No Comment, Quotation — September 2, 2011, 12:39 pm

Shakespeare/Morley — “O Mistress Mine”


O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.

What is love? ’Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then, come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, II, iii (1602)

These lines are sung by Feste, one of the more complex comic foils to appear in a Shakespearean work. He is something of a jester, of course, but he has an unmistakably philosophical underside (“Better a witty fool than a foolish wit”), pressing characters to abandon their self-pity, to recognize that life always brings its burdens — but pressing them also to seize the moment of love, which brings life’s rewards. All of this is very much the message of this sweet, simple, and yet poignant song, which attained celebrity in its own right in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Part of that celebrity was owed not to Shakespeare, however, but to the man who composed the music by which the words came to be known.

Listen to the setting of “O Mistress Mine,” one of the last works composed by Thomas Morley, a student of William Byrd’s who died shortly after the play opened, in the fall of 1602. Although he was an organist at St Paul’s Cathedral and he attempted to write some serious church music, Morley is best known for his perfection of the consort style (the introduction of the “broken consort,” in which wind instruments are added to the conventional strings) and of the English madrigal.

It’s likely that Morley knew and worked with Shakespeare — they lived close to one another in central London and worshiped in the same parish church — and it’s possible that some of his Shakespearean songs were actually commissioned by the Bard, though this has never been firmly established. What’s certain, however, is that Morley was a great admirer of Shakespeare’s writings.

Morley’s works are known for their light style and their conscious importation of folk melodies (such as his amazing setting of “Under the Green Linden” in the The First Booke of Consort Lessons (1597)). They are less ponderous and downbeat than works by such contemporaries as William Byrd and John Dowland, and so are well suited to Shakespearean comic romances. First, listen to a non-vocal broken-consort rendition of “O Mistress Mine” by Stockholms Barockensemble, then to a traditional theatrical performance by Ensemble Chaconne, with Pamela Dellal as soloist. A superior performance by the great Alfred Deller can be found here.

Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



October 2014

Cassandra Among the

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

PBS Self-Destructs

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Monkey Did It

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


"In mid-August, hundreds of displaced Christians who had fled to Erbil were moved by Kurdish authorities into the concrete shell of a half-built mall. "
Photograph by Sebastian Meyer
“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Iraq has every disease there is; its mind is deranged with too many voices, its organs corrupted, its limbs only long enough to tear at its own body.”
Photograph by Benjamin Busch
Flying Blind·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“President Obama’s war against the Islamic State will represent, by a rough count, the eighth time the U.S. air-power lobby has promised to crush a foe without setting boot or foot on the ground.”
The Monkey Did It·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Murakami’s fiction, what presents itself as a key reveals itself simultaneously to be a keyhole.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
PBS Self-Destructs·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The present state of PBS, the result of built-in deficiencies and ideological conflicts, was almost an inevitability.”
Illustration by Thomas Allen

Estimated percentage of U.S. gasoline consumption that occurs during traffic jams:


In India, 1.8 million female children were estimated to have died between 1985 and 2005 as an indirect result of domestic violence against their mothers; the boys of abused mothers were not at increased risk of death.

Vanilla latte and lemon pound cake continued to be the best-selling items at the Starbucks at CIA headquarters, where baristas do not write customers’ names on their cups.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today