Shakespeare’s Songs, Music, & Dancing
“Strike up Pipers!”
-Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene iv
Songs in Shakespeare’s Scripts
Unlike some of Shakespeare’s previously written scripts, Much Ado About Nothing contains a noteworthy number of additional stage directions requesting music. For our production, we called on BYU Alumni and faculty member, Dr. Sharon J. Harris, as a music consultant. Dr. Harris is a music researcher specializing in early modern English literature. Her research helped direct us to accurate time period music.
As an added bonus, she also pointed out songs that are no longer recognized as such, yet were popular enough in Shakespeare’s day that he interjected their lyrical phrases seamlessly into his dialogue. Here’s a list of songs in the play (both in part or in whole):
- “The God of Love.” This phrase is exclaimed by a couple of characters, both Hero (Act III Scene i) and later Benedick (Act V Scene ii). What would have added another layer of humor to the second situation in Shakespeare’s day is that Benedick, who is having a difficult time writing his sonnet of love to Beatrice, begins poorly in two ways. He can’t seem to write anything well; and when he does start, he can’t even think of his own words. Instead, Benedick unabashedly borrows words from a popular song of the day written by William Elderton, published in the 1560s.
- “The History of Troilus” (Act V Scene ii). By saying this character’s name, it would not necessarily constitute a song reference. Yet Benedick could find himself in a similar situation as the tragic Greek lover, whose ballad was popular at the time. Therefore by mentioning Troilus, Benedick builds tension in the audience that perhaps Beatrice will spurn his affections too.
- “Hey Ho, for a Husband” (Act II Scene i; Act III Scene iv). It appears that Beatrice is referring to this popular song when she states,
“I may sit in a corner and cry heigh-ho for a husband!”
-Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene i
However, the first known printing of the lyrics is found in a book published half a century later, long after Shakespeare’s death (though several songs from his day do not have surviving copies of printed sheet music.)
- “Leave Lightie Love, Ladies” (Act III Scene iv) is another old song with lyrics published in the 1570s and set to music as early as 1575. The song denounces the vain games of women who pretty themselves up, are flirtations, and yet turn out to be unfaithful. Renaissance audiences watching Much Ado About Nothing for the first time may have thought that the mention of this song by Hero’s maid on the morning of the first wedding warned them that perhaps Hero wasn’t as she appeared, a faithful bride-to-be.
- “Pardon, Goddess of the Night’ (Act V Scene ii). This song’s lyrics seem to have been written for Much Ado About Nothing as they are in full here, yet an earlier printed version has not been found, nor referred to. Sadly, no original musical score was preserved; however, by 1615, familiar tunes began to accompany the lyrics in songbooks.
- “Sick, Sick, and Too, Too Sick” (Act III Scene iv). Hero asks Beatrice why she speaks in the “sick tune” and Beatrice quips,
“I am out of all other tune.”
-Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Scene iv
Beatrice later answers her companion’s continued queries about her illness by speaking the letter “H” which can be verbalized as the word “ache” or “as a sneeze” — Shakespeare’s subtle sense of humor shines through yet another song.
- “Sigh No More Ladies” (Act II Scene iii). This is the second song listed here from Much Ado About Nothing, in which Shakespeare’s play seems to be the first time the lyrics have appeared in print. Yet there are tunes from that era that fit the meter.
- “A Song of a King and a Beggar” (Act I Scene i). This song is referenced more than any other song by Shakespeare in his writings. It is a ballad on the effects of Cupid’s arrow. Like the King in the song who falls in love with the Beggar Maid, both the King and Benedick protest in vain against falling in love.
- “Since Robin Hood” (Act III Scene ii). Benedick may have referenced the catchy phrase of this song, “The hobby horse quite forgotten.” Benedick rebukes his companions, who are teasing him, to stay put, while he leaves with Leonata to talk privately, saying,
“I have eight or nine wise words to speak to you which these hobby-horses must not hear.”
-Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Scene ii
Which came first? Did Shakespeare reference these popular songs, or did musicians reference his popular plays?
“There’s a double meaning in that”
-Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene iii
“Do you sing it, and I’ll dance it”
-Margaret, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Scene iv.
Dancing with the Stars of Much Ado About Nothing
Queen Elizabeth encouraged dancing. It is rumored that every morning she danced lively jigs, (a type of fast-paced dance). In Shakespeare’s day, a jig was typical at the end of a performance, whether it was one of his comedies or tragedies. One patron in the 1600s wrote home about their visit to The Globe. They mention that at the end of the play, the dead characters rose up, joined by the living, both friend and foe, and danced a merry jig.
There are several dances in our production of Much Ado About Nothing. A few dances called out in the script are the Scottish Jig, the Cinque Pace, and the Measure Dance. The Measure Dance is thought to be a stately dance (with measured walking), yet according to William Barclay Squire’s A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1900), there are no surviving written dance steps or music. Some believe that the Measure Dance is a close relative of one of the following preserved types dances: the Almain, the Basse Danse; the Galliard; or the Pavane. What types of dances did you recognize in our performance?
“Wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque pace:”
-Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene i.
“Hath he provided this music?’
-Leonata, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Scene ii
Much Ado About Renaissance Music
Dr. Sharon Harris purports that one of the key reasons that Shakespeare included so many musical references in Much Ado About Nothing was to compete with other performing groups in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen delighted in viewing musical entertainment. Dr. Harris also notes that when inserting song titles or lyrics into dialogue, a playwright adds layers of understanding; much like referencing a popular song today may lead one to think of the context of the whole song and its impact on society at the time.
Would you like to learn more about the music in Much Ado About Nothing? Then be our guest at the Post-Matinee Discussion, “Much Ado About Renaissance Music,” given by Dr. Sharon Harris on November 23rd, 2019 in the BYU Pardoe Theatre, HFAC at 4:15 pm, or immediately following the matinee performance.
“Therefore play, music!’
-Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene iv