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.

You do not currently have access to this content.