"Seventeenth-century England provides an outstanding backdrop for this study, which focuses on theatrical characters generally associated with mental disorder.... Opera scholars should find this work helpful, and specialists in gender studies will gain much from Winkler's discussion of stereotypes, role reversals, pathological diagnoses, and so on.... Recommended." —Choice
O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note: Music for Witches, the Melancholic, and the Mad on the Seventeenth-Century English Stageby Amanda Eubanks Winkler, Indiana University Press (Manufactured by)
In the 17th century, harmonious sounds were thought to represent the well-ordered body of the obedient subject, and, by extension, the well-ordered state; conversely, discordant, unpleasant music represented both those who caused disorder (murderers, drunkards, witches, traitors) and those who suffered from bodily disorders (melancholics, madmen, and madwomen).
In the 17th century, harmonious sounds were thought to represent the well-ordered body of the obedient subject, and, by extension, the well-ordered state; conversely, discordant, unpleasant music represented both those who caused disorder (murderers, drunkards, witches, traitors) and those who suffered from bodily disorders (melancholics, madmen, and madwomen). While these theoretical correspondences seem straightforward, in theatrical practice the musical portrayals of disorderly characters were multivalent and often ambiguous.
O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note focuses on the various ways that theatrical music represented disorderly subjectsthose who presented either a direct or metaphorical threat to the health of the English kingdom in 17th-century England. Using theater music to examine narratives of social history, Winkler demonstrates how music reinscribed and often resisted conservative, political, religious, gender, and social ideologies.
"Winkler's book is an outstanding contribution to the social and political history of musical theater in London from the age of Shakespeare to the rage for Italian opera in the first decade of the eighteenth century." —Renaissance Quarterly
"... an outstanding contribution to the social and political history of musical theater in London from the age of Shakespeare to the rage for Italian opera in the first decade of the eighteenth century." —Linda Phyllis Austern, Northwestern University, Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 61.1 Spring 2008
"... In keeping with the instability of the seventeenth-century English stage, Amanda Eubanks Winkler refuses to bind her subversive characters in neat packages. I find her observations of negotiated trends, which do not always fit into tidy theoretical boxes, honest conclusions of an extremely complex period of English cultural life.... Whether onstage or within Winkler’s text, these unruly characters refuse to be absolutely contained." —MEGAN McFadden, Vol. 13 2009
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O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note
Music for Witches, the Melancholic, and the Mad on the Seventeenth-Century English Stage
By Amanda Eubanks Winkler
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2006 Amanda Eubanks Winkler
All rights reserved.
Music and the Macrocosm: Disorder and History
For Musicke is none other than a perfect harmonie, whose divinitie is seene in the perfectnesse of his proportions, as, his unison sheweth the unitie, from whence all other, (concords, discords, consonancies, or others whatsoever) springeth, next his unitie, his third: (which is the perfectest concord that is in all Musicke) representeth the perfect, & most holie Trinitie; his fift, (the most perfect consonance in all Musicke, for that it is the verie essence of all concords) representeth the perfection of that most perfect number of five, which made the perfect atonement, betweene God, and man.
Although Thomas Robinson, in his didactic The Schoole of Musicke (1603), finds analogies between concords (the unison, third, and fifth) and the deity, he also recognizes that music is not all about order and consonant harmonies. From the "unitie" springs all music, including the less aurally pleasant intervals. What of this discord? How can we understand its meaning within seventeenth-century English culture? In 1605 playwright Samuel Rowley, reflecting the thinking of many of his contemporaries, compared discordant music to society:
Yet mong'st these many stringes, be one untun'd
Or jarreth low, or hyer than his course,
Not keeping steddie meane among'st the rest,
Corrupts them all, so doth bad men the best.
For Rowley, musical dissonance was analogous to "bad men" — and in both cases these disorderly elements were dangerous, as they corrupted.
Little systematic analysis, in either musicology or literary studies, focuses specifically on the fascinating ways those in the seventeenth century understood music and disorder: thus, this volume considers the theatrical music for those who disrupted the fabric of the kingdom, those who were neither harmonious nor obedient, those who did not keep a "steddie meane." The seventeenth century proves to be fertile ground for a study of disorder, as chaos reigned supreme throughout Europe. Even a brief summary of large-scale political events in England provides a clear sense of the upheavals that characterized the era: the end of Elizabeth's reign and the anxieties about the Virgin Queen's successor, whispers about the immoral activities at James I's court (r. 1603–25), Charles I's disastrous rule (which began in 1625 and ended with his execution at the hands of his subjects in 1649), the closing of the public theaters by Parliament in 1641, Civil War (1642–49), the puritanical Commonwealth and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard (1649–60), the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II (r. 1660–85), the reopening of the public theaters in 1660, the problematic kingship of Charles's Catholic brother, James II (r. 1685–88), the Glorious Revolution (1688–89), and the concomitant accession of William and Mary to the throne (r. 1689–1702). Furthermore, as cultural theorist Jose' Maravall claims,
individuals acquired relative consciousness of the phases of crisis that they were undergoing. They also showed a difference in their attitude ... toward the events they were witnessing: an attitude not limited to passivity, but postulating an intervention.
Given this proactive approach, it is not surprising that cultural producers during this era were preoccupied with the question of disorder and how it might be mediated and contained.
To enact my own order upon the potentially limitless material from this tumultuous century, I've chosen to examine the vocal music and dances for three disorderly character types that appeared repeatedly on the public and private stages: the witch, the melancholic, and the mad. These three character types are richly multivalent. They remained popular throughout the seventeenth century, and their representations were intertwined with crucial debates that significantly reshaped religious, political, and social ideologies.
Of course, for those in the seventeenth century, the representation of disorder in music presented an inherent challenge, as music could be aurally intelligible only if sound was ordered. Was the very idea of disorderly music oxymoronic? Was it noise? Composers working within a modal or nascent tonal framework couldn't have imagined using dodecaphony to represent disorder. So how was disorder portrayed and why did certain musical and theatrical conventions emerge? These are the questions at the heart of my study. The way music represented these characters also changed over the course of the century. As this book will argue, there are many reasons for these changes, having to do with both shifting musical tastes and alterations in the way people understood these characters.
Although my selection of witches, the melancholic, and the mad may seem somewhat arbitrary, in actuality the discourses about these three types of disorderly subject frequently entwined. For example, debates over witchcraft sparked debates about the nature and definition of mental illnesses. In the late sixteenth century some skeptics began to question the existence of witches — why, they asked, would the Devil consort with poor, decrepit old women? These authors claimed that such women couldn't have access to the supernatural; instead, they must suffer from melancholy. For some it was easier to believe in female irrationality than in a female with supernatural powers. Johann Weyer first made this case in De praestigiis daemonum in 1563, and by 1584 this controversial argument — an argument that had serious religious implications — had been taken up by Englishman Reginald Scot in his The Discoverie of Witchcraft:
If anie man advisedlie marke their words, actions, cogitations, and gestures, he shall perceive that melancholie abounding in their head, and occupieng their braine, hath deprived or rather depraved their judgements, and all their senses: I meane not of coosening witches, but of poore melancholike women, which are themselves deceived. For you shall understand, that the force which melancholie hath, and the effects that it worketh in the bodie of a man, or rather of a woman, are almost incredible. For as some of these melancholike persons imagine, they are witches, and by witchcraft can worke wonders, and doo what they list: so doo other, troubled with this disease, imagine manie strange, incredible, and impossible things.
According to Scot, many so-called witches did not actually have access to magic; rather, melancholy played tricks with their imagination, deceiving them into thinking they had demonic power. As important and influential as Weyer and Scot were, not everyone agreed with their relatively enlightened perspectives on witchcraft and melancholy. James I wrote his Daemonologie (1597, reprinted 1604) to refute the perceived atheism of Scot's book, and the king ordered all copies of Scot's Discoverie burned upon his accession to the throne. Although James I protested that Scot's views were heretical, the seed of doubt had been planted.
Besides the fact that Weyer and Scot's claims were potentially heretical, for followers of Aristotle's influential Problemata, which associated melancholy with mental acumen, Weyer and Scot's theory that women suffered from the disease was deeply troubling: women simply could not be geniuses! In response to the problem of female melancholy, Edward Jorden, a medical doctor and star witness in witchcraft trials of the day, wrote A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother (1603). He blames the wandering womb for many of the "melancho-like" symptoms supposed witches displayed. One cause of this womb sickness, Jorden explains bashfully, was the retention of the menses or sperma (which in the early seventeenth century women, as well as men, were thought to have) due to sexual frustration. Jorden then cites the authority of Galen, who suggests marriage as a possible cure for this species of the disease. Similarly, Robert Burton discusses womb sickness in his highly influential Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). He associates the melancholy of maids, nuns, and widows (all women abstaining from sexual intercourse) with "fits of the mother." Judging from play and song texts, delusional women of all sorts frequently display the typical symptoms of womb frenzy.
Aristotle's Problemata notwithstanding, melancholy wasn't always a glorious malady for men, and the onstage portrayal of afflictions that called masculine reason into question was fraught with anxieties. Lovesickness, the most common cause of mad or melancholic behavior on the seventeenth-century stage, was particularly transgressive. In 1672 the physician Gideon Harvey articulated the longstanding belief that the behavior of lovesick men was problematic; after describing several historical cases of male lovesickness, he proclaimed, "these passages that resent so much of natures impression, do in no wise merit to be admired at." As overt displays of unbridled emotion were considered womanly, a man who fell victim to melancholy or madness was, according to Jacobean courtier Sir Thomas Overbury, "a man onely in shew, but comes short of the better part; a whole reasonable soule, which is mans cheife preeminence." Similarly, onstage auditors derided men who sang their lovesick complaints, and associated their musical discourse with effeminacy, particularly later in the century.
New ideas about gender increased the anxiety over male lovesickness. In 1651 William Harvey published Exercitationes de generatione animalium, which began to challenge the old Aristotelean and Galenic notions that women were less perfect or inverted men. He discovered the female egg and acknowledged that, contrary to previous modes of thought, the woman had a significant role in reproduction of the species, or, as Harvey would have it, "ex ovo omnia." This discovery, and others in the latter half of the seventeenth century, undermined what medical historian Thomas Laqueur calls the "one-sex" model — the notion that men and women were not truly separate sexes, biologically or ideologically. As this one-sex model was eroded by new anatomical discoveries, women increasingly had their own sphere of influence, albeit a lesser one than their male counterparts, as they were still hampered by their "natural" emotionalism and irrationality. In this new gender economy, the emotionalism of a man who suffered from lovesickness marked him as womanlike — a man who transgressively crossed into the realm of the other sex.
Although understanding some of the major discourses surrounding these disorderly subjects is helpful, to fully comprehend the musical portrayal of witches, the melancholic, and the mad, we must naturally turn to seventeenth-century ideas about the power of music to promote harmony and well-being or, alternatively, to sow discord. Music was believed to have mystical properties, properties that — if used properly by a skilled practitioner — could perform all sorts of miracles, even curing illness, as musical harmony affected the humors. According to humoral theory, four fluids, or humors, circulated within the body, and each one corresponded to a temperament: blood (sanguine), phlegm (phlegmatic), yellow bile (choleric), and black bile (melancholic). An excessive amount of any one humor, or an overheating of a humor, turning it black (adust), caused mental and physical illness. Music, it was believed, counteracted the deleterious effects of such humoral imbalances. To return to Robinson:
But that Musicke is Phisical, it is plainlie seene by those maladies it cureth. As it cureth melancholie, it much prevaileth against madnesse; If a man be in paines of the gout, of any wound, or of the head, it much mittigateth the furie therof: and it is said, that Musicke hath a salve for everie sore.
This passage, which amusingly details music's ability to cure melancholy, madness, and even gout and head wounds, demonstrates early modern culture's deep belief in music's therapeutic qualities. The abilities of an individual brilliant musician could cure the afflicted, soothe savage beasts, and even pacify unruly subjects. A panegyric published in 1610 for James I elucidates the wonderful power of music, if wielded by a benevolent master musician:
Behold, how like another Orpheus, Amphion, and Arion, he draweth to the true knowledge of God, very salvage Beasts, Forrests, Trees, and Stones, by the sweet Harmony of his harp: the most fierce and wilde, the most stupid and insenced, the most brutish and voluptuous, are changed and civilized by the delectable sound of his Musick. The which may transport and ravish our eares, at his mellodious touchinges and concordes and not tickle them with any delicate noyse, tending unto voluptuous and sensuall pleasure: but rather such, as by well tempered proportions are able to reduce all extravagant rudenesse, and circuites of our soules, though they had wandered from the right way, to the true path of dutie, and settle all thoughts in such a harmony, as is most pleasing unto them.
But music, as this passage indicates, could also be dangerous; just as harmonious music could cure, its opposite could provoke political and religious dissent and bodily disharmony in all its forms. Discord produced discord. "Delicate noyse" incited "voluptuous and sensuall pleasure." Music could also do harm, a conceit we see enacted on the seventeenth-century stage in representations of disorderly characters.
Given the potent effect music was thought to have upon the auditor, certain elements of seventeenth-century society were anxious to control its use. Puritan anti-theatricalists enumerated the dangers of disorderly musical representations, believing they led audiences into sin and degradation, even illness and derangement. As Linda Austern has demonstrated, music occupied a contested space within early modern English culture. While Puritans believed devout music could direct the listener to pious thoughts, they were anxious that certain kinds of music might seduce the ear, as a beautiful woman seduced the eye. During Elizabeth's time, Phillip Stubbes wrote heated diatribes against the music he perceived as dangerous because of its ability to emasculate men. Music, like a beautiful woman, communicated directly to a man's passions, which, overstimulated, supplanted his reason — the hallmark of masculinity — thereby reducing the ravished man to a womanish (i.e., overwrought) emotional state. Despite the dire predictions about disorderly music's potential to produce moral decay, it proved popular with audiences: transgression was tremendously entertaining.
The two stages considered by this study — the court stage and the public stage — featured different kinds of disorderly musical entertainments. In the masque, the primary genre performed at court during the reigns of James I and Charles I, disorder was carefully regulated. Music's healing harmonies were used as tools of political pacification. Sweet music and elegant dance reproduced the supposed harmony present in the happy state of England, in turn inspiring the king's subjects to be harmoniously obedient in their relations with their monarch. The creators of the court masque believed that their endeavors provided insight into the true nature of the universe, a conceit they borrowed from Neoplatonic philosophers. Through the orderly movements of courtiers, harmonious music, and expertly crafted costumes and scenery these artists captured, with visual and musical harmony, the harmony of God's universe. Creators of the court masques sought to replicate and foster within obedient subjects the idealized harmonies that were thought to exist between internal and external, human and divine. This idea, that the microcosm imitated and affected the macrocosm, was part of what philosopher Michel Foucault has called the doctrine of "resemblance." As Foucault states, "representation — whether in the service of pleasure or of knowledge — was posited as a form of repetition: the theatre of life or the mirror of nature."
Excerpted from O Let Us Howle Some Heavy Note by Amanda Eubanks Winkler. Copyright © 2006 Amanda Eubanks Winkler. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author
Amanda Eubanks Winkler is Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Syracuse University. She specializes in early music.
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