virginal music preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for long enough erroneously catalogued as “Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book”. Significant too were Edward Naylor's monograph, Shakespeare and Music (London, 1896), and his collection/selection, Shakespeare Music (London, 1913); Francis W. Galpin's study, Old English Instruments of Music (London, 1910); and the pioneering study of historical performance practice, Arnold Dolmetsch's The Interpretation of the Music of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, not published until 1915 but representing work going back to the 1890s. This emphasized the importance of playing music on original or replica instruments including viols, lutes, recorders and keyboard instruments.

In 1894, William Poel founded the English Stage Society, a group of meagrely paid actors dedicated to performing Shakespeare plays “in an Elizabethan manner”, restoring original texts and fast-flowing delivery on bare stages. Victorian Shakespeare had suffered, or prospered (depending on historical interpretation), at the hands of self-indulgent actor-managers such as F. R. Benson at Stratford. Music in these pompous, slow productions catered for pre-curtain overtures, non-mimetic songs and instrumental diversions, interval music and other non-dramatic contributions. Such music was often symphonic and songs were turned into quasi-operatic arias. On 21 April 1908, Poel's production of Measure for Measure was presented at Stratford with music by J. W. Wilson “done after the Elizabethan manner”, including a four-voice madrigal sung by “local Stratfordians”. Whilst hardly “authentic” music, this was the first attempt at replicating Elizabethan music in Elizabethan Shakespeare. It was a unique production. Other plays in the 1908 season were directed by Benson in the Victorian manner. The musical director for As You Like It (1 May 1908) was Mr Henry Caville featuring Miss Cissie Saumarez as Amiens “with song”. The 1913 season at Stratford included Poel's Troilus and Cressida, a play not performed at Stratford or at any other theatre since its first performance by the King's Men in 1603 at the Globe. The play was performed largely uncut and with only one interval. Details of the music have not survived but a neo-Elizabethan style would be in keeping with its production ethos, in which case, as Sternfeld (1963, xviii) possibly hints, Dolmetsch was involved. Whilst Poel's following was not extensive and his audiences often very small, his influence was nevertheless important and lasting. The 1914 season at Stratford, directed by Patrick Kirwan, advertised “Elizabethan music” as part of the production. The emergence of the new style was confirmed by Nigel Playfair's production of a Stratford perennial, As You Like It, for the short immediate post-war season in 1919. Playfair was a protégé of Benson; but he was also influenced by Granville Barker and Poel and presented a progressive approach to Shakespearean production that included “early” music. From these tentative beginnings in the early twentieth century, period music became part, albeit a small part, of Shakespearean production, commensurate with the development and understanding of early music in musicology and performance.

It was not until the 1970s that the early music movement in Europe and the USA gained widespread recognition following enthusiastic pioneering efforts by the likes (p.136) of David Munrow, Bruno Turner, Gustav Leonhardt, Raymond Leppard, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Christopher Hogwood, Thurston Dart, Robert Donington and others in the 1960s and earlier. Whilst early music was featured in a number of productions throughout the UK (Leppard, for example, acted as music adviser at Stratford in the 1960s for a variety of plays), it was not until the 1990s that “authentic” music consistently found its way into “authentic” Shakespeare at the newly opened Globe theatre.

Each year since 1997 the Globe theatre on the Southbank in London has included an “Elizabethan” production amongst its various approaches. In the award-winning 2002 production of Twelfth Night, for example, with its all-male cast, the “masters of music” (Claire van Kampen and Keith McGowan) attempted to match the authenticity of the music with the specialness of the production marking the 400th anniversary of the first performance of the play at the Middle Temple Hall, London. Historical considerations included the use of period instruments and authentic ensembles. The original mixed consort of the Middle Temple was replicated. This comprised violin, flute/recorder, bass viol, lute, cittern and bandora. For the outdoor production at the Globe, the music was “fleshed out” (as the Globe programme puts it), made louder and more incisive by the use of the shawm consort and some percussion. The musical performance/concert that preceded the play was justified, according to McGowan, by the remark made by the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania (after he had attended a production at the Blackfriars in September 1602), noted by Frederic Gerschow, that he had “heard an hour-long consort recital before the play”.5 Songs and instrumental music were taken from Elizabethan sources, principally of Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Robert Jones and uniquely a pavane by James Lauder.6

The musicians were dressed in Elizabethan costume and occupied the central gallery above the stage. They were visible to both actors and audience and their entries and exits appeared as part of the production, even though these must have been determined as much by the demands of the music at any given moment. Feste, on stage, was generally recognisable by his pipe and tabor, which he carried and sometimes played. With the exception of three pivotal scenes (3.3, 3.4 and 4.1) instrumental music was played at appropriate places throughout the production. The song cues of the folio edition were observed, except for “Hey Robin” which was transposed from 4.2 to 3.1. Before the play began, there was a comparatively short concert of music (around ten minutes), performed by an ensemble in the stage gallery (at the Globe this was a shawm consort). Because the musicians were in costume, clearly visible to the audience, there was a sense in which the concert was integral to the production. Although the musicians were present in the auditorium and played to the assembled audience, their music did not serve as an instrumental overture, as in classical opera. Nor did it function like the substantial orchestral pieces that preceded the plays at the old Shakespeare Memorial Theatre productions in Stratford-on-Avon at the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth.

The concert was followed, after the Duke had spoken, by a quieter recorder, lute and viol ensemble playing the Dowland “lachrimae” theme.7 There is no evidence that this was the music meant to be played during performances of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare's day, but McGowan contends that the Dowland was ideal for moments of melancholy. It also fits the text: “That strain again, it had a dying fall” (1.1.4). The music stopped abruptly at Orsino's cue, “Enough, no more” (1.1.7). It provided a good acoustic contrast with the pre-act music and a suitable softening (diminuendo) lead-in to the play as the soundscape moved from loud music to soft talking. It set the mood of melancholy, appropriate for the (p.137) theme of the play. It is also worth remarking at this juncture that the opening concert balanced the epilogue song and final jig music which followed the play.

The first set-piece song, Feste's “O mistress mine” (2.3.35), was done onstage, unaccompanied by instruments. The contemporary tune most often associated with this song was used.8 Since the song is integral to the dramatic action in that it contrasts with the mood of the scene and is not merely a pause for musical entertainment, its onstage performance must seem natural and spontaneous. A voice-alone rendition achieved this.

The “period” music in Twelfth Night reinforced the aim of the production. Its purpose was to increase the experience of specialness rather than engage in an experiment in historicist recreation. In his review, Keir Elam argued that the

characteristics that distinguished the earlier [Middle Temple] production were its chorality — i.e. the ensemble quality of the acting, despite the dominant presence of Mark Rylance as Olivia — and its musicality, both literal (the crucial importance given to song and, perhaps even more so, to dance) and metaphorical, namely the highly audible and pleasing nature of the verse and prose-speaking [sometimes underlined by soft background music as in 2.4 and 4.3]. These characteristics reemerged with perhaps greater clarity thanks to the discipline and harmony of the company, with a little help from the acoustics of the Globe.

That specialness Elam terms “choral collaboration”. He points to two places in the production where Siân Williams' choreography made a “decisive contribution, producing great stage-filling moments of group movement”. The first was at the beginning of the second half after the interval, with “full cast moving slowly towards the audience and intoning ‘Hey Robin’” (Elam, 2002, 7). The other was at the end of the production with the whole cast dancing the final jig. Whilst both of these were essentially a persuasive visual gesture, it was the music that served to unite the action in its encompassing aural presence. Thus the music had an extra unifying purpose.

The unity of the production was further helped by the choice of the Elizabethan music, which suited the acoustic of the Globe. The music filled the space with sound without dominating the aural experience. The choice of music not only served to accompany the performance but also reinforced the “point” or aim of the production. The concordant period music coalesced with the harmony of the play. The choice of Elizabethan period instruments uniquely matched the soundscape of the all-male cast, ranging from the rich baritone of the Duke to the piping falsetto of Olivia.9 Moreover, the sadness that underlies the play — it “raineth every day” — is reflected in particular choices, namely the Dowland “lachrimae” at the beginning and the melancholic “Marche” pavane for “Come away death”.

It could be argued that authentic music has a specific purpose in such a historicist location as the new Globe. In Twelfth Night, emphasis was placed on the aural dimension. Music played a significant, even enhanced role in keeping with the historical principle of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, in contrast with present-day production with its predominantly visual impact. Such emphasis was possible thanks to the acoustic environment of the new Globe, which allows for fruitful experimentation with different types of instrumental and vocal music.

It is worth noting that judiciously chosen ensembles and solo instruments, either modern or period, make a precise acoustic impact and can once again fulfil the role they had in Shakespeare's day of not only complementing the vocal soundscape but also in (p.138) providing acoustic symbolism or signification. The term “incidental music”, so often signifying the purpose of music in Shakespearean production, no longer appears to have meaning or significance at the new Globe. Moreover, music choices are not about locating a play in a particular time or culture, but have more to do with pointing up the aims and meanings of the presentation.

This production of Twelfth Night brought home to the audience the crucial phenomenon of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre-going, which is the importance of hearing a play as well as watching it. As Ben Jonson lamented in the Prologue to The Staple of News:

  • Would you were come to hear, not see, a play.
  • Though we his actors must provide for those
  • Who are our guests here in the way of shows,
  • The maker hath not so. He'd have you wise
  • Much rather by your ears than by your eyes. (Jonson, 1988, 2–6)

The recently published Shakespeare's Globe: A Theatrical Experiment contains two chapters on music and sound by music director Claire van Kampen, “Music and Aural Texture at Shakespeare's Globe”; and David Lindley, “Music, Authenticity and Audience” which effectively summarize the historically informed approach taken by musicians at the Globe and the effect those decisions have had both on audiences and actors.10

Theatrical experimentation at the Globe has suggested among many revelations that Elizabethan music and period instruments can take on a signification beyond the immediacy of a play. “Authentic” music can both entertain and educate an audience in its experiential awareness by being introduced and getting accustomed to early modern instruments, practices and sounds not otherwise heard outside specialist venues. Whether it can ever recreate the experience Shakespeare intended by his use of music cannot be determined. It may be significant that for every “authentic” performance at the Globe there is a modern, often exotic production using new music. In other words, Shakespeare's music cannot be constrained by the parameters of historical appropriateness. Just as in his time, Shakespeare exploited the old and the new, the familiar and the unfamiliar, so today historical productions are best experienced not as objects in themselves but in relation to contemporaneous interpretations.

That so little original music survives that we can confidently assign to a particular play may cause music directors, editors and composers to be ingenious and somewhat creative in supplying “authentic” songs and instrumental cues. What is certain, however, is the extent to which Shakespeare employs both performed and imagined music. Whilst music is not as prominent as it was in the plays of the children's companies, for example, it is the way Shakespeare incorporates music that marks him out as exceptional among Elizabethan playwrights. Music for Shakespeare was an essential part of his dramatic and thematic material. It was never simply an acoustic or esoteric adjunct.


(1.) For example, Ross Duffin (2004) does not include any suggestions. Van Kampen (2008) notes “Moth/Mote sings not a delicate love song but ‘Concolinel’ which would seem to have been a naughty French chanson” (84) which she reconstructed from an exemplar from Claude Sermisy (1490–1562) in turn derived from the Italian popolaresca lirica.

(2.) On Shakespeare and Morley see Seng, 1967, 89, 97–100.

(p.139) (3.) See Chickering, 1994, 131–72.

(4.) See further Herissone, 2000; Owens, 1998, 183–246.

(5.) Frederic Gerschow, in the train of the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, attended a performance at the Blackfriars on 18 September 1602, about which he commented on the exquisite singing and the hour-long concert of music before the play. See Gurr, 1996, 201.

(6.) The music for the Middle Temple Hall and new Globe productions is available on two CDs: The 400th Anniversary Production of Twelfth Night, International Shakespeare Globe Centre Ltd (London, 2002) and The Food of Love: Music and Words from Twelfth Night, International Shakespeare Globe Centre Ltd (London, 2002).

(7.) The “lachrimae” (“tears”) theme is taken from Dowland's famous pavane, found in many contemporary sources adapted for various instruments. It is best known as a solo lute piece. It occurs in two major Dowland publications, namely The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (1600) as “Flow my teares” and as the opening piece in Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans (1604). See Holman, 1999. It is interesting to note that Smith suggests “a lute solo in the doleful style John Dowland had made popular” as suitable for the mood music at the start of Twelfth Night (1999, 233).

(8.) For sources and discussion see Seng, 1967, 94–100. In Thomas Morley's First Booke of Consort Lessons (1599) there is the tune titled “O Mistris mine”. Shakespeare's words do not fit this tune very comfortably. Moreover, the tune as it appears in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Rés. 1122 is called “O mistris myne I must”. Several commentators, including Tuttle (1955, 158) and Neighbour (1978, 145), have been at pains to note the difference. Both Tuttle and Neighbour claim that the addition of “I must” invalidates the association of Morley's tune with Shakespeare's song.

(9.) Smith contends that “Twelfth Night … like most of Shakespeare's earlier comedies, offers a wider range of pitches than history plays and tragedies, with much more prominence given to higher-frequency sounds. From the beginning of the play to the end, treble-clef sounds move in counterpoint to bass-clef sounds in a manner that comes close to turning the play's musical metaphors into acoustic fact” (1999, 232).

(10.) See Carson and Karim-Cooper, 2008.

Further Reading and List of Works Cited

Bibliography references:

Anon. (1596). The Pathway to Musicke contayning sundrie familiar and easie rules for the readie and true vnderstanding of the scale, or gamma-vt. London: J. Danter.

Austern, Lynda Phyllis (1992). Music in English Children's Drama of the Later Renaissance. Philadelphia and Reading: Gordon and Breach.

Barnfield, Richard (1598). “In Praise of Musique and Poetrie”. In Richard Barnfield: The Complete Poems, ed. George Klawitter. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses.

Baskervill, Charles Read (1929). The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Bright, Timothy (1586). A Treatise of Melancholie. London: Thomas Vautrollier.

Carson, Christie and Farah Karim-Cooper, eds (2008). Shakespeare's Globe: A Theatrical Experiment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Charlton, Andrew (1991). Music in the Plays of Shakespeare: A Practicum. New York and London: Garland.

Chickering, Howell (1994). “Hearing Ariel's Songs”. Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 24, 131–72.

Dessen, Alan C. and Leslie Thomson (1999). A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580–1642. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doughtie, Edward (1986). English Renaissance Song. Boston: Twayne.

Duffin, Ross (2004). Shakespeare's Songbook. New York: Norton.

(p.140) Elam, Keir (2002). “Collective Affinities”. Around the Globe 22, Autumn, 7–9.

Gillespie, Stuart and Neil Rhodes, eds (2006). Shakespeare and Elizabethan Popular Culture. London: Arden Shakespeare.

Gurr, Andrew (1996). Playgoing in Shakespeare's London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Herissone, Rebecca (2000). Music Theory in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hollander, John (1961). The Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry 1500–1700. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Holman, Peter (1999). Dowland: ‘Lachrimae’ (1604). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jonson, Ben (1988). The Staple of News, ed. Anthony Parr. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Jorgensen, Paul (1956). Shakespeare's Military World. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

King, Rosalind (1986). “‘Then Murder's Out of Tune’: The Music and Structure of Othello”. Shakespeare Survey 39, 149–58.

Lindley, David, ed. (2002). The Tempest. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lindley, David (2006). Shakespeare and Music. London: Arden Shakespeare.

Long, John. H. (1955). Shakespeare's Use of Music: A Study of Music and its Performance in the Original Production of Seven Comedies. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Manifold, John S. (1956). The Music in English Drama, from Shakespeare to Purcell. London: Rockcliff.

Markham, Gervase (1625). The Souldiers Accidence, or an Introduction into Military Discipline. London: John Dawson.

Maynard, Winifred (1986). Elizabethan Lyric Poetry and its Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Morley, Thomas (1597). A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke. London: Peter Short.

Neighbour, Oliver (1978). The Consort and Keyboard Music of William Byrd. London: Faber and Faber.

Noble, Richmond (1923). Shakespeare's Use of Song: With the Text of the Principal Songs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Orgel, Stephen and Sean Keilen, eds (1999). Shakespeare and the Arts. New York and London: Garland.

Ornithoparcus, Andreas (1609). Musice active micrologus, trans. John Dowland. London: Thomas Snodham.

Owens, Jessie Ann (1998). “Concepts of Pitch in English Music Theory, c. 1560–1640”. In Tonal Structures in Early Music, ed. Cristle Collins Judd. New York: Garland, 183–246.

Sanders, Julie (2007). Shakespeare and Music: Afterlives and Borrowings. Cambridge: Polity.

Seng, Peter J. (1967). The Vocal Songs in the Plays of Shakespeare. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shirley, Frances A. (1963). Shakespeare's Use of Off-Stage Sounds. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Smith, Bruce R. (1999). The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Smith, Irwin (1970). “Ariel and the Masque in The Tempest”. Shakespeare Quarterly 21.3, 213–22.

Sternfeld, F. W. [1963] (1967). Music in Shakespearean Tragedy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Tuttle, Stephen, ed. (1955). Musica Britannica: Thomas Topkins. London: Stainer and Bell.

van Kampen, Clare (2008). “Music and Aural Texture at Shakespeare's Globe”. In Shakespeare's Globe: A Theatrical Experiment, ed. Christie Carson and Farah Karim-Cooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 79–89.

(p.141) Walls, Peter (1996). Music in the English Courtly Masque 1604–1640. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wilson, Christopher R. and Michela Calore (2005). Music in Shakespeare: A Dictionary. New York and London: Continuum.

Wulstan, David (1985). Tudor Music. London: Dent.


(1.) For example, Ross Duffin (2004) does not include any suggestions. Van Kampen (2008) notes “Moth/Mote sings not a delicate love song but ‘Concolinel’ which would seem to have been a naughty French chanson” (84) which she reconstructed from an exemplar from Claude Sermisy (1490–1562) in turn derived from the Italian popolaresca lirica.

(2.) On Shakespeare and Morley see Seng, 1967, 89, 97–100.

(p.139) (3.) See Chickering, 1994, 131–72.

(4.) See further Herissone, 2000; Owens, 1998, 183–246.

(5.) Frederic Gerschow, in the train of the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, attended a performance at the Blackfriars on 18 September 1602, about which he commented on the exquisite singing and the hour-long concert of music before the play. See Gurr, 1996, 201.

(6.) The music for the Middle Temple Hall and new Globe productions is available on two CDs: The 400th Anniversary Production of Twelfth Night, International Shakespeare Globe Centre Ltd (London, 2002) and The Food of Love: Music and Words from Twelfth Night, International Shakespeare Globe Centre Ltd (London, 2002).

(7.) The “lachrimae” (“tears”) theme is taken from Dowland's famous pavane, found in many contemporary sources adapted for various instruments. It is best known as a solo lute piece. It occurs in two major Dowland publications, namely The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (1600) as “Flow my teares” and as the opening piece in Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans (1604). See Holman, 1999. It is interesting to note that Smith suggests “a lute solo in the doleful style John Dowland had made popular” as suitable for the mood music at the start of Twelfth Night (1999, 233).

(8.) For sources and discussion see Seng, 1967, 94–100. In Thomas Morley's First Booke of Consort Lessons (1599) there is the tune titled “O Mistris mine”. Shakespeare's words do not fit this tune very comfortably. Moreover, the tune as it appears in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Rés. 1122 is called “O mistris myne I must”. Several commentators, including Tuttle (1955, 158) and Neighbour (1978, 145), have been at pains to note the difference. Both Tuttle and Neighbour claim that the addition of “I must” invalidates the association of Morley's tune with Shakespeare's song.

(9.) Smith contends that “Twelfth Night … like most of Shakespeare's earlier comedies, offers a wider range of pitches than history plays and tragedies, with much more prominence given to higher-frequency sounds. From the beginning of the play to the end, treble-clef sounds move in counterpoint to bass-clef sounds in a manner that comes close to turning the play's musical metaphors into acoustic fact” (1999, 232).

(10.) See Carson and Karim-Cooper, 2008.