Welcome to Episode #033 of That Shakespeare Life. Music is used as a dramatic device in Shakespeare's plays, spurring forward the story of the play with songs, dances, and musical flourishes.
With the idea of a soundtrack or orchestra being so ubiquitous to modern productions on stage and film that we forget William Shakespeare had neither. Instead, the use of music in Shakespeare's plays was a fellow actor on stage with the other characters telling a story by it's participation in, as opposed to accompaniment of, the plot. From musical flourishes to announce the entrance or exit of characters to musical jigs and songs of celebration, music played a key role in Shakespeare's plays.
Here to take us behind the curtain and into the instruments, songs, and dances that made up early modern stage music for William Shakespeare is our very special guest who knows all about music in performance, the former Director and Founder of the Newberry Consort, Mary Springfels.
Mary Springfels is the founder and former director of the Newberry Consort. A veteran of the early music movement in America, she has performed and recorded extensively with such ensembles as the New York Pro Musica, the Waverly Consort, Concert Royal, Sequentia, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Music of the Baroque, Musica Sacra, the Marlborough Festival, the New York City Opera, and Chicago Opera Theater, where she served as an artistic advisor. She is much in demand as a teacher and player in summer festivals throughout the US, among them the San Francisco and Amherst early music festivals, the Conclave of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, the Pinewoods Early Music Week, and the Texas Toot. She has recently performed with the Sonoma Bach Festival, the Arizona Bach Festival, the Dallas Bach Festival, and Ars Lyrica of Houston. Mary joins us today to discuss her article for the Encyclopedia Britannica titled Music in Shakespeare's Plays that discusses the history of Tudor music and Shakespeare’s application of that culture to performance
In this episode, I’ll be asking Mary about :
- Did music play a similar role to modern day soundtracks when used in performance and theater for William Shakespeare?
- Would there be different kinds of music accompanying the same Shakespeare performance depending on where it was performed?
- Did Shakespeare write the songs we see in his plays?…and more!
Press play to listen to Soprano Abba Dennis perform with the early music ensemble, Voices of Music. They are performing Shakespeare's “Take, O take those lips away” from Measure for Measure. The second verse they include on their website here, was not in Shakespeare's play and is thought to have been written by John Fletcher.
John Wilson, 16th century composer
At the beginning of Measure for Measure, Mariana sings this song:
Take, O take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn;
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn!
But my kisses bring again, bring again,
Seals of love, but sealed in vain, sealed in vain!
William Shakespeare, Act IV, Scene 1
John Wilson is the one who wrote this song. Wilson moved to London around 1614, and he was Professor of Music at Oxford after Shakespeare died, from 1656-1661. Wilson was part of a group of artists and musicians in the court of Charles I, including several of Shakespeare's contemporaries such as Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, Anthony van Dyck, Henry Lawes and John Coprario. Many of Wilson's songs, like this one, were composed specifically for the theatre. Learn more about John Wilson here.
‘No epilogue, I pray you’, says the Duke, hastily: for your play needs no excuse. Never excuse; for when the players are all dead, there needs none to be blamed. Marry, if he that writ it had played Pyramus and hanged himself in Thisbe's garter, it would have been a fine tragedy: and so it is, truly; and very notably discharged. But come, your Bergomask: let your epilogue alone.
A Midsummer Night's Dream V.1
In Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bottom suggests an epilogue and the Duke requests a bergomask at the end of the play. The bergomask was part of the joke for Pyramus and Thisbe because it was a traditional Italian dance considered to be rustic, awkward, and rather clumsy.
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