Songs in early modern playbooks—printed books of the plays of Shakespeare and other authors—differ from the surrounding dialogue in a number of ways. They are often in italic though the dialogue tends to be in roman lettering; and they are frequently topped with the heading “Song,” self-evident information that is a statement rather than a stage direction. On other occasions, songs are missing from the text altogether, leaving a stranded heading, “Song,” though no words are supplied at all. This article asks why it is that songs have a different story from their surrounding dialogue. In so doing, it considers how playwrights conveyed their songs to composers and composers conveyed their songs to player-singers. Moments of textual oddity in printed and manuscript plays, it is argued (with numerous examples), are revelatory about performance even when the songs themselves are absent from the text.

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