Reconstructing Shakespearean soundscapes: tableaux vivants, incidental music, and expressions of national identity on the London stage, 1855-1911

Harker, Karen Elizabeth (2021). Reconstructing Shakespearean soundscapes: tableaux vivants, incidental music, and expressions of national identity on the London stage, 1855-1911. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis explores incidental music written to accompany tableaux vivants in London Shakespeare productions from 1855-1911. Through an analysis of the interaction between these pictorial interpolations and their accompanying soundscapes, I argue that incidental music and stage picture combined to comment on English national identity through the cultural authority of the national poet. As the structure of this thesis demonstrates, I argue that these accompanied tableaux helped to form and perpetuate three interrelated myths related to English national identity: the myth of Merrie England (Part One), the myth of benevolent imperialism (Part Two), and the myth of national religion (Part Three).

To discuss these strands of national identity, I analyze their presence in two separate productions on Victorian or Edwardian stages. The first chapter of each part addresses a scene from King Henry VIII, which due to its episodic structure, elaborate stage directions, and engagement with a well-known period of English history, made it a perfect vehicle for spectacular tableaux vivants through which protestations about England and Englishness could be expressed. As such, Chapters 1, 3, and 5 explore three tableaux inherent in the text that were subsequently expanded on the nineteenth century stage: the masque at York Place (1.4); the coronation of Anne Bullen (4.1); and Katherine’s vision at Kimbolton (4.2). The analogous chapter of each Part (Chapters 2, 4, and 6) discuss another Shakespearean production that engaged with similar themes and expressions of national identity as the respective Henry VIII tableaux. These include Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s stagings of the masque at Herne’s Oak in The Merry Wives of Windsor (1902), two interpolated tableaux in his King John (1899), and a series of interpolated tableaux in his staging of The Merchant of Venice (1908).

A majority of the music referenced throughout this thesis has not been heard since it was played in its original production. To bring this music back into scholarly discourse, I have digitally reconstructed these selections using a music-writing software that has produced sound files and modernized sheet music for these selections, available in the digital appendix to this thesis. This does not include a handful of previously recorded selections, including Edward German’s music for Henry VIII and Arthur Sullivan’s music for Merry Wives, for which I have provided links to these professional recordings. Readers are encouraged to listen to these musical selections as they read. Above all, this thesis aims to showcase how considering musical accompaniments written for the Victorian and Edwardian stage can change our understandings of these productions and the role of incidental music in the theatre.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, The Shakespeare Institute
Funders: Other
Other Funders: New England Regional Consortium Fellowship, Massachusetts Historical Society
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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