John Wilson’s setting of the song, “Take, O take those lips away,” from Shakespeare’s play “Measure for Measure.” The second verse, which is not in Shakespeare’s play, is possibly by John Fletcher, although both authors may have used a popular song from the time. John Wilson (1595-1674) composed hundreds of songs as well solo music for lute; many of his songs were for the theatre, from 1614 onwards.
4K Ultra high definition video from the Voices of Music Great Poets concert, January, 2015. Anna Dennis, soprano; Hanneke van Proosdij, harpsichord; Elisabeth Reed, viola da gamba, and David Tayler, archlute.
The meter of the first verse of this beautiful song appears at first glance to be six rhyming lines with seven syllables in each line, in trochaic meter, with the last syllable dropped to end the line with an accent; however, in the play, Shakespeare repeats the last three syllables of the last two lines:
But my kisses bring again, bring again;
Seals of love, but sealed in vain, sealed in vain.
The repetition could indicate an echo effect, or even a refrain where everyone joins in, similar to the the songs in Ravenscroft’s songbooks: both of these effects were quite popular in Shakespeare’s time. Alternatively, the text could reflect a different, earlier version of the song. The repetition of the text highlights a subtle change of meter, so that the last lines could be read as two trochees followed by two cretics (a cretic is two accented syllables with a syllable in the middle, like “Peter Pan”). Elizabethan songs frequently make use of trisyllabic exclamations, for example, John Dowland’s “Shall I sue? Shall I Praise, Shall I prove?” The second verse is not fashioned in the same style as the first, but it fits the music very well–despite claims to the contrary, for an interesting discussion of these issues see “The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare’s Poetry,” by Jonathan Post. The song appears (along with many others) in the Drexel manuscript, circa 1640 (Drexel 4041), with a few minor changes to the text.
Take, O take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn;
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn:
But my kisses bring again
Seals of love, though seal’d in vain.
Hide, O hide those hills of snow
That thy frozen bosom bears,
On whose tops the pinks that grow
Are yet of those that April wears,
But first set my poor heart free,
Bound in those icy chains by thee.
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