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  • Music, Text, Stuttering: An Intermedial Approach to Dramatick Opera in The Fairy Queen
  • Sharon J. Harris

Critics, from the Restoration to the near past, have not always accorded much respect to Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare plays, nor to the partially overlapping genre of Restoration dramatick opera. From Samuel Pepys—for whom a 1662 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was “the most insipid ridiculous play that I saw in my life”—to George C. D. Odell—who wrote in 1920 that George Granville’s adaptation of Merchant of Venice was “a gross vulgarisation” —and beyond, many critics have treated these adaptations as, at best, having “a certain charm and interest” but have dismissed or decried them as “imitative and derivative.”1 In recent decades we have come to better understand the social, legal, political, and cultural contexts of Restoration playmaking, including how the eventual elevation of Shakespeare as The Bard has conditioned our assessments of his Restoration adapters.2 Appreciation for the artistry of these adaptations as plays remains scarce, however. In this special issue, Amanda Eubanks Winkler shows how scholars have failed to engage Restoration dramatic art in general and makes a persuasive case for an intermedial approach to dramatick opera in particular. As she notes, the biases of bardolatry and theoretical traditions that privilege text, along with “anxieties about intermediality and the supposed subordination of the poet have been transmuted into a critical revulsion toward the writers and adapters who produced dramatick operas’ texts.”3 An intermedial approach to Restoration drama helps us see, feel, and analyze that drama better.

In this essay I examine how three media—music, text, and stuttering—interact and draw on each other in the scene of the Drunken Poets in the dramatick opera, The Fairy Queen, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Following the stage directions and final lyrics in the scene, I refer to this scene as the plural Drunken Poets [End Page 65] rather than the singular Drunken Poet.) The various media and their interactions in this scene interrogate the function and identity of the poet figure and of Restoration poetics, revealing the dynamic and complementary expressions of interacting media. My analysis proceeds in four parts. First, a review of the origins of The Fairy Queen and its Drunken Poets scene establishes the intermedial nature of the dramatick opera, and a survey of discipline-specific critical responses illustrates the need for a more interdisciplinary approach. Music, text, and stuttering are then discussed in turn as media forms. Throughout this essay I consider mediation not as the act of disbursing messages or specific content but, as Richard Grusin describes, “as the process, action, or event that generates or provides the conditions for the emergence of subjects and objects.”4 As Grusin goes on to say, and as this essay illustrates, mediation—a relational, generative, and ontological process—scales large and small and is closely tied to creation, whether that be the broader creation of a Restoration aesthetic or the creativity of producing a specific Restoration dramatick opera such as The Fairy Queen.5 I approach three types of mediation—music, text, and stuttering—as different and intertwined processes and actions within the dramatick opera. My sections on each medium take the form, respectively, of a musical analysis, a recovery of historical intertextuality, and an interpretation guided by disability and media studies. My mixture of methodological approaches thus mirrors the assortment and fragmentation that characterized the aesthetics of Restoration performance, especially dramatick opera, toward the end of revealing the pleasures of this aesthetic that have escaped many commentators. I show that, although The Fairy Queen may seem a failure as a textual work and may be merely passable as a musical work, it is a success as an intermedia work. In so doing, I hope to encourage future intermedial analysis of Restoration dramatick opera.

Historical Origins and Critical Responses

Explaining how the The Fairy Queen was conceived and received sets up the discussion of the different media that will follow. This dramatick opera premiered at the Dorset Garden Theater in May 1692 as an altered and heavily cut version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream interspersed...


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pp. 65-94
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