'By These Means the Sacred Discourses Sink More Deeply into Minds of Men': Music and Education in Elizabethan England

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article seeks to cast fresh light on the connections between music, education and the Reformation in Elizabethan England. Plato and Aristotle attributed to music a sovereign role and efficacy in education, and these notions were seized upon by religious reformers during the sixteenth century. The power of music to aid in the processes of learning and the absorption of holy doctrine made it an invaluable tool of religious pedagogy even in the eyes of Puritan critics of music in public worship. During the Renaissance, music was squeezed out of the majority of formal school curricula, but the practice of metrical psalmody in schools was more common than this might suggest. The laity more generally were the target of a panoply of religious instructional musical forms, including hymns, graces, and other scriptural, liturgical and catechetical versifications. Almost half of all Elizabethan godly ballads were written with a didactic function in mind and, while they rarely communicated a complex doctrinal or theological message, they sat comfortably within a staunchly Protestant conception of belief as practice. Elizabethan society was a musical place, and the education and eventual Protestantization of the Elizabethan people was, at least in part, a musical phenomenon.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-309
Number of pages16
Issue number315
Early online date24 Jun 2009
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009