Ballads from the Bard

In 'Shakespeare's Songbook,' the Playing's the Thing

Cover of 'Shakespeare's Songbook' by Ross W. Duffin

Cover of Shakespeare's Songbook by Ross W. Duffin W.W. Norton hide caption

itoggle caption W.W. Norton

"If music be the food of love, play on." So wrote William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. And to celebrate the 440th anniversary of the Bard's birthday — April 23 — why not listen to the music from his works?

In Shakespeare's Songbook, author and musician Ross Duffin has recovered and collected 160 songs from the plays of Shakespeare. Many are pieces put to music for original theatrical productions. To come up with lesser-known melodies and lyrics, Duffin combed through manuscripts and folios, seeking the most authentic interpretations possible. Shakespeare’s scripts often contained only vague allusions to songs that were previously undocumented.

Songs from 'Shakespeare's Songbook'

Listen 'Hold Thy Peace'

Listen 'It Was a Lover and His Lass'

Listen 'Jog On'

Listen 'There Dwelt a Man in Babylon'

Listen 'You Spotted Snakes'


Used by permission of W.W. Norton

The result is a book and CD of annotated ballads, drinking songs, love songs and rounds that reflect the rich variety of Shakespeare's work.

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NPR's Robert Siegel speaks to Duffin about Shakespeare's Songbook and the music it contains.

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