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‘So to the wood went I’: Politicizing the Greenwood in Two Songs by John Dowland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020


Figurations of woods as sites of solitude, political exile and authenticity are drawn upon in a number of John Dowland's songs. ‘Can she excuse’ quotes from the ballad tune Woods so wild, while ‘O sweet woods’ makes reference to Wanstead woods, associated with both Philip Sidney and Robert Devereux during their lifetimes. This article examines how courtly experiences of political withdrawal and exile are articulated through musical and literary references to woods in these songs.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author 2007

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The research for this article was funded by anAHRCaward. I thank Ian Biddle, Elizabeth Eva Leach, Magnus Williamson and Richard Wistreich for their helpful comments and advice on earlier drafts. My thanks also to the anonymous JRMA readers for their constructive suggestions and to Martin Eastwell for preparing the music examples.Google Scholar

1 The Correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney and Hubert Languet, ed. and trans. Steuart A. Pears from Latin (London, 1845), 155.Google Scholar

© The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Musical Association. All rights reserved. doi:10.1093/jrma/fkm007Google Scholar

2 J. Michael Allsen, ‘Intertextuality and Compositional Process in Two Cantilena Motets by Hugo de Lantins’, Journal of Musicology, 11 (1993), 174–202 (p. 174).Google Scholar

4 I thank Elizabeth Eva Leach for allowing me to see a copy of her paper ‘Grafting the Rose: Machaut, the Ars Subtilior and the Cyprus Balades’, which was given at Novacella, July 2000.Google Scholar

5 Kevin Brownlee, ‘Literary Intertextualities in 14th-century French Song’, Musik als Text: Bericht über den Internationalen Kongreß der Gesellschaft für Musikforschung Freiburg im Breisgau 1993, ed. Hermann Danuser (Kassel, 1998), 295–9 (p. 295).Google Scholar

6 Diana Poulton, John Dowland (2nd edn, London, 1982); John M. Ward, ‘A Dowland Miscellany’, Journal of the Lute Society of America, 10 (1977), 5153 (pp. 23–36).Google Scholar

7 See, forinstance, Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others (Chicago and London, 1993); Susan McClary, Modal Subjectivities: Self Fashioning in the Italian Madrigal (Berkeley, CA, 2004); Linda Phyllis Austern, ‘Nature, Culture, Myth, and the Musician in Early Modern England’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 51 (1998), 147; Cristle Collins Judd, Reading Renaissance Music Theory: Hearingwith the Eyes (Cambridge, 2002); Todd M. Borgerding (ed.), Gender, Sexuality and Early Music (New York and London, 2002); Jeanice Brooks, Courtly Song in Late Sixteenth-Century France (Chicago and London, 2000); Kate van Orden (ed.), Music and the Cultures of Print (New York, 2000); Sebastian Klotz, ‘Music with her Silver Sound’: Kommunikationsformen im Goldenen Zeitalter der englischen Musik (Kassel, 1998); Jessie Ann Owens, ‘Music Historiography and the Definition of “Renaissance”‘, Notes, 47 (1990), 305–30.Google Scholar

8 Helen Phillips, ‘Fortune and the Lady: Machaut, Chaucer and the Intertextual “Dit”‘, Nottingham French Studies, 38 (1999), 120–36.Google Scholar

9 Brownlee, ‘Literary Intertextualities’, 295.Google Scholar

10 Roland Bardies, ‘The Death of the Author’, Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London, 1977), 142–64; Michel Foucault, ‘What is an Author?’, Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, ed. David Lodge (London and New York, 1988), 196–210; Roger Chartier, ‘Figures of the Author’, The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and the Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Stanford, CA, 1994), 24–59.Google Scholar

11 Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic, 29. Tomlinson is citing Dominick LaCapra, Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language (Ithaca, NY, 1983), 64.Google Scholar

12 Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic, 2930.Google Scholar

13 Leach, ‘Grafting the Rose’, 4.Google Scholar

14 See, for instance, Robert Darnton, ‘First Steps Toward a History of Reading’, in Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (New York, 1990), 154–87; Chartier, The Order of Books; Cecile M. Jagodzinski, Privacy and Print: Reading and Writing in Seventeenth-Century England (Charlottesville, VA, and London, 1999).Google Scholar

15 Phillips, ‘Fortune and the Lady’, 120.Google Scholar

16 Kevin Korsyn, ‘Beyond Privileged Contexts: Intertextuality, Influence, and Dialogue’, Rethinking Music, ed. Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (Oxford, 2001), 5572 (p. 59).Google Scholar

17 John Dowland, The First Booke of Songes or Ayres (London, 1597), song 5. On the quotation of Woods so wild in ‘Can she excuse’ see Goodwin, Chris, ‘“Will you go walk the woods so wild?” and the Question of “Popular” Music’, Lute News, 64 (2002), 1018 (p. 10); Peter Holman, Dowland: Lachrimae (1604) (Cambridge, 1999), 67; Poulton, John Dowland, 153, 226.Google Scholar

18 All poetic texts from lute songs by Dowland and Daniel Batcheler are given in this article as they appear in Edward Doughtie's edition of the texts. See Lyrics from English Airs, 1596–1622, ed. Edward Doughtie (Cambridge, MA, 1970). Reprinted by permission of the publisher from LYRICS FROM ENGLISH AIRS, 1596–1622, edited by Edward Doughtie, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1970 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (p. 72). Dowland, The First Booke of Songes or Ayres (London, 1597; 1600, 1603, 1606, 1613).Google Scholar

19 Arthur Marotti, ‘“Love is not love”: Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences and the Social Order’, English Literary History, 49 (1982), 396–428 (p. 398).Google Scholar

20 See Montrose, Louis Adrian, ‘Celebration and Insinuation: Sir Philip Sidney and the Motives of Elizabethan Courtship’, Renaissance Drama, 8 (1977), 335 (p. 21).Google Scholar

21 Anthony Low, The Reinvention of Love: Poetry, Politics, and Culture from Sidney to Milton (Cambridge, 1993), 22.Google Scholar

22 Low, The Reinvention of Love, 20.Google Scholar

23 See Poulton, John Dowland, 228; Lillian M. Ruff and D. Arnold Wilson, ‘The Madrigal, the Lute Song and Elizabethan Politics’, Past and Present, 44 (1969), 351 (p. 31). Harvey Gross discusses this possibility in ‘Technique and Epistémè: John Dowland's “Can she excuse my wrongs'”, Bulletin of Research in the Humanities, 86 (1983–5), 318–34 (p. 327). On Essex see Lacey, Robert, Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus (London, 1971); Paul J. Hammer, The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585–1597 (Cambridge, 1999); Hammer, ‘Absolute and Sovereign Mistress of her Grace? Queen Elizabeth I and her Favourites 1581–1592’, The World of the Favourite, c.1550–c.1675, ed. J. H. Elliott and L. W. B. Brockliss (New Haven, CT, and London, 1999), 38–53; Walter Bourchier Devereux, Lives and Letters of the Devereux Earls of Essex, in the Reigns of Elizabeth L, James L, and Charles I 1540–1646, 2 vols. (London, 1853).Google Scholar

24 Sir Henry Wotton, A Parallel Betweene Robert late Earle of Essex, and George late Duke of Buckingham (London, 1641), 3.Google Scholar

25 To plead my faith' was set as a lute song by Essex's secretary, the well-known lutenist Daniel Batcheler. It was published in Robert Dowland's A Musicali Banquet (London, 1610), with the added inscription The Right Honourable Robert, Earle of Essex: Earle Marshall of England'.Google Scholar

26 Poulton, John Dowland, 226.Google Scholar

27 Reprinted by permission of the publisher from LYRICS FROM ENGLISH AIRS, 1596–1622, edited by Edward Doughtie, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1970 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (p. 348). Batcheler, ‘To plead my faith’, in R. Dowland, A Musicali Banquet (London, 1610).Google Scholar

28 Dowland, Lachrimae, OrSeaven Teares Figured as Seaven Passionate Pauans (London, [1604]), no. 12.Google Scholar

29 Edward Doughtie has argued that ‘since the music is in dance form, and the verse follows the irregular musical phrases so closely, it may be that the text was written to fit the previously composed tune’. Doughtie, Lyrics from English Airs, 458.Google Scholar

30 William Barley, A New Booke of Tabliture (London, 1596), part II, sig. B4v; Dowland, The First Booke, ‘To the courteous Reader’.Google Scholar

31 Washington, Folger Shakespeare Library, MS V.b.280 (ohm 1610.1), fol. 16. This source is cited in Poulton's reference index of Dowland sources, John Dowland, 490. The date c.1594 is given by Peter Holman, Dowland: Lachrimae, 67.Google Scholar

32 Robert Dowland, A Varietie of Lute Lessons (London, 1610), sig. M2r.Google Scholar

33 Nicolas Vallet, Le Secret des Muses, Part I (Amsterdam, 1615), 36, 37, 38. See Ward, ‘A Dowland Miscellany’, p. 37.Google Scholar

34 Dirck Rafaelszoon Camphuysen, Stichtelycke Rymen (Amsterdam, 1647; repr. 1655, 1675, 1680, 1688, 1690), 66. Poulton, John Dowland, 490–1.Google Scholar

35 Poulton, John Dowland, 229.Google Scholar

36 Blage Manuscript, Dublin, Trinity College, MS D.2.7, fol. 108. This source, and other textual and musical versions of Woods so wild, is cited in Goodwin, ‘“Will you go walk‘”. See also John M. Ward, who gives a list of musical sources for the melody of Woods so wild in Music for Elizabethan Lutes (Oxford, 1992), 116.Google Scholar

37 Sir Thomas Phillipps, The Life of Sir Peter Carew’, Archaeologia, 27 (1839), 96151 (p. 113).Google Scholar

38 Goodwill gives musical examples of many of these sources, ‘“Will you go walk‘”, 1011.Google Scholar

39 ‘Alone, alone Here Yam’ is found in the Ritson Manuscript, British Library (hereafter Lbl), Add. MS 5665; ‘Alone alone. … In wyldernys’ in Lbl, Royal Appendix 58; ‘Walking allone’ in the Bannatyne Manuscript, Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Adv. MS 1.1.6, and London, Public Record Office, SP 1/246; ‘Trolly lolly’ in Henry VIII's Manuscript, Lbl, Add. MS 31922. See Stevens, John, Music & Poetry in the Early Tudor Court (Cambridge, 1961; 2nd edn 1979), 429–60. For modern editions of the Ritson and Henry VIII manuscripts see Early Tudor Songs and Carols, ed. John Stevens, Musica Britannica, 36 (London, 1975), and Music at the Court of Henry VIII, ed. John Stevens, Musica Britannica, 18 (London, 1962; 2nd edn 1969).Google Scholar

40 For some earlier formulations of the greenwood as a site of retreat see Duby, George, ‘Solitude: Eleventh to Thirteenth Century’, A History of Private Life, ii: Revelations of the Medieval World, ed. Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1999), 509–34 (p. 515–17); Fran Doel and Geoff Doel, Robin Hood: Outlaw or Greenwood Myth (Stroud, Glos., 2000); Carol Ballard, The Green Man: The Shakespeare Connection (Leamington Spa, 1999).Google Scholar

41 Bourchier Devereux, Lives and Letters, i, 461–2.Google Scholar

42 Ibid., 462–3.Google Scholar

43 Wotton, A Parallel, 34.Google Scholar

44 London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 649, fol. 376v This source is cited in Hammer, The Polarisation, 318.Google Scholar

45 This letter, written 17 November 1600, is cited in David Harris Sacks, ‘London's Dominion: The Metropolis, the Market Economy and the State’, Material London, ca. 1600, ed. Lena Cowen Orlin (Philadelphia, 2000), 2054 (p. 28).Google Scholar

46 Astrophil and Stella, sonnet 72, Sir Philip Sidney: The Major Works, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (2nd edn, Oxford, 2002), 182. Poem reproduced here by permission of Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

47 Marotti, ‘“Love is not love‘”, 404.Google Scholar

48 See Ruff and Wilson, ‘The Madrigal, the Lute Song’; Ruff and Wilson, ‘Allusion to the Essex Downfall in Lute Song Lyrics’, Lute Society Journal, 12 (1970), 31–6; Poulton, John Dowland, 262; Daniel Fischlin, In Small Proportions: A Poetics of the English Ayre 1596–1622 (Detroit, 1998), 126–32.Google Scholar

49 ‘O sweet woods’ was published as song 10 in Dowland's Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (London, 1600).Google Scholar

50 The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia written by Sir Philip Sidney Knight, Now since the First Edition augmented and ended (London, 1593). The first edition, which became known as the New Arcadia, was printed posthumously in 1590, edited by Fulke Greville, Dr Matthew Gwinne and possibly John Florio. The 1593 folio edition was published by Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and her husband's secretary, Hugh Sanford. Herbert and Sanford added missing eclogues and appended the last two books of Old Arcadia to conclude their edition. The discrepancies between the differing editions is discussed in Joel Davis, ‘Multiple Arcadias and the Literary Quarrel between Fulke Greville and the Countess of Pembroke’, Studies in Philology, 101 (2004), 401–30.Google Scholar

51 The setting is in Lbl, Add. MS 53723, fol. 11.Google Scholar

52 Reprinted by permission of the publisher from LYRICS FROM ENGLISH AIRS, 1596–1622, edited by Edward Doughtie, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1970 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (pp. 103–4). Dowland, The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres (London, 1600).Google Scholar

53 Fischlin, In Small Proportions, 128.Google Scholar

54 On the association between desire and the ‘unattainable’ see Low, The Reinvention of Love, 22–3.Google Scholar

55 David Greer, in the new Musica Britannica edition of Dowland's Ayres for Four Voices (2000), suggests that the last crotchet of bar 9 (bar numbers as in Greer's edition) and the first two of bar 10 in the Tenor part might be reversed to read c'aa (matching the lute accompaniment) so as to alleviate both the g‘/a clash between the Tenor and Alms parts and the false relation c‘/c♯ between the Tenor and Bassus parts, but it is also possible that Dowland intended to provide this dissonant version in the four-part setting. See John Dowland: Ayres for Four Voices, ed. David Greer, Musica Britannica, 6 (London, 2000).Google Scholar

56 ‘Disprayse of a Courtly life’, The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. William Ringler (Oxford, 1962), 262–4.Google Scholar

57 Dowland, Second Booke, song 18. Reprinted by permission of the publisher from LYRICS FROM ENGLISH AIRS, 1596–1622, edited by Edward Doughtie, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1970 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (p. 109). The text of Greville's poem is also published in Fulke Greville, Certame Learned and Elegant Works of the Right Hon. Fvlke, Lord Brook, Written in his Youth, and Familiar Exercise with Sir Philip Sidney (London, 1633), 179. The themes of Greville's text are echoed in the text of ‘Amour ne pouvant vivre avec la feintise’, which was published in Jehan Planson's book of Airs mis en musique in 1587. Here, as Jeanice Brooks points out, ‘the singer claims that the cruelty and deception of the “divinités” of the court have forced Love to flee for the countryside’. The text is as follows: ‘Amour ne pouvant vivre avecques la feintise, / Quitient aux grandes cours de la divinité / S'est fait hoste des bois pour revivre en franchise / Avecques la constance et la fidélité. / Là nous allons cerchant parmy les patourelles / Dont les coeurs sont aprins d'aymer naïsvement, / Et qui ne vendent point comme font les cruelles / Un petit de plaisir pour beaucoup de tourment.’ English translation as given by Jeanice Brooks: ‘Love, no longer able to live with the deception / that reigns in the great courts of divinities, / has made himself a guest in the woods, to live again in honesty / with constancy and fidelity. / There we will go looking among the shepherdesses, / whose hearts are taught to love simply, / and who do not sell, as do those cruel ladies, / a little bit of pleasure for a lot of torment.’ Brooks, Courtly Song, 365. The similarities between the texts, and their respective settings in English and French ayres, points, perhaps, to their courtly associations, which might be understood as an integral feature of both the English ayre and the French air de cour as Brooks portrays it.Google Scholar

58 Marotti, ‘“Love is not love‘”, 407.Google Scholar

59 Ibid., 400.Google Scholar

60 On the promise of Sidney's youth see Duncan-Jones, ‘Introduction’, Sir Philip Sidney, pp. viiiix.Google Scholar

61 See James M. Osborne, Young Philip Sidney (New Haven, CT, 1972), 496–8.Google Scholar

62 Montrose, ‘Celebration and Insinuation’, 11.Google Scholar

63 David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (rev. edn, Oxford, 2002), 95.Google Scholar

64 Cited in Pears, Correspondence, 184, 170.Google Scholar

65 Cited ibid., 185, 187.Google Scholar

66 Cited ibid., 183.Google Scholar

67 Ibid., 143.Google Scholar

68 McCoy, Richard C., Sir Philip Sidney: Rebellion in Arcadia (New Brunswick, NJ, 1979), 24.Google Scholar

69 Montrose, ‘Celebration and Insinuation’, 14.Google Scholar

70 The Lady of May, ed. Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney, 11.Google Scholar

72 For discussion of the implications of the queen's choice see Montrose, ‘Celebration and Insinuation’, 20–1.Google Scholar

73 Norbrook, Poetry and Politics, 86.Google Scholar

74 Helen Cooper, Pastoral: Medieval into Renaissance (Ipswich, 1977), 145.Google Scholar

75 Wotton, A Parallel, 3.Google Scholar

76 Katherine Duncan-Jones, ‘“Melancholie times”: Musical Recollections of Sidney by William Byrd and Thomas Watson’, The Well Enchanting Skill: Music, Poetry, and Drama in the Culture of the Renaissance: Essays in Honour of F. W. Sternfeld, ed. John Caldwell, Edward Olleson and Susan Wollenberg (Oxford, 1990), 171–80 (pp. 178–9).Google Scholar

77 Fischlin, In Small Proportions, 128.Google Scholar

78 Ibid., 129–32.Google Scholar

79 The use of such metaphor is not unlike a later description of Essex's career, in which Wotton writes that ‘First all his [Essex's] hopes of advancement had like to bee strangled almost in the very cradle’. Wotton, A Parallel, 3.Google Scholar

80 Marotti, ‘“Love is not love”‘, 405.Google Scholar

81 Fischlin, In Small Proportions, 128.Google Scholar

82 Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence (London, 1577; facsimile repr., Menston, NJ, 1971), fol. k4r.Google Scholar

83 See Britannica, Musica, 36, ed. Stevens (note 39). See also Stevens, Music & Poetry in the Early Tudor Court; Klotz, ‘Music with her Silver Sound‘, 109–23.Google Scholar

84 Brooks, Courtly Song, 341. The term ‘popularesque’ was coined by the Brazilian polymath Mario de Andrade (1893–1945) to describe imitation of folk-music features by learned musicians.Google Scholar

85 Brooks, Courtly Song, 342.Google Scholar

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