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83-08 MUSIC IN SHAKESPEAREAN THEATRE
How many times have you been to a play of Shakespeare and wondered: What was music in Shakespearean theatre really like? Shakespeare makes reference to about 100 songs in his plays, and of course there are innumerable references to instrumental music, as well. Without doubt, music is an indispensable tool of Shakespeare's dramatic art. But it was not traditional in Elizabethan theatre to have it so. Most often, there would be simply a stage direction: "song" or "here they sing."
Shakespeare uses music for characterization, to set the mood, for comic relief, for pathetic irony, and to further the plot. He uses elements from popular folk traditions to the most sophisticated lutesongs of his day, and in these respects he resembles, oddly enough, the composer Mozart, who revolutionized opera with the wide range of his musical sources and the many dramatic purposes to which he put his musical material. Interesting that Shakespeare was writing his plays just as opera was beginning in Italy.
The musical background to Shakespearean theatre is dominated by the now little-known form, the stage jigg (not to be confused with the jig as a dance, although the dance probably grew out of the stage production). The stage jigg was a short theatrical farce in which all of the dialogue was sung to well-known ballad tunes and punctuated by lively dances. Several of these stage jiggs are known to have been in the repertory of Shakespeare's own company, the Chamberlain's Men, and although the practice seems strange to us now, it became all the rage in the 1580s and '90s to have a jigg performed at the end of legitimate plays. Here's one of the many references to that practice.
“For, as we see at all the playhouse doors, when ended is the play, the dance and song—a thousand townsmen, gentlemen and whores, porters and serving men, together throng.”
This suggests that among the common folk, jiggs were more popular than the plays themselves. On Sept. 21, 1599, a German visitor to London reported having seen a jigg performed at the end of the tragedy Julius Caesar, the cast of characters including four men, two of them in drag. Such would have been the arrangement for the original production of Frauncis Newe Jigg, an excerpt from which we will hear in a moment. You will notice that the dialogue between Mistress Bessie and her would-be lover Frauncis uses the same ballad tune over and over, changing only occasionally throughout the jigg. The accompanying instruments are fiddle and cittern, and the performance is by Musicians of the Ashland Oregon Shakespearean Festival, directed by Jack Ashworth.
[MUSIC]
The musical accompaniment there, the fiddle and cittern, was probably very common for jiggs in the country, but for performances in the city and at court, the instrumental backup was probably a broken consort. It is interesting that such a consort was documented as performing in the entertainments prepared for the Queen by the Earl of Leicester in 1575. The very next year, one of Leicester's own dramatists, James Burbage, opened the first public theatre in London. The broken consort thus ranks as the most likely band for the performance of soft music in Shakespeare's plays. To demonstrate we will hear the Musicians of Swanne Alley perform Nuttmigs and Ginger, a piece which is known in some sources as "Kemp's Jigg." Will Kemp was one of the great comic actors and jigmasters of Shakespeare's day.
There are a number of indications in Shakespeare's plays for trumpets and drums. We find terms like tucket, flourish, and sennet (which seems to have been an extended flourish), but we are not altogether certain of the distinction between these types. Of course, trumpets were used for such things, but this fanfare-like section of the De la tromba pavin—“the trumpet's pavin" for broken consort—perhaps preserves for us an approximation of a sennet for trumpets. This performance is by Cradle of Conceits.
[MUSIC]
Outside of the fanfares, another indication for loud music is the term hoboye, which appears occasionally and calls for the music of the shawm band. Hoboye, of course, is a corruption of the French word hautboys, meaning literally "loud woodwind" and specifically the shawm. This next selection is entitled “Nec Invideo” from a collection published in 1599 by Anthony Holborne. The performance is by the Musicians of the Ashland Oregon Shakespearean Festival, under Jack Ashworth.
[MUSIC]
It is rare to have a clue to the actual instrumental music used in Shakespeare's plays—at least for the songs we have the text—but we are pretty sure about the "Witches’ Dance" from Macbeth. In 1609, Ben Jonson's Masque of Queens was produced and it contained two witches’ dances. One of these became very popular and appeared in a number of sources over the next few years. Significantly, in 1611, Shakespeare's Macbeth was revived and revised, and the revision contained a witches’ dance. Here is the piece performed by the Folger Consort.
[MUSIC]
Turning now to the songs, we can point to three different categories of song which Shakespeare used. The first is the traditional folk song, the second is the new lyric intended to be set by a composer for the play, and the third is the adaptation of recently composed and, no doubt, currently popular songs. Of the dozens of songs in Shakespeare's plays, there are very few for which we know original melodies, but there are some, and most of those come from an apparent association with two songwriters of the time. The better known of these is Thomas Morley, but there is a controversy concerning the Shakespeare-Morley connection. Scholars point out that Morley's setting of “O Mistress Mine" does not fit the words very well, and that “O Mistress Mine" was more likely a folk tune which has not been preserved. There is little argument about “It was a Lover and his Lass," however. It seems clear that Shakespeare wrote the text for the first production of As You Like It and that Thomas Morley set it to music and published it in 1600, just a few months after the play opened. Here is “It was a Lover and his Lass," performed by Hortulani Musicae with soprano Erica Northcott.
[MUSIC]
The other composer with whom Shakespeare seems certain to have worked was Robert Johnson, who was composer-in-residence to Shakespeare's company after 1609. Here is his "Hark Hark the Lark" from Act 2 of Cymbeline, "Full Fathom Five" from Act 1 of The Tempest, and "Where the Bee Sucks" from Act 5 of The Tempest. The first two are sung by James Bowman and the third by Ann Monoyios with the Folger Consort.
[MUSIC]
One of the most intriguing aspects of the songs in the plays of Shakespeare is the extent to which the playwright made passing reference to songs quoting perhaps a single line from the midst of a text. Indeed, there may be dozens of these as yet unidentified, but I will cite two here, since they happen to refer to songs which are preserved in manuscript fragments here in the library of Western Reserve College. In Act 2 of The Taming of the Shrew, Petruccio says: "Signor Baptista, my business asketh haste, and every day I cannot come to woo." No doubt that line would call this song text to the mind of the Elizabethan playgoer: "Joan, quoth John, when will this be? Tell me when wilt thou marry me, my cow, and eke my calf and rent, my land and all my tenement. Say Joan, said John, what wilt thou do? I cannot come every day to woo."
In Act 2 of Henry IV, Part 2, Pistol says: "What! Shall we have incision, shall we embrue? Then death rock me asleep. Abridge my doleful days." That reference must have been to the following song, once attributed to Anne Boleyn, who was indeed musical like her daughter Queen Elizabeth, but now thought to be by Richard Edwards, the same composer on whose work Shakespeare drew in Romero and Juliet for the song "Where Griping Grief." Here is Ann Monoyios to sing the song “O death rock me asleep."
[MUSIC]
For some reason, Shakespeare wished to conjure up that beautiful but mournful air in the minds of his audience in a scene which is otherwise largely comic—suggestions of the richness of the experience of a Shakespearean play—a richness which perhaps we, in the 20th century, can scarcely fathom. With that performance, Ann Monoyios has brought to a close this program exploring music in Shakespearean theatre.
Series
Micrologus
Episode
Music in Shakespearean Theater
Producing Organization
CWRU
Contributing Organization
Ross W. Duffin (Pasadena, California)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip-daab96d04ec
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Description
Episode Description
How many times have you been to a play of Shakespeare and wondered: What was music in Shakespearean theatre really like? Shakespeare makes reference to about 100 songs in his plays, and of course there are innumerable references to instrumental music, as well. Without doubt, music is an indispensable tool of Shakespeare's dramatic art. But it was not traditional in Elizabethan theatre to have it so. Most often, there would be simply a stage direction: "song" or "here they sing."
Segment Description
"Frauncis Newe Jigg (excerpt)" by Anonymous (private tape) | "Nuttmigs & Ginger" by Anonymous (Focus 822) | "De la Tromba Pavin (excerpt)" by Allison, Richard (private tape) | "Nec invideo" by Holborne, Anthony (private record) | "Witch's Dance" by Anonymous (DELOS 25460) | "It was a lover & his lass" by Morley, Thomas (private tape) | "Hark, hark, the lark" by Johnson, Robert (Archiv 2533 407) | "Full fathom five" by Johnson, Robert (Seraphim S-60323) | "Where the bee sucks" by Johnson, Robert (DELOS 25460) | "O death, rock me asleep" by Edwards, Richard (DELOS 25460)
Created Date
1983
Asset type
Episode
Genres
Talk Show
Topics
History
Music
Media type
Sound
Duration
00:27:59.976
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Credits
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Host: Duffin, Ross
Producing Organization: CWRU
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Ross W. Duffin
Identifier: cpb-aacip-8665d9d26fa (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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Citations
Chicago: “Micrologus; Music in Shakespearean Theater,” 1983, Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 12, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-daab96d04ec.
MLA: “Micrologus; Music in Shakespearean Theater.” 1983. Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 12, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-daab96d04ec>.
APA: Micrologus; Music in Shakespearean Theater. Boston, MA: Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-daab96d04ec