Society and Disorder

Authored by: Amanda Eubanks Winkler

The Ashgate Research Companion to Henry Purcell

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754666455
eBook ISBN: 9781315613024
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043270


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Purcell was born into a period marked by violence and upheaval, and his short life was punctuated by intermittent religious and political crises. Yet the seventeenth century was also an age of more positive transitions, an age in which old epistemes began to be replaced by knowledge systems that, from our perspective, seem more recognizably modern. The Royal Society explored acoustics using the new empirically grounded science; 1 1

For a discussion of the Royal Society and its connection to music, see Penelope Gouk, Music, Science and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

and anatomical discoveries challenged, but did not completely overthrow, the notion that women and men existed on an ontological continuum, with men occupying the top of the hierarchy (the widely discussed ‘one-sex’ model described by medical historian Thomas Laqueur). 2 2

Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990). See the section ‘Gender and Gender Roles’ below.

Changing mores, as well as practical considerations, led to the introduction of structural changes on the English stage, as members of both sexes began to act in public. And music became increasingly important, as actors and actresses became thoroughly trained in the art of song and a new crop of performers known solely for their singing graced the London theatres. 3 3

For invaluable discussions of Purcell’s singers see Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson, ‘Richard Leveridge, 1670–1758. 1: Purcell and the Dramatic Operas’, Musical Times 111 (1970): 592–4; Baldwin and Wilson, ‘Purcell’s Sopranos’, Musical Times 123 (1982): 602–9; and Baldwin and Wilson, ‘Purcell’s Stage Singers’, in Michael Burden (ed.), Performing the Music of Henry Purcell (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), pp. 105–29.

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