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The Voice and Histories of Emotion: 1500-1800


Dates: 29 September‒1 October 2014
Venue: Department of Performance Studies, The University of Sydney
Keynotes: Prof Will West, Northwestern University and Dr Richard Wistreich,  Royal Northern College of Music

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The Centre for the History of Emotions (CHE) Performance Programme explores how emotions were performed and experienced within their historical contexts. The voice is a principal instrument of human communication and expression and as such, a crucial site of our investigation. Spoken, thundered, squeaked, screamed, coughed, solo or in chorus, on stage or in the street, the voice invites critical consideration as the circumstances and circulations of its performance as captured in archival, textual, imagistic traces are varied and variable. This collaboratory affords the opportunity to interrogate research methodologies available; question what research evidence of the ‘voice’ in history comprises – its validation processes and the problems it presents – and explore new theoretical and methodological approaches to ‘voice’ and the histories of emotion in which it operates.

With permission from the speakers of this collaboratory, CHE has made a selection of talks publically available.

Keynote Speaker: Will N. West: "Squeaking and Gibbering in every degree"

Abstract: Early modern Londoners heard much more than the words written by Shakespeare and his fellow writers. Modern attempts to define playing styles in the amphitheaters have not been very successful, in part because terms like “realistic” are such moving targets.  But we know that in addition to delivering rolling lines of verse and chopping prose, early modern players practiced some forms of vocalization that are marked as extraordinary.  We can say something about the distances between “normal” vocalisation and “extraordinary” forms that players made use of—voices, that is, that are presented as effects, discordant voices that promise to unbind as well as to bring together in communication.  These extraordinary voices are sometimes represented sometimes by onomatopoetic interjections, and sometimes referred to as different kinds: roaring, squeaking, howling, great voices and little ones.

Gillian Russell: "Hissing the King: the politics of vocal expression in 1790s Britain"

Abstract: On October 29 1795, at the height of radical agitation for reform in Britain and agitation against the war with France, King George III was confronted and chased by an angry crowd on his way to the state opening of parliament in London. His journey culminated in an incident – a stone broke one of the windows of the royal carriage – which George III interpreted as gunshot and an attempt on his life. This event subsequently became the excuse for a government crackdown on rights of assembly and political expression, making October 29 1795 a pivotal day in the crisis of the 1790s. The putative ‘plot’ against the King has overshadowed the significance of the protest against him as a manifold vocal performance, characterized by hissing, hooting and groaning. This paper examines the role of vocal expression on the events of October 29 and argues that consideration of the role of hissing in the Georgian theatre (and beyond) needs to be contextualised.

Penelope Woods: "The Reverberate Voice: The Distributed Self on Stage and in the Audience in the 17th Century"

Abstract: In Shakespeare’s 'Troilus and Cressida' Ulysses describes a kind of distributed social self that can only be known through the reverberation of its voice, heard and applauded by an audience. The presentation of a self that is constituted through its shared and heard voice can be approached in terms of the recent work done by Nancy Selleck to established the interpersonal, or ‘distributed’ nature of self and community knowledge and experience in the early modern period (The Interpersonal Idiom in Shakespeare in Donne). The distributed social self cannot be known until its parts, including pre-eminently here the voice, have been heard, acknowledged and reflected back by the community.

Sing D’Arcy: “Performing the period interior: considerations on architecture, music and emotion”

Abstract: An area central to the very act of early modern performance – its spatial situation– has in many respects remained on the periphery of research. Our understanding of early modern music and the role the emotions played in its creation, performance and reception cannot and was not separated from the spaces that housed it and the interiors that underpinned their rhetorical and affectual programmes.

Jane Davidson: "Voicing Emotions in Early Modern Repertoire: A Psychological Approach"

Abstract: This paper draws together a desire to understand the technical and aesthetic theories that underpinned artistic practice of expressive singing across the early modern period, aiming to enrich and clarify modern day interpretations of that repertoire. Emergent psychological theory relating to music and emotion is offered as a lens through which these interests can be explored. The aim of the paper, therefore, is to draw parallels between theories and practices allied to singing from the past with contemporary psychological work. Music psychologists have proposed that seven mechanisms may underpin emotional intentions and the experiences of performers and their audiences. These include brain stem reflexes, rhythmic entrainment, emotional
contagion, evaluative conditioning, episodic memory, visual imagery, and melodic expectancy. By applying these mechanisms to instructions for vocalising and descriptions of the sung voice found in period treatises, the paper will explore potential interpretations of early vocal repertoire bythe modern singer.

Browse more videos on the history of emotions here


Collaboratory organising committee:
Ian Maxwell, Glen McGillivray, Alan Maddox (The University of Sydney hosts)
Jane Davidson, Penelope Woods (CHE)