Shakespeare and Music
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
SHAKESPEARE AND MUSIC
Oxford, I’m prepared to show, took Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier as his particular job description. Here’s what Castiglione had to say about musicianship:
And the Counte beginning a freshe: My Lordes (quoth he) you must thinke I am not pleased with the Courtier if he be not also a musitien, The Courtyer a musitien. and beside his understanding and couning upon the booke, have skill in lyke maner on sudrye instruments. For yf we waie it well, there is no ease of the labours and medicines of feeble mindes to be founde more honeste and more praise worthye in time of leyser then it. And princypally in Courtes, where (beside the refreshing of vexacyons that musike bringeth unto eche man) many thynges are taken in hande to please women withal, whose tender and softe breastes are soone perced with melody and fylled with swetenesse. Therefore no marvaile that in the olde times and nowe a dayes they have alwayes bene enclined to musitiens, and counted this a moste acceptable foode of the mynde.
Then the L. Gaspar: I beleve musicke (quoth he) together with many other vanities is mete for women, and paradventure for some also that have the lykenes of men, but not for them that be men in dede: who ought not with suche delicacies to womannishe their mindes, and brynge themselves in that sort to dread death.
Speake it not, answered the Count. For I shall enter into a large sea of the praise of Musicke, and call to rehearsal howe much it hath alwayes bene renowmed emong them of olde time, and counted a holy matter: and how it hath bene the opinion of most wise Philosophers Musick in estimation in olde time. that the world is made of musick, and the heavens in their moving make a melody, and our soule framed after the very same sort, and therfore lifteth up it self and (as it were) reviveth the vertues and force of it with musick: wherfore it is written that Alexander was sometime so ferventely styrred with it, that (in a maner) against his wyll he was forced to arise from bankettes and runne to weapon, afterward the mustien chaunging the stroke and his maner of tume, pacified himself againe and retourned from weapon to banketting. And I shall tell you that grave Socrates when he was well stricken in yeares learned to playe uppon the harpe. And I remember I have understoode that Plato and Aristotle will have a man that is well brought up, to be also a musitien: and declare with infinite reasons the force of musicke to be to very great purpose in us, and for many causes (that should be to long to rehearse) ought necessarilye to be learned from a mans childhoode, not onely for the superficial melodie that is hard, but to be sufficient to bring into us a newe habite that is good, anda custome enclyning to vertue, whiche maketh the minde more apt to the conceiving of felicitie, even as bodely exercise maketh the bodie more lustie, and not onely hurteth not civyl matters and warrelyke affaires, but is a great staie to them. Also Lycurgus in his sharpe lawes allowed musicke. And it is read that the Lacedemons, whiche were valiaunt in armes, and the Cretenses used harpes and other soft intstumentes: and many most excellent captaines of olde time (as Epaminondas) gave themselves to musicke: and suche as had not a syght in it (as Themistocles) were a great deale the lesse set by. Have you read that among the first instruccions which the good olde man Chiron taught Achilles in his tender age, whome he had brought up from his nurse and cradle, musick was one? And the wise maister would have those hands that should shed so muche Troyan bloude, to be oftentimes occupyed in playing upon the harpe? What souldyer is there (therefore) that will thinke it a shame to folow Achilles, omitting many other famous captaines that I could alledge? Do ye not then deprive our Coutyer of musicke, which doth not only make swete the mindes of men, but also many times wilde beastes tame: and whoso savoureth it not, a manne may assuredly thinke him not to be wel in his wittes. Beholde I pray you what force it hath, that in times paste allured a fishe to suffer a man to ride upon him throughe the tempestious sea. We maie see it used in the holy temples to render laude and thankes unto God, and it is a credible matter that it is acceptable unto him, and that he hath geven it unto us for a most swete lightning of our travailes and vexations. So that many times the boisterous labourers in the fieldes in the heate of the sunne beguyle theyr paine with rude and cartarlyke singing. With this the unmannerly countreywoman that aryseth befor e daye out of her slepe. to spinne and carde, defendeth her self and maketh her labour pleasant. Tis is the most swete pastime after reigne, wind, and tempest unto the miserable mariners. With this do the wery pilgromes comfort themselves in their troublesome and long viages. And often tymes prisoners in adversitie, in fetters, and in stockes. In lyke maner for a greater proofe that the tunablenes of musicke (though it be but rude) is a very great refrshing of al worldly paines and griefs, a man would judge thatnature hath taughte it unto nurses for a speciall remedye to the contynuall waylinges of sucking babes, whiche at the soune of their voice fall into a quiete and swete sleep, forgetting the teares that are so proper to them, and geven us of nature in that age for a gesse of the reste of oure life to come.
Castiglione, Baldesar. The Book of the Courtier. Trans. Sir Thomas Hoby. 1561. Renascence Editions.
For more on Shakespeare and music, here are some orthodox sources: