"How Shakespeare Used Music to Tell Stories"

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"How Shakespeare Used Music to Tell Stories"

Post by Belle » Mon Jun 04, 2018 7:02 pm

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Re: "How Shakespeare Used Music to Tell Stories"

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:08 pm

Reminds me of Zefrirelli's R&J, a little of which I saw again today while substituting for a teacher who had a co-teacher who gave the best work-up of Act 3 that I have ever seen. They were not the traditionally brightest kids either (in face it was considered a special ed class),but they were all over that play and knew what was going on down to the last subtlety. Then the teacher broke off the video just at the point where Juliet implicitly curses the nurse after the latter suggests that it would be better to forget Romeo and marry County Paris. You see, Zeffirelli in one of his many imperious decisions cuts the wonderful moment where Juliet severs her relationship with the nurse ("Well,thou hast comforted me marvelous much....")

Anyway I bring that up here because R&J lacks a song, so Zef decided to supply the nauseating "What is a youth," which became a hit and for many young people was what they mainly took away from that production. A real Shakespeare song text is a matchless lyric.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: "How Shakespeare Used Music to Tell Stories"

Post by John F » Tue Jun 05, 2018 11:49 pm

Simon Smith wrote:music was actually an equally important component of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy
Surely overstated considering how little direct evidence we have of what music was actually played in the original Globe and Blackfriars productions of Shakespeare's plays. All we really have is the lyrics of songs that Shakespeare wrote into his playscripts, and more often than not these are extraneous to the drama, and therefore not really an "important component of [the] dramaturgy." There are exceptions, of course - Desdemona's Willow Song in "Othello" and Ariel's songs in "The Tempest," for example. But when, at the end of "Twelfth Night," Feste sings "When that I was and a little tiny boy," it's nothing to do with the play, it's just to entertain the audience (like the jig the actors danced even at the end of tragedies) - Feste himself ends, "But that's all one, our play is done, / And we'll strive to please you every day."

Smith's comments on "A Winter's Tale" go beyond what we know, and can know, about the actual music performed in Shakespeare's time. Here is what the playscript says:

Paulina: Music, awake her; strike!


'Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach...

Shakespeare doesn't specify what music is to be struck up, or even what kind of music. We don't know whether he instructed the musicians, or the company's composer Robert Johnson, or simply left it to them. Johnson was a capable composer, as in his setting of Ariel's "Full fathom five thy father lies":


We don't have to pretend to be Shakespeare's original audience to respond to this as dramatically apt. But while we might believe, or want to, that he or another musician provided dramatically apt music for the transformation scene in "Winter's Tale," we really have no basis for that at all.

For an encore, here's Thomas Morley's "It was a lover and his lass." Contemporary with Shakespeare, it's not known if it was sung in the Globe production of "As You Like It," but it could have been. Performance by Peter Pears and Julian Bream from their fine collection of Elizabethan lute songs for Decca.

John Francis

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