Research Seminar

Wednesday 21 October 2015, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Katarina Karlsson (University of Gothenburg)

Elizabethan Love Songs and Verbal Abuse

Love is the most common topic in song lyrics. Love is often the very reason to sing at all. As a singer I have maybe sung the words “I love you” more frequently than I have actually said so to anyone. But a love song can also be a way to exercise power, to harass or pursue. The love song can serve as a ventriloquism for illicit desires and – not least – the love song can be satire.

The persona of an Elizabethan love song is in most cases a male, rejected lover bemoaning his fate. The woman he loves does not love him back. Is it because she found someone else or did he do something to make her fall out of love? In the male persona's narrative, her change of mind is due to her defective character: she is false, cruel, scornful. In a few bars the songs describe the transgression from sorrow to criminal behaviour. The male persona develop following strategies:

  1. does not take “no” for an answer

  2. creates a matrix of love and hate, where the addressee's fear, friendliness or lack of interest are ineligible alternatives

  3. addresses the woman in by turns accusations and appealings

  4. threatens to commit suicide and blames her for it

  5. threatens to use violence

Interviews with psycho therapists and victims of domestic violence, together with the analysis of the 600 lute songs published 1597-1622 in London, form the material on which the research is executed. The project includes re-composition of some of the songs and performances with the renown vocal ensemble the Rilke Ensemble.


Katarina A Karlsson, has many years of experience from working with text and music, mainly as a singer, voice coach, author and journalist at the Swedish Radio. She made her dissertation, 'Think'st thou to seduce me then? Impersonating songs with female personas by Thomas Campion (1567- 1620), in December 2011. In the thesis gender history became one important issue, since the songs with female personas from 'The Golden Age' probably never were intended to be sung by women. From January 2015 she leads a 3-year artistic research project financed by the Swedish Research Council ; The “essentially” feminine, a mapping through artistic practice of the feminine territory offered by the Early Modern music. 

Location: I/D003