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Tempestuous Transformations

David Lindley
Affiliation:
University of Leeds
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Summary

If it is true, as Dennis Kennedy observes in Looking at Shakespeare, that ‘the visual history of performance … has been mostly excluded from Shakespeare studies’, then it is even more the case that the history of the music which has accompanied successive productions has been virtually totally ignored. However, if ‘there is a clear relationship between what a production looks like and what its spectators accept as its statement and value’, the same must be true of the aural world generated by musical accompaniment. Less completely pervasive than the visual, physical setting of a performance, and much more prominent in some plays than others, music, although a somewhat neglected medium of translation, is simultaneously capable of giving significant emotional charge to particular actions and moments in a performance, of underscoring its larger direction and purposes, and renegotiating relations between text (the past) and performance (the present).

The Tempest is a particularly useful play through which to explore the contribution music can make to the translation of the text from page to stage. It is Shakespeare's most musical play, and scholars have debated over many years the significance of the contribution which music makes to the play's thematic preoccupations, whether as a symbol of harmony and concord, or as an aspect of Prospero's manipulative magic arts. Yet in recent studies of the play in performance the music gets scant attention. With the information made available by the publication of A Shakespeare Music Catalogue, the time seems right to integrate consideration of music into The Tempest's stage history, and this essay aims to make some preliminary exploration of the issues that such an effort raises. I am not concerned here to discuss the ways in which Shakespeare's play has been transposed, from the Restoration to the present, into a more or less thoroughgoing operatic mode, nor do I explore the potentially fascinating ways in which settings of portions of the text, or composition of pieces alluding to it, form a history of commentary parallel to the much more frequently examined literary penumbra of works inspired by the play. Instead, I want to consider, through a very few examples, some of the ways in which the play might be formed and transformed through the music chosen or composed to accompany its performance.

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Chapter
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Translating Life
Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics
, pp. 99 - 120
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2000

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