Psalms and Hornpipes in The Winter’s Tale
This chapter shows how The Winter's Tale rehearses the early modern theology of iconoclasm, effectively stoking anxieties in Jacobean England that music had become an inappropriate object of mystical devotion. Even more than The Tempest, which is generally considered the most musical of Shakespeare's romances, The Winter's Tale intervenes in contemporary debates over the moral and theological status of music, images, and the theater. Criticism of the play since the late twentieth century has noted its engagement with Protestant ideology, particularly in the famous transformation scene, in which a painted statue is made the object of quasi-religious devotion. However, in arguing for or against the idolatrous nature of Shakespeare's theater, readers of The Winter's Tale construe the play's theological engagements almost exclusively in terms of the image. Consequently, the place of music in the debate over iconoclasm has been left out of the discussion. This is not a negligible omission, since the ambiguous representation of music in the play does not merely reflect or reproduce the problem of the idolatrous image. Rather, Shakespeare's use of music in The Winter's Tale renders indeterminate the boundary between idolatry and all sensory experience, regardless of its moral content.
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