Music in Shakespearean Tragedy

By F. W. Sternfeld | Go to book overview

VIII
INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC: PART ONE Tamburlaine, Richard II, Troilus and Cressida

THE range of instrumental music in Shakespeare's plays extends from the obvious and functional music of battles and banquets to the celestial music not ordinarily heard by mortal ears. At one extreme we have the herald's trumpet, the soldier's drum, the clown's pipe, the fiddler's 'noise' of the tavern; at the other extreme the music of the spheres

Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

It is the playwright's task to make us listen, or, at the least, to suggest to our imagination the music of both worlds, to reflect in poetry and music the flesh as well as the spirit; to bring alive both the 'brazen din' and the 'tuned spheres'. 1 'Brazen din' is a description more apt for the early tragedies, such as Tamburlaine and Henry VI and less for Antony and Cleopatra, where battle scenes give way in importance to character portrayal. The term refers not only to the stentorian voice of brass instruments but also to an unabashed, if not impudent, behaviour. Tamburlaine's progress towards the conquest of the world is punctuated by military flourishes to signify a succession of challenges and bouts that would become tiresome were it not for the poetic relief of

____________________
1
ANT, IV.viii.36; V.ii.84.

-195-

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