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Noyses, Sounds, and Sweet Aires
Music on Stage

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"Would You Have a Love Song?"

Music on Stage

Patrons making their way through London's streets, down to a ferry-landing on the Thames, across the water, up the bank, and through the doors of the Globe Theatre would have heard cart wheels rumbling, peddlers selling their wares, ferrymen yelling for passengers, and dogs yelping. Entering the theater, they encountered another world of sounds, a world that included music.


Music played many roles in theatrical performances: interpolated songs added layers of meaning to dramatic conversations; set pieces evoked the role of music in the real world; instrumental interludes helped set or reflect the mood.


While much of the music for the Elizabethan stage has been lost, its existence is made clear through song texts found in the plays, cues indicating performance, and references to familiar ballads and songs.


Are you interested in learning more about the music heard and referenced in Shakespeare's plays? Here are some selected readings on Shakespeare and theatrical music in early modern England:


Duffin, Ross. Shakespeare's Songbook. New York, 2004.


Finney, Gretchen L. Musical Backgrounds for English Literature: 1580-1650. New Brunswick, 1962.


Lindley, David. Shakespeare and Music. London, 2006.


Seng, Peter J. The Vocal Songs in the Plays of Shakespeare, a Critical History. Cambridge, Mass., 1967.




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Wits. Part 1. London, 1662

Additional Information

Drolls, comic scenes often excerpted from plays, were performed in ad hoc settings during the Commonwealth when theater was prohibited. Marsh published this collection after the Restoration.


The frontispiece offers a glimpse of a seventeenth-century theater: characters from several drolls populate the stage; curtains cover a place that could be used as a musicians' gallery. It is the first illustration to show an English stage lit by chandeliers and candles in front.

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