- Reverberating Song in Shakespeare and Milton: Language, Memory, and Musical Representation by Minear, Erin
Reverberating Song in Shakespeare and Milton: Language, Memory, and Musical Representation offers a close critical look at the role of sound and music in the works of two of the greatest writers of the English Renaissance, William Shakespeare and John Milton. While the study of music in the early modern period and in the works of Shakespeare and Milton is a well-trodden path and an ongoing discussion by many scholars, Erin Minear's careful and fascinating analysis casts refreshing new light onto what are now long familiar works, passages, and examples of music. In Reverberating Song, Minear offers a complex analysis of music in Shakespeare and Milton in its various forms, be it theme, motif, aural imagery, or remnant of staging practices. Minear argues that both Shakespeare and Milton 'reproduce not the specific formal or sonic properties of music, but its effects' (p. 2), and explores the infiltration of language in their work by 'music and musical memories' (p. 4). Minear is particularly interested in how Milton responded to Shakespeare's writing, and traces Milton's response to Shakespeare's conception of music and memory, and his eventual diversion from it. Minear's work is framed by both textual and historical criticism, offering close readings of a variety of works by Shakespeare and Milton, as well as thorough examination of the culture and history of music in the early modern period.
Reverberating Song is set out in nine sections: an Introduction, seven chapters, and a Conclusion. Each chapter is devoted to different works by Shakespeare and Milton: one of the strengths of Minear's work is the breadth and variety of work discussed. Chapters 2 to 4 deal with a number of Shakespeare's plays, mainly his comedies (such as Twelfth Night) including problem plays and romances (The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest), and [End Page 289] tragedies (Othello, Titus Andronicus, and Hamlet). The histories are also briefly represented with some discussion of plays such as Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2) and Henry VIII. Chapters 5 to 7, and the Conclusion, touch on Milton's dramas (Samson Agonistes), masques (Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle), treatises (On Education), and various other poetic works (such as L'Allegro, Lycidas, and Paradise Lost). To cover all the examples of musical imagery found in Shakespeare's and Milton's writings would be impossible in just one book, but the examples Minear has chosen successfully demonstrate the similarities and differences in Shakespeare and Milton's writings.
As a scholar who deals primarily with the study of Shakespeare, I found Reverberating Song most engaging when Minear directly addresses Shakespeare's plays. I was particularly drawn to Minear's analysis of music and memory in Shakespeare's poetic language and imagery, whether in snatches of old long-forgotten songs (p. 10), music already heard that lingers in characters' thoughts (p. 9) and that generates associative memory (see in particular Minear's analysis of sonic echoes in Chapter 2), or stands in for other things (see Chapter 3, in particular Minear's description of music as 'ghostly manifestation', pp. 92-94).
The later chapters on Milton's work were also a fascinating read. I was struck by Minear's analysis of the density of allusions to Shakespeare in the descriptions of music in the Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (see Chapter 6). As Minear notes, in the Masque, Milton imitates a Shakespearean soundscape: its 'eerie noises of the wood' (p. 203), recollect Shakespeare's own use of aural imagery in the magical woodland setting of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Reverberating Song is incredibly well researched, and the variety and scope of critical materials cited is impressive. The footnotes are a fascinating accompaniment to Minear's analysis, although at times I found their frequency a distraction to my reading of the main text. A difficulty that seems too often associated with writing about music is the lack of actual examples, whether...