Ross W. Duffin
Reviewed by Graham Reynolds, Fri., May 30, 2014
W. W. Norton, 528 pp., $49.95
Music was integral to Shakespeare's work. Elizabethan productions began and ended with music, so the playwright wove popular songs throughout his works, whether in veiled references or overt singing and, importantly, his audience knew and understood the references and implications. Now that theatregoers no longer have this intimate knowledge of popular music in Shakespeare's time, there's a gap in our understanding of his plays. For Shakespeare's Songbook, Ross W. Duffin collects every lyric, quote, and reference from the bard's works. Arranged alphabetically, each song's melody, context, and complete words make this a valuable reference rather than a cover-to-cover read. This isn't for the general reader or even general musician, but it's perfect for a wide range of niches: anyone that produces Shakespeare, renaissance music practitioners and enthusiasts, composers scoring a production, students, teachers, libraries, dramaturgs, and most obviously, Shakespeare fans. Though Duffin's a music professor, the book contains more thorough literary information than musical detail; simple chord symbols above the melody lines would be helpful to anyone trying to accompany or score the tunes. Also useful would be a small appendix explaining basic renaissance era accompaniment practices. Those quibbles aside, Shakespeare's Songbook opens up a whole dimension of these plays that almost all of us have likely missed. You'll need hardcore Shakespeare fans to sing these tunes around a campfire.