Ross Duffin’s work in documenting the deep importance of music in Shakespeare’s plays is a valuable resource to all Shakespeare lovers. Duffin’s article “‘Concolinel’: Moth’s Lost Song Recovered?” published in the Spring 2015 edition of Shakespeare Quarterly* was reported this summer by SOF Newsletter editor Alex McNeil:
An article in a recent issue of Shakespeare Quarterly was picked up by many media outlets, including Live Science.com and several newspapers. In the SQ note, Ross Duffin, Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, makes a solid case that a one-word line uttered by Moth at the beginning of act 3 of Love’s Labour’s Lost—“Concolinel”—is a mistranscription of the title of a then-popular bawdy French song, “Quand Colinet.”
Case Western Reserve’s The Daily, in a May 13, 2015 article, reported:
Ross Duffin, the Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music, explained a commonly misunderstood line of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. “Moth’s solitary word [‘Concolinel’] has generally been taken as representing a song, now lost, for which the lyrics are not given in the play,” he wrote. But, he found, “Concolinel” is actually a misspelling of a then-popular French song called “Qvand Colinet.”
The lyrics of “Quand Colinet,” mild in the first two verses, become progressively bawdy beginning in verse three (translated from the French):
“When Colinet returns from the countryside he wants someone to rub his glans, so that he can enter . . . into the passage.” The song goes on to discuss the inadequate state of Colinet’s penis.
In his Shakespeare Quarterly article, Duffin conjectures that the song may have been a comical insult by Moth on the unknowing Don Armado.
In July, Duffin spoke on the topic of “Reconstructing Shakespeare’s Songbook” at the Stratford Festival Forum series of lectures in Stratford, Ontario. The promotional material for the lecture promised:
For nearly 400 years, Shakespeare lovers lamented that few songs in his plays survived with original music. In Shakespeare’s Songbook (Norton, 2004), Ross W. Duffin brought all of Shakespeare’s musical source material together for the first time and, in the process, shed new light on the delicate interplay between words, music and drama in the plays.
Since the Stratford Festival is producing Love’s Labour’s Lost this year, we asked director John Caird if he was familiar with Duffin’s new interpretation and whether he might be featuring “Quand Colinet” in his production of the play. Caird said:
I had a look at this song, but in the end I decided that I couldn’t use it in my production, nor do I think it can possibly have been used in contemporary Elizabethan performances.
The lyric is so explicitly coarse and sexual and so completely inappropriate for the scene in which it is mentioned, that I feel sure that if “Quand Colinet” was ever used for this play, it must have been the tune only with other lyrics added.
What I have done in my production is to use my own adapted version of the old King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid ballad drawn from Richard Johnson’s Crown Garland of Goulden Roses anthology of 1612. ** I feel reasonably certain that this, or some earlier version of the ballad, must have been the original lyrical content of the song as it is so explicitly set up in the previous Armado scene as something he plans to have ‘newly writ o’er’ so that the song can serve to ‘example my digression by some mighty precedent’.
My hunch is that some version of this ballad may have originally been used with “Quand Colinet” perhaps as the accompanying melody — but I have no hard evidence for this.
What I am quite sure of is that Shakespeare would never have had the boy Moth singing an explicitly bawdy song at this point in the play, nor could Armado have any interest in his page singing such a thing. Explicit ribaldry is not part of their relationship and Moth is far too knowing a little boy to be caught singing something he doesn’t understand. For his part, Armado is much more the hopeless romantic than the salacious predator or the sexual cynic.
It is of course just possible that Shakespeare, or some other lyricist, translated the bawdy French into a less bawdy English version, but if that was the case, I can’t see a reason why the resulting lyric didn’t make it into the published text. . . .
The story of the king and the beggar maid is referred to twice in Love’s Labour’s Lost. In the first act referred to by Caird, and again in Armado’s long letter in the fourth act where the maid is referred to as Zenelophon instead of Penelophon as in the ballad.
We asked Duffin if he had considered this ballad for the “Concolinel” spot in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and how he would respond to Caird’s opinion that the French song was too ribald. Duffin said:
I think it’s important not to underestimate the Elizabethan taste for bawdiness, first of all. Even the publication censors had no problem passing lyrics that would make many people blush today. It was sedition they were worried about. I also think that it wasn’t necessary for an entire song to be sung in order for the audience to get the joke, though I think that the entire first stanza — including the association of jaquette and jaquenetta — would very likely have been sung.
Much of my work in Shakespeare’s Songbook showed Shakespeare citing or quoting a line from a ballad, which would have reminded the audience of the entire ballad and drawn that experience into their understanding of the play. As for Armado having no interest in Moth singing such a thing, I think that’s part of the joke. Armado, I believe is oblivious to the allusion, and Moth is making fun of him.
Lastly, regarding the King Cophetua ballad, I agree that it’s an important background to this play and it’s astute of John Caird to recognize that and make use of it.
. . . My job, as I see it, is to provide information about the original songs, but whether directors choose to use them, of course, is up to them.
Caird adapted the lyrics to “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid”, but he did not use the tune originally connected to that ballad by Duffin in Shakespeare’s Songbook. Caird had his adapted lyrics set to music by Josh Schmidt who composed the music for Caird’s Stratford production. Schmidt said:
Working on LLL with John was an absolute joy! It is my favorite of the canon.
As John may have explained to you, he elected not to use the text of “Quand Colinet” that has been identified through research; instead he adapted/constructed King Cophetua and Beggar Maid ballad drawn from Richard Johnson’s Crown Garland of Goulden Roses. This is the text that I set.
In terms of all the music in the show, John outlined the parameters for the score very clearly — all the music had to be live (we had actors on stage who played guitar, ukulele, percussion, etc), and the instrumentation had to include/grow out of the festival brass ensemble, inclusive of two trumpets, french horn, trombone and percussion (consciously, we wanted to embrace instrumental anachronism right from the start – any such occurrence would just be part of the unique world of our production). As the festival brass calls the audience in from various places around the theatre/grounds, the music of the show is present even before the performance begins, creating an immersive effect right from the start.
Musically, the show straddles the line between regal 16th/17th century fanfare and fado-esque chord progressions and ballad structures. These choices were directly influenced by the visual aspect of the set and costumes, John’s direction, and responsively the requirements of the show on its feet, rather than any historical model. I was very lucky to spend a significant amount of time in rehearsal, and had the privilege to build the score very collaboratively with John and our actors.
John Caird’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost will play through October 9, 2015 at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Stratford Festival publicity coordinator Amy White said the production will be filmed October 6 and will be released to cinema as part of their Stratford Festival HD series in 2017.