Early Encounters with Shakespeare Music: experiencing playhouse musical performance, 1590-1613

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


For many early modern playgoers, music was not a peripheral feature of commercial drama, but a chief attraction of the theatres sometimes even the primary motivation for playgoing. This chapter explores early evidence of musically interested playgoers and their engagements with practical musical performance at venues like the Globe and Blackfriars. It works with a range of examples before taking The Merchant of Venice as an extended test case in the early modern relationship between drama and music. Through these materials, the chapter offers three core propositions about playhouse engagements with music during Shakespeares working life. The first is that musical experience was in itself a significant and widely acknowledged incentive for playgoing that can be traced across the textual record. The second is that playgoers regularly encountered music as an integral element of a plays dramaturgy, and so their musical experiences need to be understood in the context of their wider engagements with drama.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music
EditorsChristopher R. Wilson, Mervyn Cooke
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9780190945145
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2022

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2022. All rights reserved.


  • Merchant of Venice
  • William Shakespeare
  • audience culture
  • delight
  • drama
  • early modern theatres
  • music
  • musical compulsion
  • popular culture
  • sound studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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