Academic journal article Women & Music

O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note: Music for Witches, the Melancholic, and the Mad on the Seventeenth-Century English Stage

Academic journal article Women & Music

O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note: Music for Witches, the Melancholic, and the Mad on the Seventeenth-Century English Stage

Article excerpt

O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note: Music for Witches, the Melancholic, and the Mad on the Seventeenth-Century English Stage. By Amanda Eubanks Winkler. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006. 232 pp.

To study the English stage during the turbulent seventeenth century inherently involves grappling with disorder. Before and after regicide and revolution divided England, "disharmony and faction seemed a permanent condition of the kingdom, so the most a monarch could hope for wasn't the containment of discord (not that it was ever really a possibility) but escape from it" (9). In O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note: Music for Witches, the Melancholic, and the Mad on the Seventeenth-Century English Stage Amanda Eubanks Winkler unveils the English theater as a mediating space for public discourse during a century when the nation continually, and often violently, redefined the boundaries of political, religious, and social order. Winkler delves into the heart of this uneasy dramatic period and focuses the reader's attention on character types that defy easy categorization and reflect the underlying anxieties of a nation struggling to retain control. Specifically, she studies representations of the witch, lovesick, melancholic, and mad and thereby reveals shifting views of the gendered body and mind that influenced social interaction over the course of the seventeenth century. While her argument thus far is likely familiar to early modern English historians, literary critics, and gender theorists, Winkler reaffirms music's prominent role within this study. She emphasizes music's central symbolic value in seventeenth-century England's Neoplatonic understanding of the relationship between the political nation and the individual and offers her subsequent analysis of the dramatic stage as an answer to the following question:

   In this age of conflict, this century that completely
   reformulated the relationship between
   monarch and subject, between man and woman,
   between the macrocosm and microcosm,
   how did music, dance, and theater negotiate
   this obvious social tumult? (11)

Although Winkler draws on abundant early modern print sources as well as contemporary literary and critical theory to support her observations, her deep familiarity with the masques and plays of the entire seventeenth century and her rich musical analyses of the theatrical music therein are the most persuasive evidential sources in the book. Winkler's concise survey of the wide variety of musical genres found on the English public and private stages provides a nuanced introduction for novice readers; she does not assume her readers' familiarity with the drama and genres she discusses, and she situates her examples before detailing their particular relevance. She also provides ample musical excerpts for readers to trace her observations if they so desire. The inclusion of a recording of these examples (either included with the text or available online) would have been an additional bonus and would have encouraged readers, like seventeenth-century audiences, to listen for the meaning encoded in the music.

Following opening critical and structural commentary, Winkler introduces readers in her second chapter to the "ideological contractions in musical representations of witchcraft" and shows how onstage English witches threatened social and religious authority by challenging conventional gender roles (12). From the start of the seventeenth century, the roles of English witches were typically performed by adult men, while young boys played other feminine characters. Winkler points to this casting decision as the first among many physiological and behavioral factors to contradict Jacobean ideals of femininity. English witches recited and sang lines in deep unnatural voices, and they moved across the stage in erratic dances that "subverted symmetry and harmony of form" (20). (1) Furthermore, these unnatural witches who consorted with devilish familiars and mimicked sacred rites in their demonic rituals directly subverted normative patriarchal authority and incited anti-Catholic sentiment. …

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