Musical banter #3 (4.5.129-138)

PETER                                    Prates too! What say you, James Soundpost?

THIRD MUSICIAN      Faith, I know not what to say.

PETER                        O, I cry you mercy, you are the singer; I will say for you: It is ‘music with her silver sound’ because musicians have no gold for sounding.

                                                ‘Then music with her silver sound

                                                With speedy help doth lend redress.’        Exit.

FIRST MUSICIAN       What a pestilent knave is this same!

SECOND MUSICIAN  Hang him, Jack! Come, we’ll in here, tarry for the mourners, and stay dinner.                                                                                                Exeunt.            (4.5.129-138)

Rubbish again, Peter says. There is in fact quite a good joke here, relatively speaking: this is the only thing that the Third Musician says – Faith, I know not what to say– and he’s addressed as Soundpost by Peter. A soundpost is indeed a part of a stringed instrument, connecting the belly and the back of a fiddle, for instance – but a post is also proverbially silent and deaf. In a way, Peter is saying, have you got anything to say for yourself? Of course you haven’t, you’re the singer. If there’s still an element of male competitiveness to the banter then that could be enhanced by the singer (if he’s been heard already) being a male alto, singing in falsetto: castrati were unknown in England but that didn’t stop jokes being made at the expense of such singers (the repellant Cloten in Cymbeline refers to his hired singer as an unpaved – that is stoneless, that is castrated – eunuch, which is both rude and tautological, but that’s Cloten). (Imagine what Peter, or Cloten, could find to say about a drummer. Or a viola player.) Mostly Peter just wants to show off that he knows the song, and he can sing it too; the answer to his question is that music does indeed heal, lend redress, and specifically by rebalancing the humours, which is where he came into the scene, asking for music to purge his melancholy and make him feel better. And that’s Peter out of there, and the musicians deciding to make the best of things, stick around, cadge some food, and then offer their services at the funeral.

So this is the end of act 4. The mood has been lightened by this little interlude, I think; the shift into prose has, in any case, relaxed things (act 5 will be entirely in verse), and we can think, actually, Juliet’s not dead, this is the plan, and it is working. It’s working. It has to work.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *