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Play On! Shakespeare and Music

Welcome to Play On! – the blog series on Shakespeare and music.

Welcome to Play On! – the blog series on Shakespeare and music.

Music forms a vital part of Shakespeare’s works and his legacy. This series explores some key aspects of the music in Shakespeare’s plays, music inspired by Shakespeare on this topic, and information on Shakespeare’s approach to music and his musical legacy.

Explore our blog posts under four main themes: Love, Sorrow, Magic and Revelry

The music featured below covers a broad range of Shakespeare’s songs from the plays, as written and performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

What's so Important About Shakespeare and Music?

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”

— The Tempest, Act 3. Scene 2

Music has a big impact on Shakespeare’s plays – and Shakespeare has had a big impact on music over the centuries. Find out about some of the music that Shakespeare has inspired in the blogs below:

Love

“Give me some music; music, moody food of us that trade in love”

— Antony and Cleopatra, Act 2, Scene 5

Shakespeare’s love stories wouldn’t be the same without love-songs, or romantic music to accompany them.  In the plays, music ignites passion, helps true love to blossom – and even pushes some lovers over the edge.Read more about Shakespeare and love music in the blogs listed below, or have a look at the musical artefacts related to love found in our archives.

Sorrow

“Hark, canst thou hear me? I will play the swan, and die in music”

— Othello, Act 5, Scene 2

Some of Shakespeare’s richest musical moments occur at the darkest points of his plays. Music makes the action twist and turn for the worse, and it can be the first sign that something ominous is about to happen. Read more about Shakespeare’s sorrowful music in the blogs listed below, or have a look at the musical artefacts related to sorrow found in our archives.

Magic

“Orpheus’ lute was strung with poets’ sinews, Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones, Make tigers tame and huge leviathans Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands.”

— Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 3, Scene 2

In Shakespeare’s time, music and magic were intertwined. Both were believed to be powerful forces of nature, able to alter the elements and create unearthly effects. Read more about magic in Shakespeare’s music in the blogs listed below, or have a look at the musical artefacts related to magic found in our archives.

Revelry

“Why, there is it: come sing me a bawdy song; make me merry!”

— Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 3

Merrymaking, good times and celebrations are almost always accompanied by music in Shakespeare’s plays. Songs and tunes are guaranteed to liven things up for Shakespeare’s drunkards, dancers and raucous revellers. Read more about Shakespeare’s revelry music in the blogs listed below, or have a look at the musical artefacts related to magic found in our archives.


Contributors

  • All series produced by: Jennifer Waghorn
  • Supervised and edited by: Delia Garrett and Anna Griffiths

Other contributors:

  • Stanley Wells
  • Bill Barclay
  • Guy Woolfenden
  • Jon Boden
  • Jude Evans
  • Rachel Stewart
  • Sylvia Morris
  • John Woolf

Thanks to:

  • The Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Ariel Music
  • The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company
  • The Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham)