The Love and Knowledge of Music: Re-posting No. 37 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears.  Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony…

Only a writer with music flowing in his veins would give Lorenzo these famous lines to Jessica in The Merchant of Venice (5.1). Music is pervasive in Shakespeare’s works; some 170 passages include the words “music” or “musical” or “musician.” He continues:

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold!

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

Such harmony is in immortal souls…

Shakespeare uses “sing” in various forms no less than 247 times.  Some forty passages deal with musical instruments. Lorenzo continues:

[Enter Musicians]

Come, ho, and wake Diana with a hymn!

With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear

And draw her home with music…

He includes or alludes to the texts of well over a hundred songs.  In addition to the numerous stage directions for music and sound effects, his dramatic and poetical work is permeated by specific references to more than 300 musical terms. And more in the same speech of Lorenzo in The Merchant:

[Play Music]

The man that hath no music in himself

Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds

Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils:

The motions of his spirit are dull as night

And his affections dark as Erebus.

Let no such man be trusted.  Mark the music!

De Vere was associated with music from his teenage years at Cambridge and Oxford, before arriving at court in 1571 and quickly gaining the highest favor of Queen Elizabeth, becoming her dance partner and apparently performing for her on the lute and the virginals. Early on he had become associated with Richard Edwards, Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, who is credited with compiling The Paradise of DaintyDevices (1576), which includes at least eight of Oxford’s early poems that appear to be song lyrics. He also maintained a company of adult actors and one of choir boys, who sang as well as performed stage works, and records of the 1580’s indicate he patronized a traveling company known as The Earl of Oxford’s Musicians.

Oxford was the patron of John Farmer, the celebrated madrigalist, and from about 1572 onward he was involved in musical activities at court with the composer William Byrd, one of the greatest musicians England has produced. It appears he was Byrd’s patron as well. The earl’s own accomplishments in the field were praised by professional musicians.

In Shakespeare’s England (1916), W. Barclay Squire reports that Shakespeare “is far in advance of his contemporaries” in terms of musical references, although his education in that field, “wherever it was acquired,” had been “strictly on the lines of the polyphonic school” — a musical teaching that all parts of a composition must fit equally into the whole, as expressed in Richard II (5.5.):

Music, do I hear?

Ha, ha!  Keep time.  How sour sweet music is

When time is broke and no proportion kept!

Such a passage “cannot be understood without some knowledge of the elaborate system of proportions inherited by Elizabethan composers from the earlier English school,” Squire observes. He adds it is “remarkable that the musical terms of the plays should be so consistently those of the old school of polyphony.”  Why is that remarkable?  Because, during the last half of the 1590s, a new style of musical arrangement replaced the old one, yet the great dramatist was apparently unaware of it. “This change dates from about the year 1597,” Squire writes, unable to conceal his bafflement, “yet in all the plays which Shakespeare produced from then [on], no allusion to the ‘new music’ can be discovered.”

This would be baffling indeed if the author had actually been Shakspere, who, within the traditional time frame, still had the best of his career in front of him. In that case he surely would have incorporated the “new school” of music into his plays.  But in the Oxfordian view, de Vere had finished writing the early versions of all his plays by 1589, which easily explains why “Shakespeare” failed to embrace a musical revolution that began almost a decade later. It would be natural that the best writer of that age, who seemed to know everything about music, would have known and worked with the best composer of the same age. And the evidence shows exactly that, although not in the way that orthodox history would have it.

[To be continued with Part Two]

[This post, reflecting the work of editor Alex McNeil and other help from Brian Bechtold, has become No. 62 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford]

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