Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project
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As You Like It

Directed by Antoni Cimolino

Music by The Barenaked Ladies

Antoni Cimolino, Executive Director at the Stratford Festival enlisted the help of the Canadian Supergroup The Barenaked Ladies to compose the music for his 2005 production of As You Like It.  Set in a ‘summer of love’ during the late 1960s, Cimolino sought a parallel between the themes in the play and the social and political issues of the decade:

We set this production in the late 1960s, at a time when young people all over the world rediscovered Love, dropping out of society in their disgust at the war in Vietnam, the corruption they saw around them, the inhumane treatment of minorities and the subjugation of women.  The setting is a structure, rather than a constrictive duplication of a period.  It’s a lens through which we can magnify the themes of this classic play (As You Like It program 10).

The choice of music was important for Cimolino for several reasons.  As well as having more songs than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It’s lyrics play a key role in the development of the story:  “rather than simply echoing the action, [the lyrics] convey significant new information and advance the story (Cimolino, As You Like It program 11).”  Cimolino chose the Barenaked Ladies to compose the music, whose score for the production he describes as “appealing and contemporary, the melodic lines are both joyous and profoundly sad, and they have a clear focus on the words (As You Like It program 11).”  The choice to set the production in the 60s is an attempt to recall a decade whose social and political issues resonate with the themes of the play, but also to speak to modern audiences:  “I wanted our music to be influenced by the period but to speak to us today, a time of renewed activism with protests against war and corporate globalization and concern for the environment” (Cimolino, As You Like It program 11).

Shakespeare employed music to very specific effect in his plays.  Except for The Comedy of Errors, each play in the Shakespearean canon indicates vocal or instrumental music which plays a key role in the play; the music in his plays is “functional rather than, in the pejorative sense, merely ‘incidental’” (Gooch xiii).  Bryan Gooch and David Thatcher, editors of A Shakespeare Music Catalogue, echo Cimolino’s observation about the role of music in As You Like It:  “In Shakespeare’s hands, music is always employed to reinforce or enhance dramatic aims” (xiii).

As well as musical compositions created to enhance stage productions, A Shakespeare Music Catalogue records musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  There are entries for operas, ballets, symphonic poems, suites and songs across every conceivable genre of music.  The entries for As You Like It record over 1600 compositions related to the play including incidental music, operas, non-theatrical music, obliquely related works and non-Shakespearean works (music which incorrectly claims to relate to a Shakespearean work).

Shakespeare wrote at a time of changing compositional style and performance practice in Europe.  During the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque eras, secular music was evolving rapidly and coincided with the emergence of opera in Italy and elaborate court masques (Barlow 311).  These influences are evident in As You Like It, especially during the wedding masque (Act five, scene four) when Hymen, the god of marriage presides over the four marriages in the mystical Forest of Arden.  Music is used to create the spectacle of the scene, which is necessary to maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief.  Indeed, the absence of music during Rosalind’s epilogue immediately following the masque is equally significant for its signaling a return to a more sober reality.

Album cover.

Audio Clips:

Barenaked Ladies - Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind
Credits:
Songs composed by Steven Page. Lyrics by William Shakespeare. Music arranged, produced and performed by Barenaked Ladies (Jim Creeggan, Keven Hearn, Steven Page, Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart). Music recorded by Paul Forgues. Music assisted by Keith Rudyk, Roberto Menegoni, Chris Stapleton.

Lyrics:

“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.

Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh ho! the holly!

This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,

Thou dost not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot:

Though thou the waters warp,

Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remember’d not.

Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh ho! the holly!

This life is most jolly.”

Barenaked Ladies - The Lover and His Lass
Credits:
Songs composed by Steven Page. Lyrics by William Shakespeare. Music arranged, produced and performed by Barenaked Ladies (Jim Creeggan, Keven Hearn, Steven Page, Ed Robertson, Tyler Stewart). Music recorded by Paul Forgues. Music assisted by Keith Rudyk, Roberto Menegoni, Chris Stapleton.

Lyrics:

“It was a lover and his lass

With a hey and a ho, and a hey-nonino!

That o’er the green corn-field did pass

In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,

When birds do sing hey ding a ding:

Sweet lovers love the Spring.

Between the acres of the rye

These pretty country folks would lie:

This carol they began that hour,

How that life was but a flower:

And therefore take the present time

With a hey and a ho, and a hey-nonino!

For love is crownéd with the prime

In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,

When birds do sing hey ding a ding:

Sweet lovers love the Spring.”


Link to the Barenaked Ladies’ website

Works Cited

Barlow, Jeremy and Irena Cholij. “Music.” The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Dobson, Michael and Stanley Wells, eds.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002: 310-312.

Gooch, Bryan N. S. and David Thatcher. A Shakespeare Music Catalogue. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Supplementary Resources

“It Was a Lover and his Lass: A late 16th Century English Lute Ayre by Thomas Morley.” University of Chicago Personal Web Pages. 7 Sept. 2005. <http://home.uchicago.edu/~atterlep/Music/morley.htm>.

 “It was a Lover and his Lass (partbook format) (Thomas Morley).” The Choral Public Domain Library. 7 Sept. 2005. <http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/It_was_a_Lover_and_his_Lass_%28partbook_format%29_%28Thomas_Morley%29>.

“It was a lover and his lass (Thomas Morley).” The Choral Public Domain Library. 7 Sept. 2005. <http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/It_was_a_lover_and_his_lass_%28Thomas_Morley%29>.

“It was a lover and his lass.” A traditional setting of Thomas Morley’s song is available from the University of Victoria’s Internet Shakespeare Editions: <http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/Sounds/loverF.ra>.

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