William Sterling

Music and Art Inspired by Shakespeare 5


No. 5: All At Sea – [this talk was cancelled but I have included it so that anyone interested can see what art I was going to talk about. I have adjusted the music as I included some works in other talks].

Much of Shakespeare takes place when characters are marooned on unknown shores (The Tempest, Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, Pericles) and this inspired much music and art with a naval flavour.

Music – Sullivan Introduction to The Tempest

That music was by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame but was an early work long before he met William Schwenck Gilbert. At 14 he received the first Mendelssohn scholarship at the Royal Academy and went on to study in Leipzig. His Opus 1 was his graduation piece at 19, a set of Incidental Music to The Tempest. He later wrote incidental music for The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry VIII and Macbeth.

I do not want to tempt fate by talking too much about bad weather at sea but so many of Shakespeare’s plays talk about sea voyages, involve shipwrecks and enjoy bad weather generally that I felt I could not really ignore them whilst we on the high seas. Just about all his History plays set in England talk about venturing to France and setting sail ready to fight the French though not all achieve it. Few scenes take place on the sea but several are on the seashore including Cymbeline, The Tempest and Twelfth Night.

The Tempest has had the greatest influence on artists depicting the storm that gives the play its name and makes up the opening scene, one of Shakespeare’s few scenes at sea, as well as many scenes on the seashore and with the sea as background. Among them are George Romney, William Maw Egley, James Henry Nixon and Paul Falconer Poole. A favourite of many artists is Miranda looking out to sea or reflecting on her lonely existence with the sea behind her. William Waterhouse portrayed her twice and Frederick Goodall (RA 1863), Thomas Dicksee and Sir Frank Dicksee also were inspired by her. One of Ariel’s songs “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” inspired artists like Richard Dadd and Sir John Gilbert as well as composers like Henry Purcell, Sir Michael Tippett, Amy Beach and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco:

Come unto these yellow sands,

And then take hands.

Curtsied when you have and kissed

The wild waves whist,

Foot it featly here and there;

And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.

Hark, hark!

(Burden, dispersedly) Bow-wow!

The watch-dogs bark!

(Burden, dispersedly) Bow-wow!

Hark, hark! I hear

The strain of strutting chanticleer

Cry cock-a-diddle-dow!

Music – Beach “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” for female chorus.

One artist who was particularly inspired by The Tempest was French born Edmund Dulac who moved to England in 1904 at the age of 22. His illustrations for the 1908 edition of the play are not dissimilar to those of William Heath Robinson for A Midsummer Night’s Dream which we looked at in a previous talk and date from a few years later. They start with the ship being wrecked and end with the restored ship sailing off in calm seas. He was clearly interested in the sea as part of the background to the play as it appears in many of his illustrations. He even painted two underwater scenes to illustrate Ariel’s song “Full Fathom Five” and Prospero’s speech near the end of the play when he says he will throw his magic book into the sea. “Full Fathom Five” is another song that inspired a number of composers including Robert Johnson, Igor Stravinsky, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Michael Tippett and American Charles Ives:

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:

(Burden) Ding-dong.

Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong bell.

Berlioz wrote a sequence as part of his unusual work known as “Lélio, or the return to Life” which was his sequel to his Symphonie Fantastique. It includes spoken dialogue including an invocation to Shakespeare.

Music – La Tempete from Berlioz’s “Lélio.”

In Antony and Cleopatra Antony first encounters Cleopatra on a sumptuous barge. William Etty was one of several artists to be inspired by this scene. Octavius and Antony reunite to fight the pirates led by Sextus Pompey even though Cleopatra begs Antony not to leave her. They meet with Sextus on his galley and agree a truce which all except Antony are determined to break. Back in Egypt Antony prepares for war against Octavius but is goaded into fighting at sea where Octavius is stronger rather than on land where Antony is stronger. Antony thinks with Cleopatra’s fleet with him he can win but during the Battle of Actium Cleopatra inexplicably flees and Antony follows her rather than remain to fight with disastrous consequences.

One of the songs in As You Like It has inspired artists with its allusion to the harsh winter wind and bitter cold:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude.

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.

Hey-ho, sing hey-ho, unto the green holly,

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly;

Then hey-ho, the holly,

This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky

That dost not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot.

Though thou the waters warp,

Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remembered not.

Hey-ho, sing hey-ho, unto the green holly,

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly;

Then hey-ho, the holly,

This life is most jolly.

Sir John Gilbert illustrated this with a scene that clearly refers to King Lear and his fool out in the bitter weather. Several composers have set these words such as Madeleine Dring, Frank Bridge, Erich Korngold, Sir Hubert Parry and Roger Quilter but perhaps most memorably, Thomas Arne.

Music – Arne’s setting of “Blow, blow, thou winter wind” sung by Heddle Nash.

In A Comedy of Errors, the cause of the mistaken identities is that Egeon had suffered a tempest during a sea voyage soon after his twins were born and he and his wife were rescued by different boats each with one twin Antipholus and one of the twin slaves Dromio. The action takes place once they are grown up, one brought up in Ephesus and one on Syracuse. Antipholus of Syracuse has come to Ephesus to look for his brother and Egeon has followed him despite a ban on pain of death on Syracusan merchants entering Ephesus. This storm does not seem to have inspired artists as others did. In fact, the whole play has inspired artists very little.

The scene in Cymbeline at Milford Haven where Imogen is supposed to meet up with her husband Posthumous is partly on the coast and partly in the mountains. When Imogen is thought dead her brothers sing a lament for her which refers to no longer fearing the extremes of weather:

Fear no more the heat o’th’ sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages,

Thou thy worldly task has done,

Home art gone and ta’en thy wages.

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’th’ great,

Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke,

Care no more to clothe and eat,

To thee the reed is as the oak:

The sceptre, learning, physic, must

All follow this and come to dust

Fear no more the lightning-flash.

Nor th’ all-dreaded thunder-stone.

Fear not slander, censure rash.

Thou hast finished joy and moan.

All lovers young, all lovers must

Consign to thee and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!

Nor no witchcraft charm thee!

Ghost unlaid forbear thee!

Nothing ill come near thee!

Quiet consummation have,

And renowned be thy grave!

This song has inspired artists like George Dawe and Sir John Gilbert and has been set by several composers including Thomas Greaves, Roger Quilter, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi.

Music – Thomas Greaves’s setting of “Fear no more the heat of the sun.”

In Hamlet Laertes makes journeys by sea to and from France and Hamlet himself is dispatched to England by ship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with a letter in their possession asking the English king to kill him on arrival. Whilst on board the ship Hamlet finds the letter and forges it to get them killed instead. He escapes when he negotiates with pirates who attack the ship. Although the play has inspired many artists and composers these scenes have not had many results.

In Henry V there is a scene dealing with the embarkation for France which includes the uncovering of a plot. The Chorus also describes in some detail the navy getting ready to sail:

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies

In motion of no less celerity

Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen

The well-appointed King at Hampton pier

Embark his royalty, and his brave fleet

With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning.

Play with your fancies, and in them behold

Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;

Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give

To sounds confused; behold the threaden sails,

Borne with th’ invisible and creeping wind,

Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,

Breasting the lofty surge. O, do but think

You stand upon the rivage and behold

A city on th’ inconstant billows dancing;

For so appears this fleet majestical,

Holding due course to Harfleur. Follow, follow!

Grapple your minds to sternage of this navy…

Before setting sail for France Henry uncovered a treason plot which he has to deal with swiftly if he is to embark on his invasion. This is yet another scene which inspired Henry Fuseli.

In Henry VI Part 2 the Earl of Suffolk is banished for his role in the death of the Duke of Gloucester and promises to return but is killed by pirates and his head sent back to the queen. Again this appears to be a scene which might have inspired some dramatic art but I can find none.

Bad weather also comes into Julius Caesar as the portents before his assassination described to Cicero by Casca:

Are not you moved, when all the sway of earth

Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero,

I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds

Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen

Th’ ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,

To be exalted with the threatening clouds;

But never till tonight, never till now,

Did I go through a tempest dropping fire.

Either there is a civil strife in heaven,

Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,

Incenses them to send destruction

Caesar and his wife Calpurnia are also disturbed by the storms. She says:

Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,

Yet now they fright me. There is one within,

Besides the things that we have heard and seen,

Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.

A lioness hath whelped in the streets,

And graves have yawned and yielded up their dead;

Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds

In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,

Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;

The noise of battle hurtled in the air,

Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,

And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.

O Caesar, these things are beyond all use,

And I do fear them.

This scene was imagined by Sir Edward Poynter among others.

Although the only oblique references to the sea in Lear are the French invasion at the end and the blinded Gloucester’s request to be led to the cliffs of Dover so that he might jump off, the play does contain one of Shakespeare’s most vivid storms over several scenes. Lear is out in the midst of it and cries:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout

Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!

You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-curriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,

Singe my white head! And thou all-shaking thunder,

Smite flat the thick rotundity o’the world,

Crack Nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once

That makes ingrateful man!

It is a metaphor for Lear’s treatment by his ungrateful daughters Regan and Goneril. Austrian born artist Gustav Pope imagined them glaring at their goody-goody sister Cordelia with a lowering sky and sea in the background. Edwin Austin Abbey painted them without their sister but just as menacing. Lear left out in the raging storm has been a popular image captured by George Romney, Benjamin West, Dutch artist Ary Scheffer, Henri Pille and Scotsman William Dyce (RA 1848). Ford Madox Brown depicted Cordelia engaging our pity over her wrecked father (with the White Cliffs of Dover in the background) and Irish born James Barry (RA 1773), in a famous example of the type of painting known by the original meaning of “sublime,” showed Lear losing what was left of his reason over the body of his now best loved daughter, Cordelia, surrounded by the corpses of the rest of his family and traitorous former courtiers (again with the sea in the background).

Rather more composers have been inspired by Lear than some plays including Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Shostakovich. The leader of the Russian nationalist composers known as “The Mighty Handful” (Moguchaya Kuchka), Mily Balakirev, wrote very dramatic incidental music for the play as well reflecting the meteorological and psychological torments.

Music – Prelude to Act II of Balakirev’s King Lear.

Like some plays already mentioned Love’s Labour’s Lost does not have a storm in it but contains a song referring to bad weather:

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 nipped, 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-who!’ – a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

This song inspired a wintry scene by Sir John Gilbert and songs by William Byrd, Thomas Arne, Roger Quilter, Gerald Finzi and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Macbeth also has a vivid storm at the start, the setting for the meeting of the three witches:

When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Artists like John Martin (famous for his large dramatic canvasses), Henri Pille and Keeley Halswelle have been inspired by this as were composers of orchestral overtures like Joachim Raff and Sullivan as well as opera composers like Giuseppe Verdi.

The crux of The Merchant of Venice is that Antonio is willing to stand surety for Bassanio so that Shylock lends him 3,000 ducats because he is confident that his ships will return in plenty of time to pay back the loan but they are delayed and do not meet the deadline. The play has inspired artists like Sir John Gilbert.

Othello opens in Venice but when a Turkish fleet has been seen attacking Cyprus Othello is sent to organise the defences. He arrives in Cyprus with his new wife, retune and army to find that yet another storm at sea has wrecked the Turkish fleet. The ensuing celebration means Cassio gets drunk and disgraces himself. Away from his supporters in Venice Othello becomes easy prey for the devious Iago who perfectly judges Othello hot-headed nature and insinuates the false accusations over Desdemona’s supposed infidelity at perfect pitch. This has inspired some artists such as Charles West Cope (RA 1848) and Henri Pille as well as the set design by Giovanni Zuccarelli for a production of Verdi’s opera “Otello” although it could have been used for Rossini’s of the same name.

Pericles spends much of the play at sea. Having fled from Antioch to avoid being killed by King Antiochus he goes back to his home in Tyre only to be advised that he is not safe there so sails to Tarsus. From there he sails on only to be wrecked by a storm at Pentapolis where he is rescued by fishermen. There he wins and marries Princess Thaisa and decides to return to Tyre with her but another storm arises. When Thaisa appears to die giving birth to Marina the sailors insist on throwing her overboard to calm the seas. Unknown to Pericles her casket is washed ashore at Ephesus where she is revived. Pericles leaves Marina in Tarsus and returns to Tyre. Years pass and the beautiful Marina is kidnapped by pirates who sell her to a brothel in Mytilene where her virtue allows her to become a teacher. Pericles returns to Tyre to collect his adult daughter only to be told she has died. He sets sail yet again and lands at Mytilene where he is reunited with his daughter, finally setting off for Ephesus to find Thaisa as well. One of the few paintings inspired by this play is Marina Singing for Pericles by Thomas Stothard.

In Richard III Clarence has a vivid dream about falling from a ship and under the water sees the skeletons of thousands of men being gnawed on by fish. He relates the dream to his prison keeper:

Methoughts that I had broken from the Tower

And was embarked to cross to Burgundy

And in my company my brother Gloucester,

Who from my cabin tempted me to walk

Upon the hatches; thence we looked toward England

And cited up a thousand heavy times,

During the wars of York and Lancaster,

That had befallen us. As we paced along

Upon the giddy footing of the hatches,

Methought that Gloucester stumbled, and in falling

Struck me, that thought to stay him, overboard

Into the tumbling billows of the main.

O Lord! Methought what pain it was to drown!

What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears!

What sights of ugly death within mine eyes!

Methoughts I saw a thousand fearful wracks;

A thousand men that fishes gnawed upon;

Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,

Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,

All scattered in the bottom of the sea.

Some lay in dead men’s skulls, and in the holes

Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,

As ’twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,

That wooed the slimy bottom of the deep

And mocked the dead bones that lay scattered by.

It sounds like Smetana had some of this in mind when he wrote his dramatic Symphonic Poem “King Richard III.” The play clearly meant something important to him as he also wrote Fanfares for it a decade later and a solemn march for the Shakespeare celebrations of 1864 (300th anniversary of his birth). He also wrote an opera based on Twelfth Night called “Viola.”

Music – Excerpt from Smetana’s Symphonic Poem “Richard III.”

Twelfth Night has a shipwreck before the play opens in which twin brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola are separated. Each thinks the other dead and when Viola, helped by the sea captain, disguises herself as a boy (Cesario) and later Sebastian appears to those who know her there is obvious confusion. William Heath Robinson provided illustrations for the play in 1908 including the scenes with Viola and Sebastian washed up on shore. He also illustrates several lines from the songs sung by the clown, Feste, including “Come away, come away, death” which he imagines as a ghost ship coming into harbour and the following line “I am slain by a fair cruel maid” by the lover on his deathbed overlooking a view to sea with a cliff or iceberg. Feste’s final song is a bleak one to end a comedy:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey-ho, the wind and the rain;

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,

With hey-ho, the wind and the rain;

‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas, to wive,

With hey-ho, the wind and the rain;

By swaggering could I never thrive,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,

With hey-ho, the wind and the rain;

With tosspots still had drunken heads,

For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world began,

With hey-ho, the wind and the rain;

But that’s all one, our play is done,

And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Heath Robinson illustrates six lines from the song drenched in rain. Sir John gilbert also illustrated the song and several composers have set it including Jan Sibelius, Sir Charles Stanford, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Roger Quilter.

Music – Quilter’s “Hey Ho The Wind and the Rain” sung by Heddle Nash.

A Winter’s Tale takes place in Sicilia and Bohemia both of which Shakespeare imagines to be on the coast so that the protagonists can sail from one to the other. When Antigonus takes the infant Perdita to the coast of Bohemia his ship is wrecked in a storm but before he can make any other plans for his return he exits, pursued by a bear. Few artists or composers have found inspiration from this although I did show an illustration of the chasing bear in one of my previous talks.

My final talk will concentrate on some of the modern developments such as musicals and films as well as associated posters but also some of the more traditional artwork and music.

Below is a printable version of the slides.

Lecture 5 slides to print

These episodes from Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time might be of interest

Shakespeare’s Work

Shakespeare’s Life

The Tempest