Shakespeare’s ambivalence towards music as art

Alex Ross in the New Yorker gives some examples and hints:

William Shakespeare felt a certain ambivalence toward music as an art, if his words are any guide to his thoughts. The plays overflow with merry songs, sweet airs, and other healthy-minded sounds, but they also contain many instances of music causing mischief, telling lies, or casting shadows. In “Measure for Measure,” the Duke says of a song, “ ’Tis good,” but adds, “Music oft hath such a charm / To make bad good, and good provoke to harm.” The opening line of “Twelfth Night”—“If music be the food of love, play on”—has been quoted and needlepointed ad nauseam, but the lines that follow are usually omitted, on account of their sardonic cast: “Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken, and so die.” Hamlet’s dying utterance, “The rest is silence,” gives way to an ironic musical collision: first, Horatio imagines that “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” and then the stage directions call for a “march within”—the thuggish sound of Fortinbras’s army. You get the sense that Shakespeare, the lord of language, viewed music with narrowed eyes, as if sizing up a rival nation.

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