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Broken HarmonyShakespeare and the Politics of Music$
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Joseph M. Ortiz

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449314

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449314.001.0001

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Titus Andronicus and the Production of Musical Meaning

Titus Andronicus and the Production of Musical Meaning

(p.18) Chapter 1 Titus Andronicus and the Production of Musical Meaning
Broken Harmony

Joseph M. Ortiz

Cornell University Press

This chapter addresses the radical promiscuity of musical meaning in early modern England. While Renaissance theorists of poetry often sought to align music and language, Reformists tended to stress music's incoherence. Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus speaks to both sides of the debate by constructing a system of musical signs for the theater, while exposing the arbitrariness of this system. The chapter first discusses briefly the Renaissance debates over music's affective power, in order to show that Shakespeare's skepticism about musical sympathy has its historical analogue not in the massive corpus of Renaissance poetics, where the idea of aesthetic unity prevails, but in a strand of Reformist polemic that strongly suspects music's independence from language. It then addresses Shakespeare's deployment of music in Titus, showing how the play stages a series of increasingly ingenious and desperate acts of interpretation. In each case, the play reveals a nagging suspicion that will haunt the appearance of music in almost every Shakespearean play that follows: the suspicion that music is, in its most fundamental form, meaningless.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, plays, musical meaning, Renaissance, language, Reformists

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