Music of the Spheres

In his book “Shakespeare and Music”, Dr. Edward M. Naylor draws upon 33 plays and four volumes of poetry which make reference to or include the noble art of music. The only plays that exclude music or any indirect reference to it are Henry VIth part 3 and King John. Indeed, in the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare himself writes;

“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils:
The motions of his spirit are as dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.”

Therefore aside from his extensive knowledge of the legal world, the spiritual wisdom found in the Bible, his understanding of physical and mental health, of rural customs here and abroad, of ornithology, dancing, fencing, botany, science, astrology, biology, navigation, military tactics, English history, and human psychology it comes as no surprise that the Bard also knew something both rare and common in the art of musical notation. Unfortunately, the last will and testament of the Stratford Shakespeare makes no mention of any musical instruments being passed on to the family or his friends. However, the composer John Farmer dedicated his “First Set of English Madrigals” (1599) to the Earl of Oxford, saying: “that using this science as a recreation, your Lordship have overgone most of them that make it a profession”. Not only was music an integral part of the majority of Shakespeare’s plays but it was also included whenever a break or interlude in performance was required to disguise the work of stage hands as they prepared the stage for the next act or scene.

In the play The Tempest, the Moon-child, Caliban makes reference to the background noises or sounds heard on the island:

Miranda – The Tempest, oil on canvas by J.W. Waterhouse 1916

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

This will prove a brave kingdom to me, where I shall
have my music for nothing.

The idea that the Celestial luminaries were conducted or escorted by certain powers is presumed to have arisen in Greek and Roman times and was given further credence by Aristotle’s misconception that the planets revolved around the Sun in perfect circles in the same geophysical plane. We now know of course that this misconception was man-made and does not exist in reality. Even the observer and his relative point of observation of the phenomenal world will have some effect or adjustment on what is observed as “real” (viz; Quantum Mechanics). The need to unite the complexity of the Aristotelian dictum with observed phenomena required a sophisticated system of epicycles and deferent cycles projected as a series of spheres within spheres. Aristotle at first postulated at least 55 spheres, but around the 16th century soon after the Ptolemaic Model broke down under the weight of its own complexity there were thought to be around 79 spheres. Later Dante eventually forwarded a system of 27 spheres each ruled over by numerous hierarchies of spiritual and demonic beings. These definitions were further complicated by the erroneous idea prior to the 17th century that Venus was much closer to the Sun. Along with a sphere for each planet was also included the Sphere of Heaven or 8th Sphere, and the Primum Mobile or First Sphere. In a modern context the so-called “sphere” really represents the orbital cycle of a given planet around the Sun in a heliocentric system or the hypothetical orbits around the Earth in a geocentric system. In this sense each planetary orbit represented a year of the planet in question, this was then converted into a ratio of our own Earth time. In a world which Pythagoras maintained was created by a superior intelligence these ratios can therefore be considered as vibrational fields or in the Renaissance view of Gafurius the so-called “Modes” or euphemistically “The Nine Muses”, which were much later deified forms of musical octaves presiding over cultural forms devised by mankind.

Pythagoras also attempted to link these ratios to the supposed distances of the planets from the Sun perhaps anticipating Bode’s Law when he showed that these ratios were expressed as intervals in the musical scale – namely the 4th, 5th and 8th octaves. The generally accepted idea being that some harmony extended out from the Sun and coloured or affected everything in creation – the so-called Greek “krasis”. This celestial music could not be heard by our mortal ears or senses but could be experienced clairvoyantly either when we were asleep or when an initiate attained a state beyond the physical dimension.
In the Renaissance era the Ptolemaic vision of Greater Perfection was replaced by a more accurate method by musicologists who defined this as the Music of the Spheres. Johannes Kepler went further to define this within a heliocentric model of harmonics in his work “Harmonices Mundi” in 1619. He rejected the notion of orbits and spheres relying instead on the revelations of the Copernican system which defined the daily angles of the planets in their passage through aphelion and perihelion which he proved displayed a complete system of musical intervals. The complete series is set out in an article by Hasse and can be expressed simply as follows.
Saturn is connected with the major third, the 12 tones and the minor third. Jupiter is connected with the octave, the 3 octaves and the perfect 5th. Mars with the minor 3rd (plus 2 octaves and 1 octave). The Earth is connected to the diatonic semitone, the perfect 5th and the major 6th. Venus is connected with the chromatic semitone, the minor 6th and the double octave. Mercury is connected with the minor 3rd (plus 1 octave) and the major 6th.
The philosophical mystic C. G. Jung incorporated some of these ideas within his own psychoanalytical system to represent a form of synchronicity and scientists today admit to a strange synchronicity between certain planets and their Moons or satellite bodies. The synchronous relationship between the orbital cycle of the Earth and Moon is just one near perfect example. For example because the Moon rotates at the same ratio as the Earth it is always presenting the same face to us and therefore gives the false impression that it does not in actual fact rotate.
Along with Twelfth Night, the Tempest employs music as an essential element in this metaphysical and supernatural drama. Most notably with the appearance of the numinous being Ariel. In the Alchemical and Magical schools of Elizabethan England, Ariel was considered to be an astral intelligence ruling over the “Atmos” or the seven layers of Earth’s atmosphere who was responsible for or ruled over plagues and climatic disasters. In Ramon Lull’s system of hierarchies and the nine mortal sins Ariel corresponded to that of envy whilst his diametric opposite was listed as benevolence. No wonder therefore that the first song Ariel sings towards the end of Act I, scene 2 being followed by Ferdinand goes as follows:

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Courtsied when you have and kiss’d
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
Hark, hark!
Burthen [dispersedly, within
The watch-dogs bark!
Burthen Bow-wow
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow.

Where should this music be? i’ the air or the earth?
It sounds no more: and sure, it waits upon
Some god o’ the island. Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the king my father’s wreck,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air: thence I have follow’d it,
Or it hath drawn me rather. But ’tis gone.
No, it begins again.

Ariel sings (composed by Robert Johnson):
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Burthen Ding-dong
Hark! now I hear them,–Ding-dong, bell.

The ditty does remember my drown’d father.
This is no mortal business, nor no sound
That the earth owes. I hear it now above me.

Love’s Labours Lost is synonymous with our contemporary Comic Opera and its lyrical nature contains some noteworthy elements. It contains twice as much rhyme as it has blank verse, endless doggerel and alternating rhymes yet there are merely two songs in its entirety. The Morris dance is also introduced to give it an air of rustic idealism. In many instances musical reference or comparison is made to nature such as flowers, seasons, song-birds and the like. In Act V, scene 2 of Love’s Labours Lost there are two songs, one sung by Ver, the spirit of Spring, while another is sung by Hiems, the spirit of Winter.

This side is Hiems, Winter, this Ver, the Spring;
the one maintained by the owl, the other by the
cuckoo. Ver, begin.

The Song
When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
When shepherds pipe on oaten straws
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Adriano de Armado
The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of
Apollo. You that way: we this way.

While this song may be a personal composition by the Bard himself in actual fact Shakespeare’s plays are really an anthology of popular street and tavern songs of the time laid down for posterity. One case in point is the songs found in Act IV, scene 3 in A Winter’s Tale when the scoundrel and minstrel Autolycus enters singing and ends mentioning the origins of his name (ie: My father named me Autolycus, who being, as I am, littered under Mercury, was likewise a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles):

When daffodils begin to peer,
With heigh! the doxy over the dale,
Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year;
For the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.
The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,
With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!
Doth set my pugging tooth on edge;
For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.
The lark, that tirra-lyra chants,
With heigh! with heigh! the thrush and the jay,
Are summer songs for me and my aunts,
While we lie tumbling in the hay.
I have served Prince Florizel and in my time
wore three-pile; but now I am out of service:
But shall I go mourn for that, my dear?
The pale moon shines by night:
And when I wander here and there,
I then do most go right.
If tinkers may have leave to live,
And bear the sow-skin budget,
Then my account I well may, give,
And in the stocks avouch it.
Towards the end of this scene a short verse:
Jog on, jog on, the foot-path way,
And merrily hent the stile-a:
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a.

In Act IV, scene 3 a dance ensues and a servant comments on the art of minstrelsy, which was controlled by law because it was often combined with the art of peddling wares such as foreign fabrics or household utensils. Even now the stall-holders in the market streets of London still have a way of singing and advertising their goods for sale which dates back to Elizabethan times.
O master, if you did but hear the pedlar at the
door, you would never dance again after a tabour and
pipe; no, the bagpipe could not move you: he sings
several tunes faster than you’ll tell money; he
utters them as he had eaten ballads and all men’s
ears grew to his tunes.

He could never come better; he shall come in. I
love a ballad but even too well, if it be doleful
matter merrily set down, or a very pleasant thing
indeed and sung lamentably.

He hath songs for man or woman, of all sizes; no
milliner can so fit his customers with gloves: he
has the prettiest love-songs for maids; so without
bawdry, which is strange; with such delicate
burthens of dildos and fadings, ‘jump her and thump
her;’ and where some stretch-mouthed rascal would,
as it were, mean mischief and break a foul gap into
the matter, he makes the maid to answer ‘Whoop, do me
no harm, good man;’ puts him off, slights him, with
‘Whoop, do me no harm, good man.’

And so Autolycus enters singing as well as advertising his black-market goods and services with a song set by Dr. John Wilson:
Lawn as white as driven snow;
Cyprus black as e’er was crow;
Gloves as sweet as damask roses;
Masks for faces and for noses;
Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,
Perfume for a lady’s chamber;
Golden quoifs and stomachers,
For my lads to give their dears:
Pins and poking-sticks of steel,
What maids lack from head to heel:
Come buy of me, come; come buy, come buy;
Buy lads, or else your lasses cry: Come buy.

After much haggling, deliberation and discussion over the price of goods and services it ends as follows:
Will you buy any tape,
Or lace for your cape,
My dainty duck, my dear-a?
Any silk, any thread,
Any toys for your head,
Of the new’st and finest, finest wear-a?
Come to the pedlar;
Money’s a medler.
That doth utter all men’s ware-a.

Meanwhile in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the lyricist and poet is challenged to produce something of the phantasmagorical, the romance and the dream-world of fairies and elves. In Act II, scene 2 before going to sleep Titania requests a “roundel and a fairy song”, which is a quick dance in a ring to a lively tune.
The Fairies sing
You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen.
Chorus: Philomel, with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.
Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg’d spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail, do no offence.
Chorus: Philomel, with melody, & c.
Hence, away! now all is well:
One aloof stand sentinel.

Artist’s impression of Midsummer Night’s Dream

Bottom’s song in Act III, scene 1 is a beautiful example of listing a series of birds, their colours and notes in a mnemonic lyric:
I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.
The ousel cock so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill,
The throstle with his note so true,
The wren with little quill,–

[Awaking] What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?
The finch, the sparrow and the lark,
The plain-song cuckoo gray,
Whose note full many a man doth mark,
And dares not answer nay;–
for, indeed, who would set his wit to so foolish
a bird? who would give a bird the lie, though he cry
‘cuckoo’ never so?

Then much later, perhaps realising that her new lover although transformed has a somewhat rustic air, Titania demands some rural music:
What, wilt thou hear some music,
my sweet love?
I have a reasonable good ear in music. Let’s have
the tongs and the bones.

Now tongs and marrow-bones as well as pokers, salt-boxes and cleavers were traditionally employed by country folk to make music when calling from door to door during festivities. Later Oberon encourages Titania to ‘call for music, such as charmeth sleep;’ and indeed to dance:
Sound, music! Come, my queen, take hands with me,
And rock the ground whereon these sleepers be.
Now thou and I are new in amity,
And will to-morrow midnight solemnly
Dance in Duke Theseus’ house triumphantly,
And bless it to all fair prosperity:
There shall the pairs of faithful lovers be
Wedded, with Theseus, all in jollity.

Amongst all this jollity Puck remarks: “Fairy king, attend and mark: I do hear the morning lark”. Soon after Theseus suggests the staging of a masque in celebration and to close the play on an optimistic note: “What masque? what music? How shall we beguile/The lazy time, if not with some delight?” Theseus makes reference to several types of scene that might be appropriate to end the performance as follows:
The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.’
We’ll none of that: that have I told my love,
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
‘The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.’
That is an old device; and it was play’d
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
‘The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.’
That is some satire, keen and critical,
Not sorting with a nuptial ceremony.
‘A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.’
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?
Scripts and songs to these themes have surely been lost to posterity but would have been a popular group to add to the closing scene. Titania ends the play with:
First rehearse your song by rote,
To each word a warbling note:
Hand in hand with fairy grace,
We will sing and bless this place.

The narrative of The Merchant of Venice is reputedly of Buddhist or Hindu origins and may have found its way into the Shakespeare canon from Persia. However, there are many references to music too particularly during the casket scene (Act III, scene 2):
Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music: that the comparison
May stand more proper, my eye shall be the stream
And watery death-bed for him. He may win;
And what is music then? Then music is
Even as the flourish when true subjects bow
To a new-crowned monarch: such it is
As are those dulcet sounds in break of day
That creep into the dreaming bridegroom’s ear,
And summon him to marriage.

There follows a song to suit the occasion:
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy’s knell
I’ll begin it,–Ding, dong, bell.
All: –Ding, dong, bell.

In the concluding scenes of the fifth act music and song is used to lighten the atmosphere to what has been an excruciating and vexing play. The moonlit scene is described aptly by Lorenzo:
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Enter Musicians
Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear,
And draw her home with music.
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn’d to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods;
Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature.

The links to my current publications, on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy; “Shakespeare’s Qaballah” and an anthology of poetry “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,