Broken Harmony

Broken Harmony: Shakespeare and the Politics of Music

Joseph M. Ortiz
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Broken Harmony
    Book Description:

    Music was a subject of considerable debate during the Renaissance. The notion that music could be interpreted in a meaningful way clashed regularly with evidence that music was in fact profoundly promiscuous in its application and effects. Subsequently, much writing in the period reflects a desire to ward off music's illegibility rather than come to terms with its actual effects. In Broken Harmony, Joseph M. Ortiz revises our understanding of music's relationship to language in Renaissance England. In the process he shows the degree to which discussions of music were ideologically and politically charged.

    Offering a historically nuanced account of the early modern debate over music, along with close readings of several of Shakespeare's plays (including Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, and The Winter's Tale) and Milton's A Maske, Ortiz challenges the consensus that music's affinity with poetry was widely accepted, or even desired, by Renaissance poets. Shakespeare more than any other early modern poet exposed the fault lines in the debate about music's function in art, repeatedly staging disruptive scenes of music that expose an underlying struggle between textual and sensuous authorities. Such musical interventions in textual experiences highlight the significance of sound as an aesthetic and sensory experience independent of any narrative function.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6092-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Disciplining Music
    (pp. 1-17)

    Among Shakespeare’s critics of music, few are as prescient as Portia in The Merchant of Venice. At the climax of the play’s famous casket scene, as Bassanio is about to choose the casket that holds her portrait, Portia commands a musical performance while deftly deconstructing its effect on her audience:

    Let music sound while he doth make his choice. Then if he lose he makes a swanlike end, Fading in music. That the comparison May stand more proper, my eye shall be the stream And wat’ry deathbed for him. He may win, And what is music then? Then music is...

  6. Chapter 1 Titus Andronicus and the Production of Musical Meaning
    (pp. 18-44)

    The debate over the meaning of music in the Renaissance begins not with bees, but with birds. Martin Luther, in commending music’s ability to make nature comprehensible, cites birdsong as the best example of music that praises its divine Creator: “Music is still more wonderful in living things, especially birds, so that David, most musical of all kings and minstrel of God, in deepest wonder and spiritual exultation praised the astounding art and ease of the song of birds when he said in Psalm 104, ‘By them the birds of the heaven have their habitation; they sing among the branches.’”¹...

  7. Chapter 2 “Her speech is nothing”: Mad Speech and the Female Musician
    (pp. 45-76)

    Among Shakespeare’s works, Hamlet is not a particularly Ovidian play.¹ Still, the allusions to Niobe and Hecuba in Hamlet point to powerful models of female grief, famous for their ability to evoke sympathy. Moreover, for both Niobe and Hecuba, grief is speechless. Ovid’s Niobe is transformed into a marble statue whose only signs of mourning are the streams of water that flow continually from her face, while Hecuba is transformed into a barking dog. In the Metamorphoses, Ovid draws connections between the two women by emphasizing their rhetorical virtuosity (both Niobe and Hecuba have long “set speeches”) and the ultimate...

  8. Chapter 3 Teaching Music: The Rule of Allegory
    (pp. 77-141)

    Few music lessons, real or fictional, go as badly as Hortensio’s attempt to teach Katherine the lute in The Taming of the Shrew. The lesson, which happens offstage, is presented as a smaller version of the larger campaign in the play to tame Katherine and make her conform to prescribed models of feminine behavior: Baptista’s question to Hortensio—“Canst not break her to the lute?” (2.1.145)—calls to mind the breaking of horses, an image frequently used in the play as a metaphor for Katherine’s subjection in marriage. In Hortensio’s account of his spectacular failure, Katherine shows herself to be...

  9. Chapter 4 Impolitic Noise: Resisting Orpheus from Julius Caesar to The Tempest
    (pp. 142-179)

    The political version of the theory of musical harmony is so ubiquitous in Renaissance England that it may be taken as a commonplace. In his archly conservative The Boke named The Governour (1531), for example, Sir Thomas Elyot firmly ties his program of political philosophy to the study of musica speculativa. Addressing the education of young boys destined to rule, Elyot instructs tutors to

    commende the perfecte understandinge of musike, declaringe howe necessary it is for the better attaynynge the knowlege of a publike weale: whiche, as I before haue saide, is made of an ordre of astates and degrees,...

  10. Chapter 5 Shakespeare’s Idolatry: Psalms and Hornpipes in The Winter’s Tale
    (pp. 180-212)

    Shakespeare’s exposure of the interests propping up musica speculativa suggests the hollowness of universalizing notions of music. By repeatedly demonstrating that the Renaissance allegories of music and Ovid are allegories, in the service of specific political and cultural viewpoints, the plays and poems cultivate a profound skepticism about texts that profess to explain the true nature of music. At the same time, by emphasizing the fundamental disparity between musical sound and narratives of harmony, Shakespeare fuels the notion that listening to music is an essentially sensuous experience, ultimately dependent for its meaning on the whims and fancies of its human...

  11. Chapter 6 The Reforming of Reformation: Milton’s A Maske
    (pp. 213-242)

    Unlike Shakespeare’s dismantling of moralized music, Milton’s comments on music and Scripture in the Prolusions and Areopagitica constitute a defense of allegory, based on a careful understanding of figuration. Just as the Bible represents divine truth elliptically or “darkly,” music—as it is understood and experienced by a human audience—has a figural relation to cosmological and divine knowledge, not a literal one. And while Milton couches his defense with references to the “vulgar” or “common reader,” his other remarks in the same lecture on harmony suggest that this figural way of understanding truth is essential for almost any human...

  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 243-256)
  13. Index
    (pp. 257-262)