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Delve into works with music

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Upon reading or watching the dramas of Shakespeare, one cannot help but notice the many instances in which music and songs are utilized artistically in creating dramatic effects. One of the important elements of a shakespearean dramatic performance is the music that adds to the aesthetics of the performance, while it is arguably utilized for creating meaning and dramatic effects. As a playwright, it is fairly impossible for someone like Shakespeare with such concern with detail and utility of dramatic effects of language to use music merely as only a side note and not utilize it as a textual and dramatic tool as well. “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.” ( Wilson 125) Among the works of Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice has been called Shakespeare’s most musical” ( 355 Minear) and this paper seeks to delve into both the form and the effect of music in Shakespeare’s plays, specifically Othello.

As Oritz mentions in his book, Broken Harmony: The Politics of Shakespeare’s music, when Richmond Noble discussed “the “absolute dramatic propriety” of music in Shakespeare’s plays, he set the tone for generations of later critics who found it perfectly reasonable that Shakespeare would put music in the service of drama and poetry, not the other way around” (Ortiz). This can be proved when his plays are examined thoroughly with close attention to the musical components of the text. In fact, Shakespeare went as far as to change the tradition of the Senecan models of tragedy that used no music, except some instruments such as trumpets or drums, to include his songs in his tragic plays such as Hamlet and Othello. Therefore, it seems crucial to examine the extent of which his uses of music were intended for different artistic purposes, and the variety of ways he used them.

There are three main categories that the music used in Shakespeare’s plays can be fit into, the first of which is the incidental music, or the music that is not named. These are the instances in which the stage directions indicate that the music should start and explain what kind of music should be played. Another category are the references to musical pieces and instruments that are known to us, such as instruments named that are at times used as cues or to create a specific mood. Lastly, the songs which Shakespeare wrote himself and also the popular songs that his audiences were familiar with were instances of music in his plays that also created a certain kind of familiarity and sympathy for the audience that is worth discussing.

The folk song and the tunes he used were referential and familiar to the audience who heard them in the performances. Therefore, he was able to evoke emotional responses from these songs and create a dramatic effect through the audience’s association and familiarity with the songs. At times, “scraps of these tunes were used to create in-jokes and to evoke other sentiments as well. ”(84 Kuiper)

In the case of “The Willow Song”, Shakespeare changed the lyrics of a popular song just as needed in order to turn them into an interchanging dialogue-like conversation between the characters, while still preserving the emotional effect that came with the audience already knowing the words to the folk song.

As Scholes mentions in his essay on the usage of music, it seems that there is evidence that Shakespeare’s use of music was in a way that power of music in certain points in his plays that would help him take the audience to places the words alone could not. It is therefore crucial to examine where and to what purpose he used music to elevate form, which was done by references to music and songs, that were subsequently carried out throughout the performance of the play.

There is much speculations on the way Shakespeare used music in specific instances and the dramatic and artistic result such uses entailed. Some scholars believed Shakespeare to have used music in terms of them being related to the “supernatural”. This term can include instances in the narrative that include ghosts, fairies and witches. It also included more abstract concepts such as love, death, morality and madness. It is the feeling of strangeness that is associated with all these concepts that binds them with music.

Scholes, in his research on the purpose of music in Shakespeare’s works, mentions that in Richard II or Henry IV, “music prepares us to witness the final passing, brings us into the anteroom of the other world, gives us a glimpse of what is beyond the door, touches us with a sense of mystery and solemnity, sets us musing on our own hour yet to come”(Scholes 3). It is in The Tempest that this sense of otherworldliness is the moral consciousness that can itself be a supernatural experience. He furthermore cites moments in Shakespeare, such as ‘Twelfth Night’ in which the Duke regards music as ‘the food of love’ and music and romance are thus interconnected. There are other instances in his plays in which supernatural occurrences entail a use of music according to Shakespeare’s pattern in using music when “ladies are revived or resurrected through the supernatural powers of music in Cymbeline, Pericles, Winter’s Tale” ( Carpenter 251) or such as in The Tempest as the “distraught nobles faculties [are] restored by music, as did King Lear earlier”(251).

However, in some Shakespearean plays and also in many Elizabethan ones, “the texts of pre-existent songs are missing, either because of printing problems or commercial restrictions. ( Wilson 120) There is always the speculation that as Sternfeld puts it, when the song isn’t named, any piece of music would work. Such circumstance is also inevitable since ““blank” or “lost” songs are not always clearly identifiable” ( Wilson 120) and the interpretation as to what music fits the scene would be on the shoulders of the ones in charge of the performance.

It is important to note the extent to which Shakespeare had knowledge of music in terms of its practical and theoretical frameworks in order to add to his artistic agency and conscious use of musical terms. Scholars such as Carpenter, conclude in their research that he was aware of musical theories and conventions and understood the power of music to “sway man’s soul, to heal, to affect the emotions”(Carpenter 245). There is however much debate whether or not he got formal education in music since at the time, learning music was a personal matter and most learned from acquaintances 

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