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Broken Harmony

Shakespeare and the Politics of Music

Joseph M. Ortiz

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

...The ideas contained in this book have had a long and enjoyable history. At Yale my interests in Renaissance literature and music were guided and nurtured by Annabel Patterson, Heather James, Cyrus Hamlin, and Jeremy Lanni. Harold Bloom read and approved my earliest foray into the subject of music and Ovid in Shakespeare. At Princeton...

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Introduction: Disciplining Music

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pp. 1-17

...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...

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1. Titus Andronicus and the Production of Musical Meaning

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pp. 18-44

...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...

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2. “Her speech is nothing”: Mad speech and the Female Musician

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pp. 45-76

...connections between the two women by emphasizing their rhetorical virtuosity (both Niobe and Hecuba have long “set speeches”) and the ultimate “stoniness” of their grief. In fact, when Ovid recounts Hecuba’s reaction to the death of her son, he alludes to Niobe by describing Hecuba, now bereft...

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3. Teaching Music: the Rule of Allegory

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pp. 77-141

...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...

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4. Impolitic Noise: Resisting Orpheus from Julius Caesar to The Tempest

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pp. 142-179

...About the mode of instruction, Elyot is absolutely clear: music is principally to be read, not heard. In this respect, his pedagogical approach to music is utterly orthodox. After warning his reader at length of the dangers of practical musical learning, Elyot directs his idealized tutor to the most abstract of...

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5. Shakespeare’s idolatry: Psalms and Hornpipes in The Winter’s Tale

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pp. 180-212

...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...

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6. The Reforming of Reformation: Milton’s A Maske

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pp. 213-242

...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...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 243-256


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pp. 257-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460920
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801449314

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1