Music As A Basic Metaphor In Shakespeare's Plays

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Music Literature


It has been generally agreed that music is an important aspect of the Shakespearean drama. While details about the music itself have been studied and discussed in length, the dialogue alluding to music has been largely neglected. The many references to music form a permeating and extensive basic metaphor throughout the plays. Studied from the standpoint of the elements of music (harmony, melody, rhythm, and instruments), they lead to larger categories of thought epitomized by Boethius as musica mundana, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis.Chapter One explains the concept of the basic metaphor as a variant of the root metaphor theory. Chapter Two shows the development of harmony from antiquity to Shakespeare's time. Harmony is discussed from the contrasting viewpoints of Plato and Aristotle, and in its relation of number to music. In addition the theory of the music of the spheres and practical music theories of harmony are explored. Moreover, terms of harmonic practice used as metaphor are considered in depth.Chapter Three relates the element of melody to song as contrasted with melody used in the context of instruments. Social and historical background for the importance of song is discussed. Shakespeare's use of terms related to song in metaphor fall into categories of the natural, the human and the preternatural.Chapter Four considers the element of instruments. The historical background for the Elizabethan viewpoint relating to the various instruments is surveyed. Each of the instruments mentioned in metaphor by Shakespeare is discussed in depth. Sources of divergent viewpoints about instruments are cited. The entire realm of musical instruments is related to a larger context of symbolic imagery illustrating the nature of man and his relationship to others and to the universe at large. While musical instruments were in the formative stage of their development at the time of Shakespeare, this chapter shows that their collective symbolic imagery was substantially more meaningful than in the twentieth-century.In Chapters Five and Six "rhythm" is considered from the standpoint of "time" and "dance." In Chapter five it is explained that the idea of keeping proper order and proportion was a firmly held belief of classicism that retained its hold on the Elizabethan intellect. The music-time metaphor is a major example of a widely held Elizabethan concept which required little explication for the theatre-goer of that time. Order was an important concept that found expression in the dance, as argued in Chapter Six. Shakespeare's plays provide an important source of information about the many dances of the times. Moreover, they are discussed in the dialogues in the layers of their metaphoric meaning. The Elizabethan dance was an important example of how the music of the soul (musica humana) is expressed outwardly as practical music (musica instrumentalis) imitating the harmonious musical movement of the universe (musica mundana).In Chapter Seven the metaphoric references to music and derivatives of the word yield the following categories: music as an important ingredient in the love process; music as a charm that is capable of producing different states of consciousness; music as a force to alter the personality; music as an indication of social grace and education; and music as a cure for sickness of mind and body.Thus, Shakespeare's extensive use of music as a metaphor is based on the Elizabethan view that audible music, expressed in the elements of harmony, melody, rhythm, and tone color, was an imitation or the inaudible divine music which was the governing, ordering principle of the universe.


Music; Theater; Literature, English

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