Having studied Macbeth extensively during a course I took as a younger man, I was astonished to learn recently that it is thought to have contained two songs, which are also present in a related play called The Witch. They are referred to in stage directions.

Music and a song inside: 'Come away, come away,’
Macbeth Act 3, Scene 5

Music and a song: “Black Spirits,” etc. Hecate exits.
Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1

We never discussed these during the course, and I had always presumed directions like this were snippets of music, but apparently they often referred to full songs. We have the lyrics to many of these songs, but while the arrangements have not survived, good educated guesses have been made as to how they might have sounded. You can hear one example of the results in the 1967 album Shakespeare's Songs.

However, while I've seen a number of Shakespeare productions over the years - and several of Macbeth - I have never come across an instance of one of these songs being performed. Neither has anyone else that I've consulted on this.

Given that we have the words, and attempts at the melodies, why have the performances of these songs been lost in modern interpretations of the plays? User @PeterShor has helpfully provided an example of the Twelfth Night where the songs were included, but to my knowledge this remains a rarity.

  • 1
    Are you talking about Macbeth, or are other Shakespeare plays relevant to this question. The songs are sung in this production of Twelfth Night. (Start listening around 33:15.
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 15 at 15:13
  • @PeterShor other plays are relevant. Really appreciate the link as I have -never- heard of this happening before, but the question is more around why they've become so rare. I will edit to make this clear.
    – Matt Thrower
    Apr 15 at 15:14
  • 3
    The reason that nobody performs the songs in modern performances of Macbeth may be that the scholarly consensus is that Shakespeare did not write those songs — they were added later. See this question. But as for his other plays, it beats me. I'll have to watch that production of Twelfth Night all the way through, and see how much the songs add to it. Judging from the little snippet I watched, I suspect that they add quite a bit.
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 15 at 15:24
  • 2
    I was going to note that our local theatre included the songs in one production I was in... but indeed, I was Feste the Fool in Twelfth Night. :-D Apr 15 at 15:35


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