Shakespeare: 1. Music for Shakespeare plays. Introduction.


This bibliographical survey has been prepared with the very practical aim of enabling theatre directors to trace without too much difficulty music contemporary with Shakespeare’s plays which will lend itself for use in the many places where music is indicated in stage directions or implied in the text. Inter-filed with these are the many allusions to music in the text of the plays themselves; these have been extracted and are shown within square brackets.

John H. Long reminds us that music played a significant part in Jacobean life, and how ‘an audience drawn from such a society would have been puzzled and disturbed if the stage world ignored music.’ (Music in English Renaissance Drama. University of Lexington, 1968, p. 77)

It is hoped that this work will reflect something of the spirit of a fine actress, Dame Sybil Thorndyke who, given the role of Katharine in Henry V at a moment’s notice, consulted the Dolmetsches and was given a selection of pieces of music for her entrances. Dame Sybil was reminded of those days when she heard modern settings of Shakespeare songs, “I think to myself. ‘Oh no! That’s not a bit what Dolmetsch would have liked’” (Margaret Campbell in Dolmetsch, The man and his music. Hamish Hamilton, 1975).

I am not saying that there is no rightful place for post-Renaissance settings, nevertheless I think the rarity of performances employing music which Shakespeare would have recognised as of his own time is perhaps due not mainly to indifference to what some might consider anachronism, but rather to the difficulty one is likely to encounter when attempting to track down Elizabethan and Jacobean secular music which fits the stage directions and the frequent implications in many of the plays, din particular the Comedies, that music is to be heard, for as W. H. Auden notes ‘we find few calls for songs in the Tragedies, where the steady advance of the hero to his doom must not be interrupted, or in the Historical plays in which characters are men of action’ (ALd 513)

As a practising Music Librarian one is sometimes approached by teachers, often specialists in English literature and therefore responsible for school drama presentation, who may well have no particular interest in music but come in search of such materials. One becomes concerned to trace suggestions from the few music historians who have felt drawn to pass on their knowledge, in particular of the less sophisticated Elizabethan secular music repertoire which could lend itself for use on the Shakespeare stage. Accordingly an especial debt is due among others to Edward Naylor (N 1931), Cécile de Banke (B 1953), John Long (L 1955, LF 1961, LH 1971), Frederick Sternfeld (S 1963), John Cutts (CU 1971), Winifred Maynard (ME 1986) and Andrew Charlton (CM 1991) whose repertoire suggestions traced from their books and anthologies (together with a few of my own, DLC) were the starting point on which this bibliographical survey was based (see Key to symbols). The most recent and a very significant contribution in this area is surely ‘Shakespeare’s Songbook’ (2004) by Ross Duffin, Professor of Music at Case Western University (DO 2004). This provides melodies for the song texts or which relate to allusions encountered in the plays fitted to tunes from many sources of the time which he has found will work together.

In this survey I have attempted to relate suggested titles to printed materials in collected editions and anthologies and to various settings in alternative instrumentation; this I hope should lighten the task of the drama producer in matching available musical forces to stage needs. A number of the country dance tunes in the first edition of Playford’s English Dancing Master offers ideal material, and this survey includes an attempt at identification of fine settings by composers of distinction of Shakespeare’s time who used certain of these musical motifs as a basis for consort music à 4-5: a most attractive musical source to serve a useful purpose in presenting incidental music on the stage. It would be unfortunate if, for instance, Praetorius’ settings of such popular tunes of the time were overlooked as ‘Packington’s pound’, ‘The Parson’s Farewell’ and ‘Light of Love’; Haussmann’s setting of ‘Go from my window’, Demantius’ setting of ‘Nowell’s delight’ and ‘Watkin’s Ale’ or Brade’s of ‘Dulcina’, for all were published in German anthologies of the time whose source is very often disguised under a number in a sequence or by an unrelated title.

Matthew Spring (SP77) draws our attention to the fact that in Elizabeth’s reign the practice of harmonising broadside ballads as lute solos became one of England’s most original contributions to the corpus of music for the lute, as for instance represented in a number of Cambridge University manuscripts on which many anthologies have drawn (see KEY: Sources: CC, CH).

We must consider how much significance music might have in the effective production of the plays? Professor Thurston Dart, who produced recordings of such music to accompany the Argo complete Shakespeare enterprise, stressed the importance of music in the plays having a specific job to do, avoiding the temptation to provide mood music. The infectious enthusiasm shown by David Munrow and his ‘Early Music Consort’ for music of the period was reflected in his sound tracks for films of certain of the plays, most memorably perhaps in the dances performed at the Capulets’ party in R&J Act I Scene 5. More recently has Philip Pickett produced a number of fine recordings with his ‘Musicians of the Globe’ and Julian Bream, Anthony Rooley, Christopher Wilson, Jakob Lindberg and others provided us with a very wide range of pieces for lute and for broken consort, while Camerata of London with their ‘Shakespeare musicke, sung in authentic Elizabethan pronunciation,’ together with an assortment of broken consorts, and country dances from Jeremy Barlow’s ‘Broadside Band’ feature strongly among the suggested recordings in the ‘Shakespeare Discography’ which completes this survey.

Edward Naylor has written of the ‘simple cheerfulness and artistic coherence of the mainly anonymous dance tunes in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book’ (indicated by F numbers throughout this survey). Popular songs and dances of Shakespeare’s time, which depend on pleasing rhythm and a sort of easy-going tunefulness, have sometimes come down to us only in the form of a subject for a set of variations or other elaboration by such distinguished composers as William Byrd, John Bull, Giles Farnaby or Orlando Gibbons. Often a short opening ‘statement’ consisting of as few as four to eight well harmonised bars can sometimes lend itself to performance more or less as it stands, though it may be necessary to introduce a final cadence where the music seems to be anticipating the first development section or variation to follow. These would typically be set for lute, viols, recorders or broken consort and, where these have been traced, adaptations for those instruments of material originally for virginals. The masterly and perhaps often rather sophisticated and extended original piece would be out of place, but could possibly form interval music, away from the play’s action, while characteristic musical motifs used during the preceding scenes may still be lurking hauntingly in the memory of the audience while consuming their ice cream or pint of beer.

Complementary to musical interjections indicated in stage directions, constant allusion to music occurs in many of the plays. Of these I have attempted to quote as many as I could trace, for as Professor Dent writes ‘not only does Shakespeare speak of music plainly and directly, but often mentions technical musical terms in a metaphorical sense…never making a mistake, even when he alludes to theoretical detail of a difficult or obscure kind’ (Dent 152-3).


Editorial practice

Act and scene divisions, together with the line numbering, follow The Oxford Shakespeare. The Complete works, 2nd edition by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, 2004, and likewise the musical stage directions (distinguishable in this survey by being underlined). Directions which have been added by the four editors of the Oxford edition are shown within curly brackets { } and those which appear in other sources are shown within square brackets [ ]. Among the stage directions will be found standard signals for which suggestions for their musical interpretation will be found in the NOTES under such headings as ‘alarum, battle music, bells, charge, cornetts, dead march, drum, excursions, fanfare, flourish, hautboys, horns, march, ordnance, parley, pipe, retreat, sennet, shawms, tabor, trumpet, tucket’.

The serial number allotted at the right hand of the page indicates the possibility of some form of musical intervention, including some of the more elaborate signals of various kinds. The titles of the very rare song settings which have come down to us with text virtually identical to that in the Shakespeare plays (as well as allusions to popular tunes which are still traceable) are shown in capitals; for the others and all incidental music, music of the time suggested by an historian as appropriate for adaptation is given (usually shown with a letter symbol, e.g. L156-7, this indicating the page numbers in one of the volumes of John Long’s invaluable Shakespeare’s Use of Music trilogy). Settings which have been underlaid to fit Shakespeare’s wording in the edition cited have a bold letter ‘u’ preceding the symbol. Where suggested music is mentioned whose source is traced from a manuscript, the reference itself appears within round brackets, followed by sigla for any printed sources located.

Sometimes the books or anthologies to which reference is made provide only the bare tune. The pieces which are suggested are quite often available in a more amplified form, sometimes in settings of Shakespeare’s time, and where practical modern printed editions have been traced, these are indicated according to the forces needed (often abbreviated by a letter code in bold print; see Abbreviations list below). The letter symbol follows representing an anthology in which the material is located (see KEY TO REFERENCES) with the number in the book’s sequence.

Versions of popular material very often exist in fine renderings in anthologies for virginals or lute, outstanding resources being the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and the Ballet, Dallis, Pilkington and Board lute books, and some of their material has also appeared for instrumental (especially viol) consort, complemented by modern editions for recorders by such scholarly enthusiasts as Carl Dolmetsch and Bernard Thomas. Guitar arrangements, especially of popular ballad tunes in versions for lute current in Elizabethan times, make this relevant material readily accessible to players of today’s most available instrument. Versions of the same (or closely related) music, but for different forces from those suggested by the music historian, follow, each alternative setting being separated by a semicolon.

The suggested titles are mostly anonymous pieces current in the late 16th century which have been considered to lend themselves to performance at the indicated position in a play. In addition a great many repertoire suggestions are provided in the NOTES section of the survey, there grouped by topic or musical form and acting as an alphabetical index to the survey. These Notes also treat of characteristic Elizabethan and Jacobean instrumentation under such heads as ‘broken consort,’ cornetti and sackbuts, hautboys (shawm), lute, pipe, recorders, or viols.

Where dates are given, these refer to a published or ms. collection in which the piece seems to have first appeared, although, especially with ‘folk’ music, it will often have been in circulation considerably earlier and sometimes may have been alluded to in dateable earlier literary sources. This applies especially to the contents of the first edition of the English Dancing master (1651) much of which is of earlier provenance than that date suggests.

[] The numbers in square brackets preceding song titles are those in Peter Seng The Vocal Songs in the plays of Shakespeare, where for each song, source or sources are traced, its dramatic function indicated and earliest musical settings cited (omitting in the present survey those which appeared later than the second decade of the 17th century).

[] Extracts from the plays’ spoken texts which appear to make allusion to music and dance or which bear on the musical context of a scene are shown within square brackets.

Andrew Charlton’s Music in the plays of Shakespeare (CM), as well as providing a comprehensive offering of serviceable material in score of Shakespeare’s time, precedes each play with a list (with timings) comprising not only stage direction cues but suggestions for bridging music between Acts and Scenes. The page number in his book and the number of cues is indicated after the title of each play in this survey, thus (CM9: 49 cues).



See also Key to references to sources and to editions of music surveyed.

Lower case letters in bold usually precede indication of alternative instrumentation.

* indicates that fuller description will be found in the Notes & Glossary

A Contralto voice; alto range in consort
à number of voices or instruments for which a piece is set; e.g. ‘à 2’applies particularly to the form (S+B: tune and bass) in which masque tunes have come down to us, see KEY under LM
acct. voice with harmonized accompaniment
B bass voice, bass range in consort (especially bass recorder)
bc *braken consort: characteristic English mixed instrumentation (esp. Morley, Rosseter, the Walsingham and Holmes part books: flute/recorder, treble viol, lute, pandora, cittern, bass viol)
bq brass quintet: 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba
b-v bass *viol
ci *cittern
co cornett
cs *consort of cornetts & sackbuts,
(CM:) see note above relating to cues
cw Collected works
d-v descant *viol
dr drum
f (preceding printed source) facsimile
fl *flute
g *guitar
H high voice
k keyboard score (2 staves)
l *lute
l/k lute music with keyboard transcription
l/t lute tablature
l/tk lute music with tablature and keyboard arrangement
L low voice
M middle voice
r recorder edition
rSATB *recorder consort (descant, treble, tenor and bass)
S soprano voice; soprano pitch (especially descant recorder)
T tenor voice; tenor pitch (especially tenor recorder)
tr-v treble *viol
u includes editor’s underlay of text of Shakespeare’s song text
unacc unaccompanied voice
va, vc, vn viola , cello, violin
/ used to separate editions of a work requiring the same forces; or placed between alternative tonal range of voice or instrument
[no.] number in Seng (see note above)
[text] allusion to music (see note above)
[refs] related musical repertoire (different versions or instrumentation)
+ voice with instruments as specified
۞ suggested repertoire in recordings

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