Kathryn Roberts Parker – Music for Sheep Shearing and Rituals of Hospitality in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale


Kathryn Roberts Parker

University of Sydney

Music for Sheep Shearing and Rituals of Hospitality in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale marks a change in style for Shakespeare’s playing company, in what are commonly known as the ‘late’ plays. It is structured as a tragicomedy between Acts I-III and V, with a highly contrasting Act IV that appears to be on the margins or even separate to the main plot. This characteristic has hindered the amount of analytical work conducted to-date on the music within the play. Despite there being upward of six songs contained in the 1623 Folio, they continually defy classification, or sit noticeably aside from the plotline of the major characters. I suggest that we can determine the dramaturgical purpose of this music if we pay more careful attention to the rural festival that sits very clearly in the middle of the play: a festival of sheep shearing in Act IV which is usually classified as an interlude or relief from the traumatic main plot. My analysis of The Winter’s Tale aims to highlight the significance of the sheep shearing as a ritual of hospitality celebrated at the onset of summer in early modern England. I will demonstrate how music for sheep shearing generates a sense of communitas between audience and performers that provides a means for Shakespeare and the King’s Men to push the play toward a restorative ending.

Kathryn Roberts Parker is a musician and performance researcher, currently in the final completion stage of her PhD at The University of Sydney. Kathryn is a scholar with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, exploring music and festival culture in Shakespeare’s comedies. In 2014, Kathryn studied a Masters in Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the John Monash Scholarship, now recognised as Australia’s most prestigious award for international postgraduate study. Kathryn has worked as a dramaturg for ABC Radio National and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and is a co-founder of Matriark Theatre. Kathryn was the winner of the 2019 Veronica Kelly prize at the ADSA conference. In 2021 Kathryn will be moving to Newcastle University in the UK to take up a Marie-Skodowska Curie Fellowship, researching ‘A Performance History of Morris Dancing: Music and Musicians 1550-1700’.