The Complete Shakespeare Experience    

The first known use of music in English drama came in Gorboduc (1561, Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton), a five-act, blank verse drama which included a five-piece instrumental ensemble to introduce each act. Wit and Science (1539, John Redford) included a composition by four allegorical characters as an interlude.

Choirboy dramas staged at the royal court during the latter 16th Century were acted and sung by the Gentlemen and Children of the Royal Chapel and the Children of Paul’s. These plays often included a lament sung by a treble voice accompanied by viols. Shakespeare parodied the genre in the interlude performed by the rustics in Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Vocal music

Public acting companies, having fewer resources, used a boy actor to sing and play an instrument or relied on one of the adult actors, often the clowns, to sing. The jigg, a musical-comic genre, often bawdy, low-comedy burlesques, consisted of two to five characters and included songs sung to popular melodies, such as  “Walsingham” and “Rowland.” These were accompanied by a fiddle or a cittern (a small, wired instrument strummed with a pick).

Music in



ll but the most tragic of plays during the Tudor and Stuart eras typically included at least one

song or some music; the darkest tragedies limited music to the sounds of trumpets

or drums. Toward the later stage of his tregedies, Shakespeare deviated from this protocol, using songs in Othello, King Lear, and Hamlet.

Dramatic works produced by private companies used music less often than those produced at the royal court where casts were larger and ensembles could provide musical backgrounds.

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