The Canterbury Tales

Music in The Tempest and The Miller’s Tale College

Musical symbolism pervades the works of renaissance and medieval literature―used as a tool by authors to emphasize persona, atmosphere, tone, or simply to drive the plot forward. Instruments, singing, and moreover music in general are abundant throughout the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer. In Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” music acts as a conduit for advancing the story line, often providing key scenes with a distinct mood. Additionally, in “The Miller’s Tale,” Chaucer utilizes music (often ironically) to enhance characterization, thereby offering definition to characters’ actions while simultaneously revealing their true intentions. Although both The Tempest and The Miller’s Tale feature melodic devices that dramatize certain elements in the stories, Shakespeare employs said devices for plot development, whereas Chaucer focuses on character enhancement.

The music in The Tempest acts as a vehicle for Prospero’s magical abilities, helping him control each individual on the island, a substantial component in advancing the plot. The first example of this occurs when Ariel first sings “Come unto these yellow sands,” (I, ii, 452) magically luring all to the island and beckoning Ferdinand closer to Miranda. Ariel’s second song...

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