Moving Music: Theory and Practice in Early Modern English Drama and Poetry

Sharon J Harris, Fordham University


“Moving Music,” bridges the gap between the theory and the practice of music as it is represented in early modern English drama and poetry. Attending to the sounded musical practice inherent in early modern English drama and poetry shows how musico-poetic works, which I refer to as poesie, shaped and redefined dramatic form and performance across the seventeenth century. I trace the influence of music on early modern drama and poetry musical humanism and via popular music performances such as those on London streets, for holidays, and for the court. The opening chapter discusses musical humanism through Philip Sidney’s commitment to poesie’s potential to communicate ideas, in this case the implications of Copernican heliocentrism. The following chapter examines music performed on the stage in the late sixteenth century and challenges scholarship that regards theatrical music and song as sub- or non-literary, inconsequential, or interchangeable in early modern drama by showing the discursive power of both music and the pun in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. After considering how music signifies in humanistic poetics and on the London stage, the third chapter examines how these discursive impulses came together in domestic and semi-public music meetings during the Interregnum. These concerts salvaged and relocated commercial dramatic performances after Parliament closed the theaters, and they also cultivated an amateur market for music publications. The final chapter explores staged masques inserted into “dramatic operas” in Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare and how these works evinced audiences’ cultural preferences for both playtexts and dramatic songs. The question of how music moves is a common thread through each chapter, as practices of music adjust and reconstitute the media, markets, and forms of their transmission and adjust what poets, musicians, and audiences expect from English poesie and music. This study rewrites the impact of music on forms of dramatic performance across the seventeenth century and prompts us to reconceptualize poetic and dramatic form altogether through the lens of predisciplinary poesie.

Subject Area

Music|Theater|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Harris, Sharon J, "Moving Music: Theory and Practice in Early Modern English Drama and Poetry" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10815430.