The reception and re-use of Thomas Arne’s Shakespeare songs of 1740/1

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The middle decades of the eighteenth century saw the rise of David Garrick and with it a new phase in bardolatory in the English theatre. During his tenure at Drury Lane, most of the main English composers were associated with the theatre at one time or another. The period also witnessed a growing tendency towards the re-performance of particular song settings in Shakespearean productions. Indeed, it seems that only in Shakespearean productions did audiences expect to hear (at least some of) the same songs from one production to the next, a phenomenon that continued in productions of some plays well into the nineteenth century (as can be also seen for example by the musical programme at the tercentenary celebrations of 1864). To some extent this may be attributed to the increasing weight of Shakespeare’s cultural symbolism. However, it also appears to be rooted the increasing commodification of printed music (as represented by Thomas Arne’s exertion of copyright in 1741) and in the burgeoning culture of performer celebrity; processes enabled by and resulting in a complex cultural discourse between composer, performer and audience. This essay will explore the development and impact of the tradition of re-performance of songs in Shakespearean plays in the mid-eighteenth century.


  • Thomas Arne, music, Shakespeare, English theatre music
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShakespeare, Music and Performance
EditorsBill Barclay, David Lindley
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)978-1107139336, 978-1316488768
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-13933-6
Publication statusPublished - 2017
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