While it is a comedy of the turmoil of love and the experimentation with gender roles and identity, William Shakespeare's As you Like It is a historical preservation of Renaissance music. The play is fraught with spontaneous song and poetry, yet Shakespeare strategically manipulates these musical elements. Specifically, the lyrics and poetry of the play function to establish a soundtrack and a direct appeal to their Elizabethan audience, while providing Shakespeare with a valuable shorthand for character development.
It is necessary to understand that music in Shakespeare's time functions as a complete renovation of sound, voice, and function. Paul Brian emphasizes that "whereas the music of the middle ages is predominately sacred, there is a great flourishing of ideas dedicated to secular topics, predominantly love, in the 15th through early 17th centuries" (1). From this comment, we can understand that the demand for love music and poetry in Shakespeare's time is indeed influential on As You Like It's musical content. In addition, Mason proffers that "the chief glory of Elizabeth's age was [...] the development of its secular vocal music, which reached a high degree of artistry. It did so, of course, because Elizabethans received perhaps even more enjoyment from singing together socially then they did from singing psalms together in church" (3). In this development of secular music and emphasis on communal singing, the numerous musicians and singers who painfully extend Shakespeare's cast of characters should be seen as symbols of music's booming popularity in the Elizabethan age.
In scenes of As You Like It, we can see the influence of communal music on...
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... As You Like It chooses a few individuals to symbolize the importance of music to an entire society, whether it is the merrymakers of the Forest of Ardenne or the inhabitants of Renaissance England.
Brian, Paul. "Renaissance Love Songs Study Guide". 6 June 1997. Online. http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/love-in-the-arts/renaissance.html. 7 November 2002.
Elson, Louis C. Shakespeare in Music. Boston: LC Page & Company, 1900.
Long, John H. Shakespeare's Use of Music. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1955.
Mason, Dorothy E. Music in Elizabethan England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1958.
Pattison, Bruce. Music and Poetry of the English Renaissance. (2nd ed). London: Methuen and Company, 1970.
Seng, Peter J. The Vocal Songs in the Plays of Shakespeare: A Critical History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.
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