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Today we’ll discuss a quite uncommon and interesting topic, namely the role of music in Shakespeare plays. Along with this we also look up to the famous music composers of Shakespearean plays like Verdi, Britten, Purcell, Berlioz.
English art and culture reached to its excellence during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This era experienced a shift from sacred music to more secular one and the rise of instrumental music. Music had become a profession itself and professional musicians were being hired by the Church of England, the aristocrats and also by the rising middle class. Elizabeth herself was very fond of music and used to play the lute. During her reign, Elizabeth I employed almost 70 musicians. The two most popular musical instruments of her time were the Virginal and the Lute. The most popular musician of the lute and the lute songs were John Dowland and after him the greatest was Henry Purcell.
The professional companies, who used to put on plays during this era, used much reduced musical resources. Generally one adolescent boy actor used to sing and play one instrument and the clowns also used to sing. The Jigg, a special musical-comic genre was the domain of famous Shakespearean comedians like Richard Tarlton, William Kempe. Jiggs refer to the bawdy, low comedy burlesques, which were used to be put on at the conclusion of historical plays or tragedy. They involved two to five characters and were sung to popular melodies and accompanied by the cittern or the fiddle.
It was a regular custom to include at least one song in every play in Tudor and Stuart drama. The tragedies were the only exceptions. Shakespeare however denied this tradition by including songs in his later tragedies like ‘Othello’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Hamlet’. Most of the plays by other dramatist had a tendency to include a lament to be sung by high-pitched or shrill voice and accompanied by consort of viola. Shakespeare parodied this genre through the interlude performance on Pyramus and Thisbe in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
Shakespeare used to assign most of his songs to the characters like servants, clowns, fools, rogues and minor characters. Most of the songs were used to be addressed to the protagonists themselves.
In William Shakespeare plays like ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ the boy musician of the company, was showed to sing a song about drinking. Shakespeare in his plays used both the songs of Shakespeare times as well as the songs composed by him.
Shakespeare’s plays inspired musicians like Henry Purcell, Benjamin Britten, Barlioz, Verdi and so on. Purcell composed an orchestra on ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream for his opera, ‘The Fairy Queen’. Britten too composed a musical version of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Giuseppe Verdi composed musical opera on ‘Macbeth’. Berlioz too, made several musical adaptations of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘The Tempest’, ‘Hamlet’ and so on.