Journal Article

Alice Shortcake, Jenny Pluckpears, and the Stratford-Upon-Avon Connections of Vaughan Williams's ‘Sir John in Love’

Roger Savage

in Music and Letters

Volume 89, issue 1, pages 18-55
Published in print February 2008 | ISSN: 0027-4224
Published online February 2008 | e-ISSN: 1477-4631 | DOI:

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Although Vaughan Williams's opera Sir John in Love (after Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor) was largely written in the 1920s, much that is central to it resulted from the composer's time in August 1912 and spring 1913 as musical director of the Benson Company—seasoned Merry Wives players—at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Things Stratford-connected in Sir John probably include the libretto's broad approach to the adaptation of Shakespeare's comedy (with some detailed matters of theatrical ‘business’ as well), the provenance and deployment of the inset song texts that characterize the opera, the introduction of the big Jonsonian masque in the last act, and the folk-music inflection of several parts of the work. (A Stratford summer school of Cecil Sharp's surrounded the Memorial Theatre with folksong and dance in August 1912.) The opera is further coloured and shaped by ideas aired in essays Vaughan Williams was writing around that time, especially in matters of the proper functioning of English musical communities and the importance of ballad opera to the native operatic tradition, tempered albeit with the need to avoid insularity and Merrie Englandism.

Journal Article.  27697 words. 

Subjects: Music