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Richard Farrant(?) (1577?)

N.B. The title and date used here are both conjectural, following Wiggins (#622).


Historical Records

Extant Song

A song from the play is preserved in the Dow Partbooks (Oxford, Christ Church, MSS Mus. 984-88), a set of five partbooks compiled by Robert Dow, c. 1580-1600. While each of the manuscripts witnesses the music of the song, the words are preserved only in MS Mus. 985. The text of the song was written in ballad meter; the square brackets below indicate non-metrical repetitions, which, as part of the musical setting, are written in the score.

Come tread the paths of pensive pangs
wth me ye lovers true
bewaile wt me yor luckles lotts
wt tears yor eies bedue:
aid me you ghosts who lothed life,
yor lovers being slain
wt sighs & sobbs & notes of dule
my hard hap to complain.
Farewell my Lords & friends
farewel all princely state
let father rue his rigor shewn
in slaieng of my mate
Guichardo [Guichardo ah Guichardo.] if thy sprite do walke
come draw thy lover nie
behold [behold] I yeld to thee my ghost,
ah see I die I die [I die: ah see I dy, I dy, I dy. ah ah ah alas I dy I dy I dy I dy.]
(Oxford, Christ Church, MS Mus. 985, nos. 123-24. Cf. Arkwright 341.)

The music for the song also appears in British Library, Add. MS 29427, f. 14v (Hughes-Hughes 2:138); National Library of Wales, Brogyntyn MS I.27, pp. 131-32; and Bodleian, MS Tenbury 389, pp. 98-99.

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown. If the scholarly attribution of the song to Richard Farrant is correct (see Critical Commentary below), then the play may have been staged at court by the Children of Windsor or the Children of the Chapel Royal between 1567 and 1580.

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Wiggins)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The song—in which the speaker bemoans the murder of her lover Guichardo by her father and concludes by committing suicide—seems to have come from a dramatization of the story of Tancredi and Ghismonda from Boccaccio's Decameron (4.1). For more on this story, see the entry for "Tancredo."

References to the Play

None known. (Content welcome.)

Critical Commentary

Arkwright first made the conjecture that the song was by Richard Farrant based on its similarities to another song that appears earlier in the Dow Partbooks ("Alas, you salt sea gods"). He wrote: "judging from the style of composition, I have no hesitation in conjecturing that it also is the work of Farrant" (341). Arkwright identified the lament for Guichardo as likely spoken by Gismonda, the heroine of Boccaccio's Decameron 4.1: "one must suppose that it came out of a play of 'Tancred and Gismonda'," which he proposes was among the unnamed plays presented by Farrant between February 1567 and March 1580 (342). Noting the linguistic similarities between the song and the Pyramus and Thisbe playlet from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Akrwright proposed that the target of Shakespeare's parody was the style of play presented by the boy companies at court.

Fellowes, crediting the attribution to Byrd in the Tenbury MS, records the opinion of Percy Simpson that the song was written not for a lost play but rather for the extant Tancred and Gismund (publ. 1591; STC 25764) when it was performed at the Inns of Court in the 1560s (Byrd, 165). Fellowes notes Simpson's opinion that the style of the song matches that of the play and his observation that Byrd was friends with the author of the play's fourth act, Christopher Hatton. Fellowes enthusiastically describes the musical achievement of the song, especially in its second stanza: "it is here that Byrd exhibits his dramatic powers with such astonishing originality, considering that nothing of the kind had been done before" (166). Fellowes included the song in his edition of The Collected Vocal Works of William Byrd as coming "from the Tragedy Tancred and Gismunda" (89). (For the same contextualization of the song, see Young 41; Vines 37.)

Wiggins, following Arkwright's attribution of the song to Farrant, conjectures that the play for which it was written was first performed in 1577. Among the evidence supporting a date in the late 1570s are the facts that Farrant's offerings in the early and mid-1570s treated subjects taken from ancient history (not Italian novelle); that the other extant Farrant song in the Dow Partbooks can be conjecturally assigned to 1575; and that the story of Tancredi and Ghismonda had already been staged at court in the late 1560s (180-81). Of the two possible dates in this window—27 December of both 1577 and 1578—Wiggins prefers the former.

For What It's Worth

Attribution to Byrd

While the song appears unattributed in three manuscripts (the Dow Partbooks; British Library, Add. MS 29427; and National Library of Wales, Brogyntyn MS I.27), it appears in Bodleian, MS Tenbury 389 attributed to William Byrd. Byrd scholars have been divided about the plausibility of this attribution. Westrup was dubious, finding that the song's "style strongly suggests that it is by one of the older Elizabethan composers of stage music" (Westrup 489). Kerman concurred, preferring Arkwright's attribution of the song to Farrant.

Works Cited

A[rkwright], G.E.P. "The Death Songs of Pyramus and Thisbe." N&Q, 10th series, 5 (1906): 341–43.
D[art], T[hurston]. Review of The Collected Works of William Byrd, Volumes XV to XX. Music and Letters 32 (1951): 181-84.
Fellowes, Edmund H., ed. The Collected Vocal Works of William Byrd. Vol. 15: Songs. London: Stainer & Bell, 1948.
Fellowes, Edmund H. William Byrd. 2nd ed. London: Oxford UP, 1936/1948.
Hughes-Hughes, Augustus. Catalogue of Manuscript Music in the British Museum. 3 vols. London: British Museum, 1906–9.
Kerman, Joseph. Review of The Collected Works of Byrd, Volumes X-XVII. Journal of the American Musicological Society 3 (1950): 273-77.
Mateer, David. "Oxford, Christ Church Music MSS 984-8: An Index and Commentary." Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle 20 (1986/1987): 1-18.
Milson, John, ed. The Dow Partbooks. Oxford: DIAMM Publications, 2010.
Vines, Alice Gilmore. Neither Fire nor Steel: Sir Christopher Hatton. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1978.
Westrup, J. A. Review of William Byrd by Edmund H. Fellowes. The Musical Quarterly 35 (1949): 487-91.
Wiggins, Martin, in association with Catherine Richardson. British Drama, 1533–1642: A Catalogue. Volume II, 1567–1589. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012.
Young, Percy M. The Choral Tradition: An Historical and Analytical Survey from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, Reed College; updated 26 December 2016.

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