Article Title

How Music Matters: Some Songs of Robert Johnson in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Music, according to Italian Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino, "by its nature, both spiritual and material. .. at once seizes and claims as its own, man in his entirety."1 Music is so powerful in the drama of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher that it becomes the direct onstage cause of an attempted murder and suicide, a marriage proposal to a whore, and an attempted gang rape2__as well as numerous more subtle changes in the plays' actions. My argument in this paper is not that music in Beaumont and Fletcher's plays is by the composer Robert Johnson - this is not new, although marginally recognized.3 Rather, evidence points to Johnson's intentionally composing music for the particular plays in which they occur, knowing the details of the dramas as he did so. Consequently, Johnson's songs are such an important element in the plays' actions that ignoring them may lead to an impression that the plays are disjunctive. Beaumont and Fletcher's works contain so much music that some, at least, verge on being what we today call musicals-most notably The Knight of the Burning Pestle. This paper focuses on the contributions of Johnson, not Beaumont and/or Fletcher (about whose authorship there is a long-standing dispute) by examining three of Johnson's songs in detail, within the context of ideology and technique in Renaissance music.4 When necessary to differentiate between Beaumont and Fletcher, I use Cyrus Hoy's attribution scheme.5

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