1st Edition

Reverberating Song in Shakespeare and Milton Language, Memory, and Musical Representation

By Erin Minear Copyright 2011

    In this study, Erin Minear explores the fascination of Shakespeare and Milton with the ability of music-heard, imagined, or remembered-to infiltrate language. Such infected language reproduces not so much the formal or sonic properties of music as its effects. Shakespeare's and Milton's understanding of these effects was determined, she argues, by history and culture as well as individual sensibility. They portray music as uncanny and divine, expressive and opaque, promoting associative rather than logical thought processes and unearthing unexpected memories. The title reflects the multiple and overlapping meanings of reverberation in the study: the lingering and infectious nature of musical sound; the questionable status of audible, earthly music as an echo of celestial harmonies; and one writer's allusions to another. Minear argues that many of the qualities that seem to us characteristically 'Shakespearean' stem from Shakespeare's engagement with how music works-and that Milton was deeply influenced by this aspect of Shakespearean poetics. Analyzing Milton's account of Shakespeare's 'warbled notes,' she demonstrates that he saw Shakespeare as a peculiarly musical poet, deeply and obscurely moving his audience with language that has ceased to mean, but nonetheless lingers hauntingly in the mind. Obsessed with the relationship between words and music for reasons of his own, including his father's profession as a composer, Milton would adopt, adapt, and finally reject Shakespeare's form of musical poetics in his own quest to 'join the angel choir.' Offering a new way of looking at the work of two major authors, this study engages and challenges scholars of Shakespeare, Milton, and early modern culture.

    Acknowledgments; Introduction; Chapter 1 Creeping Music: Sounds, Surfaces, and Spheres in The Merchant of Venice; Chapter 2 “We Have Nonesuch”: The Haunting Melody; Chapter 3 “Re-speaking Earthly Thunder”: Hamlet’s Sonic Phantoms; Chapter 4 Playing Music: Twelfth Night and The Tempest; Chapter 5 Warbling Fancies: Milton, Shakespeare, and the Musical Imagination; Chapter 6 “Serpit Agens”: The Song of the Blest Siren; Chapter 7 “Minims of Nature”: Describing Music in Paradise Lost; Conclusion: Spirits of Another Sort; or, Hymning and Humming;


    Erin Minear is Assistant Professor of English at the College of William and Mary, USA.

    'Erin Minear's Reverberating Song in Shakespeare and Milton is a major book on a major subject: the central place of music in the work of the greatest poets of the English Renaissance. A subtle, careful, and original scholar, Minear manages to capture the richness and complexity of music in their works-as motif, theme, mood, and inexhaustible aesthetic resource. Her exceptional sensitivity and alertness enable us to hear notes that had been silenced by long familiarity.' Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor, Harvard University, USA 'This is an elegantly written and thought-provoking book, richly researched yet completely original... an impressive sweep of freshly read details establishes dense networks between [...] individual musical-acoustic metaphors, allusions and descriptions, and sonic effects of language.' Renaissance Quarterly '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... Reverberating Song has much to offer scholars interested in the work of Shakespeare and Milton, and in the broader study of the culture of music that informs Renaissance literature and history.' Parergon 'Erin Minear’s intense and at the same time discursive review of musical effect in Shakespeare and Milton challenges the reader to re-engage with the position and role of music in early modern English poetry and drama. Minear’s lively and sensitive critical stance places her at the centre of this debate.' Review of English Studies '... I must say that the blend of musicology, literary studies and the history of Renaissance culture has produced a fascinating amount of scholarship that is both insightful and detailed.' Sixteenth Century Journal ’...make[s] for stimulating reading extending and deepening our understanding of music’s place in early modern English culture.’ Shakespeare Jahrbuch