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Shakespeare's Songs

Not surprisingly, Shakespeare alludes to or includes the text of well over one hundred songs in his works. Music was an integral part of Elizabethan life, as it is today. London publishers were constantly producing broadside ballads, madrigals, and consort pieces, and most educated people could read music and play a tune on a recorder, lute, or viola da gamba.

Shakespeare's characters are a reflection of his times and they too depend on music for moments of comedy and poignancy, whether it be a drunken sing-along at a crowded table, or a gloomy rhyme borne out of love's disillusionment. Lorenzo summarizes the importance of music and song in The Merchant of Venice:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music. (5.1.91-7)
Enjoy the following selection of songs from Shakespeare's works.

Come, thou monarch of the vine,
Plumpy Bacchuswith pink eyne!
In thy fats our cares be drown'd,
With thy grapes our hairs be crown'd:
Cup us, till the world go round,
Cup us, till the world go round!
(Antony and Cleopatra, 2.7.127-32)

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird's throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither!
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.
(As You Like It, 2.5.4-10-16), Amiens

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho! the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
Thou dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not.
Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho! the holly!
This life is most jolly.
(As You Like It, 2.7.181-201)

Hark, hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,
And Phoebus 'gins arise,
His steeds to water at those springs
On chalicedflowers that lies;
And winking Mary-buds begin
To ope their golden eyes:
With every thing that pretty is,
My lady sweet, arise:
Arise, arise.
(Cymbeline, 2.3.19-27), Cloten

Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust...
(Cymbeline, 4.2.324-29), Guiderius

How should I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff,
And his sandal shoon.
(Hamlet, 4.5.23-6), Ophelia

He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone,
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
(Hamlet, 4.5.28-31), Ophelia

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
(Hamlet, 4.5.46-53), Ophelia

By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do't, if they come to't;
By cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, before you >tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
(Hamlet, 4.5.56-61), Ophelia

They bore him barefac'd on the bier:
Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny:
And in his grave rain'd many a tear.
(Hamlet, 4.5.162-4), Ophelia

You must sing 'a-down a-down, and you call him a-down-a'.
O, how the wheel becomes it! It is the false steward,
that stole his master's daughter.
(Hamlet, 4.5.176), Ophelia

And will he not come again?
And will he not come again?
No, no, he is dead:
Go to thy death-bed:
He never will come again.
His beard was as white as snow,
All flaxen was his poll:
He is gone, he is gone,
And we cast away moan:
God ha' mercy on his soul!
(Hamlet, 4.5.199-208), Ophelia

In youth, when I did love, did love,
Methought it was very sweet,
To contract, O, the time, for-ah, my behove,
O, methought, there was nothing-a meet....
But age, with his stealing steps,
Hath claw'd me in his clutch,
And hath shipped me into the land,
As if I had never been such.
(Hamlet, 5.1.62), First Clown

And praise God for the merry year;
When flesh is cheap and females dear,
And lusty lads roam here and there
So merrily,
And ever among so merrily.
(2 Henry IV, 5.3.28-32), Silence to Falstaff and Shallow

He that has and a little tiny wit--
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,--
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.
(King Lear, 3.2.79-82), Fool

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo.
(Love's Labour's Lost, 5.2.914-19), Spring Song

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
(Love's Labour's Lost, 5.2.932-39), Winter Song

To shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sings madrigals;
There will we make our peds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.
(The Merry Wives of Windsor, 3.1.17-20), Evans
(from Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.)

Have I caught thee, my heavenly jewel?
(The Merry Wives of Windsor, 3.3.36),
Falstaff (quoting a lyric from Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella.)

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, 5.1.411-14), Puck

The god of love,
That sits above,
And knows me, and knows me,
How pitiful I deserve,--
(Much Ado About Nothing, 5.2.22-25), Benedick

King Stephen was a worthy peer,
His breeches cost him but a crown;
He held them sixpence all too dear,
With that he call'd the tailor lown>.
He was a wight of high renown,
And thou art but of low degree:
'Tis pride that pulls the country down;
Then take thine auld cloak about thee.
(Othello, 2.3.87-94), Iago

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow.
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow.
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur'd her moans.
Sing willow, willow, willow.
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften'd the stones.
Sing willow, willow, willow.
Lay by these.--
Sing willow, willow, willow...
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.
Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve,-
(Othello, 4.3.40-52), Desdemona

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss'd
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
(The Tempest, 1.2.376-81), Ariel

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Burthen Ding-dong
Hark! now I hear them,--Ding-dong, bell.
(The Tempest, 1.2.396), Ariel

While you here do snoring lie,
Open-eyed conspiracy
His time doth take.
If of life you keep a care,
Shake off slumber, and beware.
Awake, awake!
(The Tempest, 2.1.334-39), Ariel to Gonzalo

This is a very scurvy tune to sing at a man's
funeral: well, here's my comfort. [Drinks]

The master, the swabber, the boatswain and I,
The gunner and his mate
Loved Mall, Meg and Marian and Margery,
But none of us cared for Kate;
For she had a tongue with a tang,
Would cry to a sailor, Go hang!
She loved not the savour of tar nor of pitch,
Yet a tailor might scratch her where'er she did itch:
Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang!
This is a scurvy tune too: but here's my comfort.
(The Tempest, 2.2.50-63), Stephano

No more dams I'll make for fish
Nor fetch in firing
At requiring;
Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish
'Ban, 'Ban, Cacaliban
Has a new master: get a new man.
Freedom, hey-day! hey-day, freedom! freedom,
hey-day, freedom!
(The Tempest, 2.2.178-86), Caliban

Flout 'em and scout 'em
Flout 'em and scout 'em
And scout 'em and flout 'em
Thought is free.
(The Tempest, 3.2.121-23), Stephano

Honour, riches, marriage, blessing,
Long continuance and increasing,
Hourly joys, be still upon you
Juno sings her blessings upon you.
(The Tempest, 4.1.117-20), Juno

Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty,
Vines and clustering bunches growing,
Plants with goodly burthen bowing;
Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest!
Scarcity and want shall shun you;
Ceres' blessing so is on you.
(The Tempest, 4.1.121-28), Ceres

Where the bee sucks there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
(The Tempest, 5.1.94-100), Ariel

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.
(Twelfth Night, 2.3.40-5), Feste


Shakespeare's Dramatic Use of Songs

microsoft images "Edgar in his pretence of madness sings scraps of song, Ophelia does like-wise, and it is in the scene where Hamlet confirms in the mind of Polonius the belief in his madness that Hamlet repeats, or as I think more likely, sings, a line or two of an old song. In fine, the singing of snatches of melody is, on Shakespeare's stage at best undignified, and usually unbalanced. The complete songs present a more attractive and a more complicated problem. A few are mere epilogues, as is the song "When that I was and a little tiny boy," at the end of Twelfth Night." H. B. Lathrop. Read on...

More to Explore

 The Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays
 Establishing the Order of the Plays
 Settings of Shakespeare's Plays by Location
 Historical Settings of Shakespeare's Plays by Date

 Shakespeare on Music
 Shakespeare on Love
 Shakespeare on Lust
 Shakespeare on Pride
 Quotations About William Shakespeare

 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare in Old English?
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers
 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London

 Life in Stratford (structures and guilds)
 Life in Stratford (trades, laws, furniture, hygiene)
 Four Periods of Shakespeare's Life
 Stratford School Days: What Did Shakespeare Read?

 Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
 Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
 An Elizabethan Christmas
 Clothing in Elizabethan England

 Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
 King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
 The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
 Going to a Play in Elizabethan London

 Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
 Publishing in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Audience
 Religion in Shakespeare's England

 Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 London's First Public Playhouse
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time