The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1473  Thursday, 30 May 2002

From:           David Lindley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 29 May 2002 19:42:08 GMT0BST
Subject:        'Incidental' Music

Tim Perfect asks:

>Perhaps I'm wrong, but were not Shakespeare's plays "underscored" in the
>same manner by musicians up in the "heavens" at the Globe and other such

This is an interesting, underexplored question.  I have always believed
that in the Shakespearean theatre music is assumed to be heard by those
on stage - and if, like Antonio and Sebastian in Tempest 2.2 they don't
hear it, then it is a very specific moral marker.  Martin White,
however, in his *Renaissance Drama in Action* suggests that the contrary
is true, and that musicians did provide the kind of mood music, or
'incidental' music, that we are now utterly familiar with. Once the
King's Men moved to Blackfriars they had a larger and more varied
collection of musicians, who certainly seem to have played music before
the play began, and possibly in the intervals between the acts when the
candles were being trimmed.  But it's possible that this was rather like
the music that used to be provided in the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
during the repertory seasons of my youth, when a trio (later a solo
pianist) entertained the audience before the play and during the
interval - the music played bore no specific relation to the play being

If anyone knows of incontrovertible evidence that music was used which
explicitly assumed that the audience, but not the actors on stage, could
hear it, during the Renaissance, I'd be very glad to know of it (it
would blow a hole in some of the things I've written, but still....)

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