Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred

39

Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred

Sheet Music by Special Request Only

Performed by Jennie Emery & Michael Mikulin

Under the terms of her father’s will, Portia must marry the man who selects correctly from among three chests or caskets–one each of gold, silver, and lead. At this point in the play, two suitors have already chosen incorrectly, and Portia begs Bassanio to postpone choosing from among the caskets, for according to the rules of the lottery, he must leave immediately if he fails, and she has fallen in love with him. Bassanio, however, decides to accept the challenge, as he wants to marry her. He rejects the gold and silver caskets and opts for the casket of lead. Inside, he finds Portia’s picture and a written message confirming that he has won her father’s consent. This song is not performed by any character in particular; presumably, a household servant of Portia’s or some other bystanders may perform the song. The words, of course, are supposed to provide Bassanio with clues to the correct answer, as they all rhyme with the word ’lead’.  The music in this scene heightens the dramatic tension, making the decision-making process seem longer than it actually is, but keeping the audience’s attention engaged while most of the real ’action’ takes place in Bassanio’s head and the minds of the audience.

Verse 1
Tell me where is fancy bred, {he}
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd? [nour-ish-ed]
Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes, {she}
With gazing fed;
and fancy dies, and fancy dies {together}
In the cradle where it lies.

Chorus
Let us all ring fancy’s knell; {he}
I’ll begin it, –ding, dong, bell.
Let us all ring fancy’s knell;
I’ll begin it, –ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell. {together}

(Harp /Strings Interlude)

Verse 2
Tell me where is fancy bred, {she}
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd?
Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes, {he}
With gazing fed; (fancy dies) {she}
and fancy dies, and fancy dies {together}
In the cradle where it lies.

Chorus 2
Let us all ring (let us all ring) {he & she alternating}
fancy’s knell; (ring fancy’s knell) I’ll begin it, –ding, dong, bell.
Let us all ring (let us all ring) fancy’s knell; (ring fancy’s knell)
I’ll begin it, –ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell.

Coda
Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding, dong, bell.

Note: The repetitions of text (“and fancy dies”) are my own addition, as is the decision to make the song a duet. I have kept the original tri-syllable pronunciation of “nourished” to accommodate the rhyme, but I have modernized the pronunciation of “engendered” to make it easier to sing.

Meaning & Interpretation

Like many of Shakepspeare’s songs, this lyric is romantic and charming on the surface, but contains a bitter and ironic subtext. The word “fancy” in this case, means “love”, but with the connotation of a superficial attraction or infatuation, in the sense of “taking a fancy” to someone or something. The song poses a philosophical question: where does love (fancy) come from? Is it emotional (“in the heart”) or is it intellectual (“in the head”). The song answers the question, saying that fancy begins in the eyes- not the heart or the head. However, it also dies there. The word “lie” has a double meaning, suggesting both that fancy lies in its “cradle” (the eyes) but that it can also “lie” i.e. be deceiving, because it is based on outward beauty/appearance, rather than any inner qualities. The song extends the question further, asking of the listener: once people fall in love, how is that love sustained? (“how nourished?”). The song offers few answers, but it does comment on the ephemeral, temporary nature of romantic love, stating that “fancy dies/In the cradle where it lies”. The word “knell” refers specifically to a bell tolled at a funeral, indicating the death of a person. In this case, the person being mourned is “fancy” personified; the bell is being rung for the “death” of love.

Post your comment

4 comments

  1. Posted by Lyleen, at Reply

    This song is really nice!!

  2. Posted by Shelley Deans, at Reply

    This is a beautiful song and creates the perfect mood and atmosphere for the scene

  3. Posted by Rafael de Acha, at Reply

    Hello! I’m looking for settings of these songs:
    Tell me where is fancy bred
    Come unto these yellow sands
    Take, o take those lips away
    Come away, Death
    It was a Lover and his Lass
    They would be performed in a concert here in Cincinnati, titled “Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare! on April 23, 2017.

  4. Posted by Frances, at Reply

    Nice. Very well placed.

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