Thursday theme – Fear No More

Today’s theme song in ENGL 203-04 is “Fear No More,” from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline. You’ll find the words here.

In Shakespeare’s Songbook (W. W. Norton, 2004), Ross W. Duffin explains how the song fits into the play:

This song survives without any indication of its original music. In the action of the play, the singers preface the song with comments on their breaking adolescent voices and talk about speaking rather than singing it, so it may not have been sung at all. It occurs as a kind of dirge shortly after the apparent death of Imogen (as Fidele) is discovered, and it is thus intriguing to find that the lyrics fit best to When Griping Grief (q.v.). The latter occurs in Romeo and Juliet at almost exactly the same point after the discovery of the feigned death of Juliet. The music, perhaps by Richard Edwards, survives as an arrangement for keyboard in the Mulliner book (1558-64) and as an accompaniment to the singing part in the Brogyntyn Lute Book (ca. 1600). (p. 142)

Clarissa Dalloway first encounters the opening lines of this song on her mission to buy flowers for her party:

But what was she dreaming as she looked into Hatchards’ shop window? What was she trying to recover? What image of white dawn in the country, as she read in the book spread open:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun
    Nor the furious winter’s rages.

This late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. (Modern Library, 1922, pp. 12-13)

Clarissa thinks of the song again at the party itself, during her brief withdrawal from her invited company, prompted by what she has learned of the “young man” whom we know to be Septimus Smith:

Fear no more the heat of the sun. She must go back to them. But what an extraordinary night! (p. 283)

The words come to her several times between these two points. More generally, the experience of fear itself serves as an important point of connection between Clarissa and Septimus.

It’s worth thinking about just how this experience connects them. What do they fear? Why? How are their respective fears related to the song from Cymbeline?

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