Puttenham rehabilitated: the significance of ‘tune’ in The Arte of English Poesie


poetry, music, tune, dictionaries, Lexicons of Early Modern English, LEME, metre, rhythm, Early Modern English / poésie, musique, Renaissance, Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, dictionnaires

How to Cite

Roberts-Smith, J. (2003). Puttenham rehabilitated: the significance of ‘tune’ in The Arte of English Poesie. Digital Studies/le Champ Numérique, (8). DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/dscn.168


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Introduction: Puttenham's poetic “tune” and the Lexicons of Early Modern English database.

As a research assistant for Ian Lancashire's Lexicons of Early Modern English project (LEME), I have had access to the version of the Lexicons database currently in progress.[1]  It has been a useful research tool for my PhD thesis project, which was inspired by the use of a particular word in Early Modern English.  The word is “tune”, and it caught my attention in The Arte of English Poesie, a manual of English poetry published in 1589 and attributed to George Puttenham (I will give him the benefit of the attributional doubt and refer to George Puttenham's book from now on).[2]  “Tune” interested me because it now belongs conspicuously not to the art of “poesie”, but to the art of music.  Puttenham's usage seemed eccentric; I wanted to know why he coined the usage, if indeed he did.  Of course, the primary resource for investigating English word usage in the Early Modern period is The Oxford English Dictionary.[3]  However, the working copy of the Lexicons of Early Modern English database provided me with three additional kinds of important evidence.  First, the Lexicons database provides access to occurrences of a word in the works of a number of English Renaissance linguists who are not represented in the corpus from which The Oxford English Dictionary draws examples.  Second, occurrences in LEME are displayed in the context of an entire word-entry, a much broader context than printed dictionaries usually provide.  Third, because the LEME texts are documents about language, they give information about the status of a word in the language; in particular, whether the word was hard, requiring explanation, or easy, being used to explain other words.   The lexical evidence I collected led me to three discoveries: first, that Puttenham uses “tune” to refer literally to musical rhythms --the number, duration and pitch of syllables, as well as their phonetic features-- in spoken verse; second, that although his usage of the word “tune” is not reflected in the OED, it is reflected in contemporary works in the Lexicons database; and third, that the distribution of occurrences of the word “tune” in the LEME database reveals Puttenham's usage to be both current and common.   I hope to illustrate that Puttenham was not entirely eccentric.  I also hope to show how an electronic period-specific, primary-text corpus of lexical works with a search engine has been essential my to understanding of the art of (Early Modern) English “poesie”.  Finally, I hope this example will suggest other applications of the Lexicons database as well.

1. Puttenham's usage: “tune” as spoken music in The Arte of English Poesie.

George Puttenham applies the word “tune”, which he says refers to musical structure, to poetic metre.  Puttenham says, “our maker by his measures and concordes of sundry proportions doth counterfait the harmonicall tunes [my italics] of the vocall and instrumentall Musickes” (70).  He is explaining poetry through a reference to music: “poeticall proportion [...] holdeth of the Musical, because [...] Poesie is a skill to speake & write harmonically: and verses or rime be a kind of Musicall vtterance” (53).  However, Puttenham is not confusing music and poetry.  Throughout his work, he  maintains the distinction between spoken poetry and “the artificial Musicke consisting in strained tunes, as is the vocall Musike, or that of melodious instruments” (53).  In fact, whenever Puttenham means to indicate systematic pitch-patterns, he qualifies “tune” by reference to vocal music (70, 53), to instruments (70, 53), to “strained” (53) or “strayned tunes, as those of Musicke” (164), to “Musitians” (41), or to “the cuckow” (168). Nonetheless, Puttenham is applying the word “tune” to poetry literally.  He regularly emphasises the aural nature of “tunes”, describing them as discernible by the ear (5, 60, 63, 68, 69, 70, 71, 130) or affecting the ear as opposed to the mind (70, 119, 134, 136, 144, 145, 163, 164, 219).  He uses the word “tune” only in discussions of sound, the “auricular figures [...] which worke alteration in th'eare by sound, accent, time, and slipper volubilitie in vtterance” (134),[4] and never in his descriptions of ocular figures, the visual patterns on a page of text which he believes contribute to poetic effect.[5]  To Puttenham, a “tune” is not an abstraction or a metaphor; it is a concrete description of what he hears.  He literally hears “tunes”, musical sound patterns, in spoken poetry. 

Puttenham's spoken tunes are made of syllables which behave like musical notes but never lose their spoken qualities.  Their number, their individual durations, their stress and their pitch are all significant, and so are their segmental features, and Puttenham applies the word “tune” to each of these elements individually and to all of them in combination.  He says that the “audible tune” (134) of a metre will be altered “sometimes by adding sometimes by rabbating of a sillable or letter to or from a word” (134), “as to say [...] endanger, for danger” (135) or “twixt for betwixt” (135); “the quantitie of a verse, either long or short [...] consisteth [...] with vs in the number of sillables” (55).  But when a poet wishes “to shew the Poets art and variety of Musick [...] hauing a regard to his [...] quantitie” (69), he may also make use of the  “quantity of a word” (101).  A word may be “drawen at length [...] because the word or sillable is of such letters as hangs long in the palate or lippes ere he will come forth” (101) or may “fall away speedily” (101).  It is consequently also possible to alter an “audible tune” by “wrong ranging the accent of a sillable by which meane a short sillable is made long and a long short” (135).   Puttenham not only counts syllables, but also measures their duration.  He is aware, furthermore, that pitch and stress tend to cause a syllable to lengthen: “a sound is drawen at length [...] because he is accented and tuned hier and sharper then another” (101).  In fact, Puttenham sometimes uses “tune” to refer to stress as distinct from duration, as, for example, when the “foote Pirrichius  [...] beares in maner no sharper accent vpon the one then the other sillable, but he is in effect egall in time and tune, as is also the Spondeus” (102).  Puttenham never uses “tune” to refer to pitch independently, but he does consistently acknowledge pitch as an element of “tune”; in another example, the “stirring of tunes & their sundry times in the vtterance of our wordes” is created “when the voice goeth high or low, or sharpe or flat, or swift or slow” (64).  A syllable, like a note, has pitch, stress and duration.  Yet Puttenham's tuned syllables never lose the qualities of spoken language.  He not only contrasts spoken “tunes” with vocal and instrumental music (as I have already mentioned), but also emphasises the role of phonetic features (which belong exclusively to language), especially vowel quality, in poetic tune.  An “audible tune” (134) will be altered by “cleare exchaunge of one letter or sillable for another, as to say euermare for euermore, wrang for wrong” (135). He expands upon the role of phonetic features in his discussion of rhyme, which name, he says, we give to “tunable concord” (7) or “tunable consentes” (64) or “tuneable accent in the ende of the verse” (60).[6]  Again, Puttenham literally hears spoken tunes in poems.  He thinks that poets manipulate the syllable-count, syllable-duration, stress, pitch and segmental features of words so that “the eare” may be “rauished with their currant tune” (164).

2. Puttenham's apparent eccentricity: “tune” as sung or instrumental music in the OED and the LEME database.

Why, then, do we need a dictionaries database?  It is clear what George Puttenham means.  But the question that interests me is, can George Puttenham be taken seriously?  As it happens, Puttenham is unique neither in making the metaphorical association between music and poetry, nor in using the word “tune” or its derivatives to describe poetic metre: William Webbe and Ben Jonson are among others who use it.[7]  But to the twenty-first century ear, the literal comparison is faulty: poetic metre in English is almost always merely stressed and counted; very occasionally, as in certain of Thomas Campion's lyrics,[8] it has successfully incorporated syllable duration, but the Renaissance experiments with duration are more generally famous for failing; and I know of no precedents for pitched poetry in English that is not sung.

The Oxford English Dictionary supports common sense: it confirms that a “tune”, between 1500 and 1700, was essentially and primarily a ‘pitched’ work of art.  The OED makes only the most limited reference to rhythm, and that reference is in sense 2a: “a rhythmical succession of (musical) tones produced by (or composed for) an instrument or voice; an air, melody (with or without the harmony which accompanies it)”.  This is the only sense which refers to rhythm at all, and although it is, we are told, “now the leading sense”, none of the examples from any period for this sense or for the figurative phrases deriving from it in sense 6 (we are told they are “fig. from 2”)  refers to rhythm.  All of the other senses containing examples from the Early Modern period seem ruled by the etymological source of the word, which is “a peculiar phonetic variant of tone n.”; they refer, literally or figuratively, primarily to pitch.[9]   Sense 1a of “tune”, “a (musical) sound or tone, esp. the sound of the voice” is “= tone n.”.  So, more specifically, a “tune” is a “musical or vocal sound” (“tone, n.” 1a); that is, a tone “having the nature or characteristics of music; tuneful, melodious, harmonious; pleasing in sound, euphonious. Of sounds: Such as are used in music; having the nature of ‘tones’, as distinguished from mere ‘noises’” (“musical, a.” 2).[10]  Senses for “music” itself similarly emphasise pitch.  After the very general sense, “that one of the fine arts which is concerned with the combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and the expression of emotion” (“music, sb.” 1), we read “sounds in melodic or harmonic combination” (“music, sb.” 2a), “sounds in melodic or harmonic combination as devised by a composer” (“music, sb.” 3), and so on.  Definitions of derivatives of the noun “tune” (the verb “to tune”, the adjectives “tuned”, “tunable”, “tuneful” and “tuneless”, the nouns “tunableness” and “tunefulness”, and the adverbs “tunably” and “tunefully”) are similarly musical.[11]  There is a single citation from the period 1500-1700 which suggests a reference to rhythm among all of the relevant OED entries for “tune” and variations.   It occurs in an example for sense 7 of “tune”: “their Tune-skill'd feet in so true Time doe fall” (from Josuah Sylvester's Du Bartas his divine weekes and workes, 1606).  But in the absence of an explanation (sense 7 is a list of combinations without a definition), we can only assume that the OED editors consider this usage to be consistent with those in senses 1 to 6.

The evidence in the working copy of the Lexicons of Early Modern English database partly supports the OED's evidence.  The words “tune”,  “tunable” (spelled two ways), “tunableness” (spelled two ways), “tuned”, “tunes”, “tuning”, “untunable”, and “untuned” (spelled four ways) occur 251 times in the database in combined total.  Of these, eighty-five do not give enough context to interpret the words' significations, and the remaining 165 occur in fifteen of the seventy-seven works currently in the LEME database.  Of the fifteen works using “tune” or its derivatives, only two are quoted in the OED.  (These two are John Florio's 1598 World of Words and John Palsgrave's 1530 Lesclarcissement de la Langue francoyse.)  So there are thirteen new sources of information about the word “tune”, representing the work of twelve new authors (Florio is represented in both the OED and LEME).  Six of the new works are bilingual dictionaries printed between 1538 and 1611 (The dictionary of syr Thomas Eliot knyght, 1538; Thomas Cooper's Latin-English Thesaurus linguae Romanae & Brittanicae, 1584; Thomas Thomas' Latin-EnglishDictionarium Linguae Latinae, 1587; John Minsheu's Spanish-English A Spanish grammar, 1599; Randle Cotgrave's French-English A dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611; John Florio's Italian-English  Queen Anna's New World of Words, 1611); six are English hard-word dictionaries printed between 1596 and 1656 (Edmund Coote's English primer, The English schoole-maister, 1596; Thomas Speght's list of Chaucerian English wordsOld and obscure words explaned in his The vvorkes of our ancient and learned English poet, Geffrey Chaucer, 1598; Robert Cawdrey's English hard-word list, A table alphabeticall, 1604; John Bullokar's English hard-word dictionary, An English Expositor, 1616; Henry Cockeram's English hard-word dictionary, The English Dictionarie, 1623; Thomas Blount's English hard-word dictionary Glossographia, 1656); and one is a rhetoric handbook (Richard Sherry's A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes, 1550).  Nine of the thirteen new works (or eight of twelve new authors) support OED readings of “tune”.[12]  These readings account for 135 of the 165 analysable occurrences of “tune”.[13]   That means that about 80% of the analysable occurrences of “tune” and its derivatives in the working copy of the Lexicons database are consistent with OED readings, referring directly or indirectly primarily to pitch.[14]

3. Puttenham's rehabilitation: “tune” as spoken music in the LEME database.

Was George Puttenham out of his mind?  To be fair to him, he is not entirely eccentric: he does use “tune” five times in OED senses.  These are the examples I referred to earlier, in which Puttenham specifies vocal music (70, 53), instruments (70, 53), “strained” (53) or “strayned tunes, as those of Musicke” (164), “Musitians” (41), or “the cuckow” (168); they emphasise musical rather than spoken pitch, as the OED does.  But thirty-two out of thirty-seven times (that is, about 85% of the time), Puttenham uses “tune” to refer mainly to rhythm but also to pitch and segmental features in spoken English.  On the basis of the OED evidence, supported by evidence in the working copy of the Lexicons database, Puttenham appears to be pioneering a new usage of the word “tune”, and if this evidence is to be believed, his new usage did not catch on.  One wonders whether using words in unexpected ways is the most effective technique to explain a difficult concept; Puttenham did, after all, feel that English metre was complex enough to warrant his massive manual, The Arte of English Poesie.

However, the Lexicons database has more than one tune in its repertoire.  There are thirty examples in the database in which “tune” and its derivatives are specifically associated with musical rhythm, the pitch of the speaking rather than the singing voice, or with prosody (that is, the endowment of “due sound”[15] upon spoken words).  Word-entries in Cooper, Thomas and Florio tell us that “pleasant tuning” is “musical measure” (“modulatio” Cooper and Thomas; “modolantia” Florio 1598), and “a pleasant tuning” to Blount is “a singing or playing by number or measure” (“modulation” Blount).  Cooper and Thomas agree that “a tuning” is “a singing in measure” (“modulatus” Cooper and Thomas), Thomas confirms that “tuneable singing” is “singing in measure” (“melos” Thomas), and Florio tells us that “musical measure” is “tuneable singing” (“modolantia” Florio 1611).  Florio summarises that “to sing tuneable” is to sing “according to due accent and number” (“modolare” Florio 1611).  So it would not surprise Cooper, Thomas, Blount, or Florio to hear Puttenham say that a poet imitates “the vocall and instrumentall Musickes” (70) by “hauing a regard to his measure” (69).  They too hear “tunes” as rhythms; “number”, which implies count, and “measure”, which implies duration, are essential to their understanding of what is “musical”.[16]   Blount goes further, explaining that a “tune” is “the rising and falling of the voice” in “pronunciation [...].  As in the close of a Period we let fall the voice, in a demand raise it” (“accent” Blount).  Cooper, Thomas and Cawdrey also almost certainly mean the same thing when they say that an “accent or tune” is “the rising or falling of the voice” (“accentus” Cooper and Thomas, “accent” Cawdrey).  This is likely also what Sherry has in mind when he describes “tunablenes” as “a turnyng of the voice in pleasaunte pronunciation” (“extensio” Sherry), and what Thomas means when he describes “a bowing, bending, turning or winding, the chaunging or altering of the tune of the voice in pronunciation” (“flexus” Thomas).  Cooper, Sherry, Thomas, Cawdrey, and Blount, then, would likely agree that some of Puttenham's spoken syllables could be “tuned hier” (101) than others.  Finally, Florio tells us that “to tune” is “to accent or give a due sound to any word or letter” (“accentare” Florio 1598) and “to give a true accent” (“tuonare” Florio 1598, 1611).  He does not define “due sound” or “true accent” specifically as pitch, duration, stress or segmental feature, but he is clearly referring to a spoken sound structured enough that it can be identified as “due” or “true”.  Cawdrey similarly emphasises structure in tunes when his word-entry for “prosodie” says that “tune of pronouncing of words” is “prosodie”.  Puttenham's concern with “due sound” and “true accent” in tuning is most apparent in his discussion of “ryme [...] or tunable consentes in the latter end of our verses” (64).  He says there that “there can not be in a maker a fowler fault, then to falsifie his accent to serue his cadence, or [...] to wrench his words to helpe his rime” (67); to avoid ‘wrenching’ words, he must not, for example, “rime to this word Restore [...] match[ing] him with Doore or Poore for neither of both are of like terminant [...] in naturall sound, therfore such rime is strained” (67).  Again, Puttenham is consistent with his contemporaries, understanding “tune” to be ‘prosodic’, in the sense that a “tune” is a composite of “accent” and other analysable “naturall sound[s]” heard in spoken words accurately pronounced. 

These three hitherto unknown significations of the word “tune” (‘musical rhythm’ incorporating count and duration, ‘spoken pitch’, and ‘prosody’ potentially incorporating all those elements) represent about 20% of the analysable occurrences of “tune” or its variations in the working copy of the LEME database, and they are used by ten of fourteen authors in eleven of fifteen works.[17]  Eight of our twelve non-OED LEME authors support OED readings; nine support Puttenham.[18]  So Puttenham's significations are used by other writers, and three of the works in question predate his (Sherry, Cooper and Thomas).  Four of the LEME authors only use “tune” in these (I will call them) Puttenhamian ways (Sherry, Thomas, Coote, and Cawdrey); four authors only use “tune” in ways recorded in the OED (Palsgrave, Elyot, Speght, and Bullokar); and six use it in both OED and Puttenhamian ways (Cooper, Minsheu, Florio, Cotgrave, Cockeram, and Blount), as does Puttenham himself.  Thus there is no clear division between the Oxfordian and the Puttenhamian camps of “tune” usage.  Puttenham and the others cannot be said to be inventing significations or attempting to redefine the signification of “tune”; rather, they are choosing among the range of significations for “tune” that are current in their language.  Puttenham rehabilitated.

4. Puttenham's accessibility: “tune” as a synonym for “accent” and as an easy word in The Arte of English Poesie and the LEME database.

The three new significations for the word “tune” are available because the working copy of the LEME database provides access to texts not quoted in the OED, and also because it provides fuller access to the works of authors who are quoted in the OED.  There is new information about Palsgrave and Florio, both quoted in the OED, because the Lexicons database displays every occurrence of the word “tune” in their works, and it shows the occurrences in the contexts of the complete word-entries in which they appear.  The Lexicons database cannot be more generous than its authors in this regard.  I have said that I have not been able to analyse eighty-five of the occurrences of the word “tune” in LEME because their contexts are too limited.  Some of these are occurrences in foreign-language dictionaries which consist of a foreign headword explained by a single English word; Cooper's “accentus”, for example, is simply explained as “tune”.  The others are occurrences in which the English text is longer but does not qualify the word “tune”, as in Minsheu's “insonoro, vntunable, that cannot be set in tune”.  In these cases, the contexts do not support analysis.  However, when the author of a work has provided sufficient context, it is available to the LEME user.

A further application of this kind of access is that it documents patterns of word-association.  “Tune”, it turns out, is very often associated with “accent”, a coincidence which will be familiar from the excerpts I have quoted from Puttenham.  “Accent” or its equivalent in another language (“accentus” in Cooper, Elyot and Thomas, “accentare” in Florio) is a synonym for twenty-six occurrences of  “tune”.[19]   Thomas, Florio and Cockeram use  “accent” with “tune” to signify ‘musical pitch or tone’ (cf. “tune, n.” 1a OED),[20] and  Florio uses it with “to tune” to signify ‘to play an instrument or to sing’ (cf. “tune, v.” 4a, 5 OED).[21]  But “accent” also has Puttenhamian senses.  Blount uses “accent” with “tune” to signify ‘spoken pitch’[22] and Elyot and Florio use “accent” and “tune” together with emphasis on proper pronunciation;[23] both senses are supported by examples using “accent” alone.[24]  Furthermore, Elyot, Cooper, Florio, Cockeram, and Blount say that  “prosody” (Cawdrey's “tune of pronouncing of words”) is “the art of accenting” or “the rule of pronouncing wordes truely, long or short”,[25] indicating that accent incorporates syllable duration.   Finally, Cotgrave says one must “accent the last syllable, vnlesse it be feminine” (“Vistempenard”), implying that accent is equivalent to ‘stress’.  These last examples are especially significant for Puttenham because he claims, as I have said, that syllable duration and stress are aspects of poetic tune.  There are no examples in the working copy of the Lexicons database in which “tune” is used explicitly to signify ‘syllable duration’ or ‘stress’, but the overlap in the significations of “tune” and “accent” is broad enough that, if accent clearly signifies syllable duration and stress in pronunciation, spoken “tune” is likely understood by the LEME authors as incorporating syllable duration and stress also.  The evidence for “accent” provides further evidence of Puttenham's sanity: his usage of “accent” is current, and the overlap of the semantic fields of “accent” and “tune” in his work is consistent with the overlap in the work of his contemporaries; the senses ‘syllable duration’ and ‘stress’ can be added to the senses ‘musical rhythm’, ‘spoken pitch’, and ‘prosody’, the senses of “tune” about which Puttenham and his contemporaries agree.  The sympathetic authors are this time exclusive to LEME, so access to words in LEME works in their full original context has provided further essential evidence. 

The final point I would like to make is perhaps the most important.  Although it is clear that Puttenham is not unique in his use of the word “tune”, Puttenhamian usages of “tune” only account for 20% of the usages in the Lexicons database.  If the LEME texts were not language texts, and not primarily dictionaries and hard-word lists, we might be forced to concede that Puttenham's use of the word “tune” is unusual, difficult, or limited to his particular context.  However, the language texts in which Puttenhamian usages of “tune” occur are not limited to a particular topic: bilingual dictionaries, English hard-word dictionaries, and rhetoric handbooks treat the language as a whole; there are no glossaries of old, technical or slang words among them, although such glossaries are well represented in the database.[26]  Even more importantly, “tune” in these works is never a word which is explained; it is always a word which is used to explain other words, foreign words or hard English words.  In fact, there are only two word-entries in the entire working copy of the Lexicons database for which “tune” is the headword, and they occur in the “Second Book” of Cockeram's English Dictionarie of 1623.  The “Second Book” gives a list of “the vulgar words, which whensoever any desirous of a more curious explanation by a more refined and elegant speech shall look into, he shall there receive the exact and ample word to expresse the same” (A5r).  To Cockeram, “tune” is a “vulgar” word, a word that is likely to be known by his readers, who he expects will be “ladies and gentlewomen, young schollers, clarkes, merchants as also strangers of any Nation” (A2r, title page).  Even foreigners will recognise “tune”.  (It must have come up early in continental language classes.  Perhaps Alençon wooed Elizabeth with tuneful ditties.)   The second most common hard word explained by “tune” is  “accent”.[27]  When George Puttenham uses “tune” to open the art of English “poesie”, then, he is using an easy word, a word everybody knows, a word everybody knows better than “accent”, an ordinary word that will signify to his readers the rhythms and pitch patterns of spoken words.  He was not out of his mind; or if he was, his was a widely held delusion, for he, his readers, nine linguists, their readers, and miscellaneous foreigners could all hear tunes in spoken English. 

Conclusion: “tuned poesie” in the English Renaissance?

The Puttenhamian usage of the word “tune” is relevant to my research because it means that people in the English Renaissance may have heard language differently than we hear it today; they may have heard musical rhythms, made up of stress, syllable count, syllable duration, and spoken pitch, as well as phonetic features, in their words.  If they did, they may have written poetry differently.  Could Ben Jonson, for example, a poet who called metre “tune”, have written tunes in his own verse?[28]  Or Shakespeare, who uses “tune” and “time” synonymously?[29]  I do not know how long it would take to answer these questions using print sources alone; but without access to an electronic, period-specific, primary-text corpus of lexical works with a search engine, the attempt could only be described as Puttenhamian.  I hope this example will be relevant to other researchers because it is representative of the many potential applications of the Lexicons database: any number of eccentrics may be rehabilitated, any number of esoteric arts redeemed.


[1]All citations from lexical works in the working copy of the database are taken from the editions in this version of the database.

[2]I have used two editions of the Arte of English Poesie.  My main source has been a searchable electronic copy edited by Ian Lancashire (Puttenham, G.). I have verified characters not supported by XML using the Early English Books Online version (Puttenham, R.). The British Library copy was the source for both Lancashire's edition and the EEBO facsimile.  Page references are those found in the original. 

[3]I have used two editions of the OED.  My main source has been the searchable online copy   I have also referred to the introductory material and the prefaces in the printed The Compact Oxford English Dictionary.

[4]The twenty-two references to “tune” as discernible by the ear or affecting the ear on the sixteen pages I have listed all use the words “ear” or “hearing”.  In addition to these, Puttenham uses “tune” or its derivatives in the contexts of sound, music, time, accent, rhyme, speech or “the cuckow” fourteen times (3, 7, 8, 41, 53, 64, 66, 101, 102, 110, 145, 168).  Of the thirty-seven uses of “tune” or its derivatives in the entire work, only one, then, seems potentially metaphorical, but even here “tuning” likely refers to “alterations [...] in sounde”: 

figure it selfe is a certaine liuely or good grace set vpon wordes, speaches and sentences to some purpose and not in vaine, giuing them ornament or efficacie by many maner of alterations in shape, in sounde, and also in sence, sometime by way of surplusage, sometime by defect, sometime by disorder, or mutation, & also by putting into our speaches more pithe and substance, subtilitie, quicknesse, efficacie or moderation, in this or that sort tuning and tempring them by amplification, abridgement, opening, closing, enforcing, meekening or otherwise disposing them to the best purpose. (133)

[5]The discussion of ocular figures proper occurs in Chapter XI of Book II, “Of Proportion in Figure”, which is “so called for that it yelds an ocular representation, your meeters being by good symmetrie reduced into certaine Geometricall figures” (75).  Puttenham does not use the word “tune” or any of its derivatives in this chapter.  The only time the word “ocular” occurs near “tune”, it is in reference to a visual illustration Puttenham uses to clarify a point about the permissible distances between rhymes in a stanza.  He still clearly contrasts “tunes”, which belong to the “eare”, with visual elements which belong to the “eye”:

Where ye see the concord or rime in the third distance, and the measure in the fourth, sixth or second distaunces, whereof ye may deuise as many other as ye list, so the staffe be able to beare it. And I set you downe an occular example: because ye may the better conceiue it.  Likewise it so falleth out most times your occular proportion doeth declare the nature of the audible: for if it please the eare well, the same represented by delineation to the view pleaseth the eye well and è conuerso: and this is by a naturall simpathie, betweene the eare and the eye, and betweene tunes & colours, euen as there is the like betweene the other sences and their obiects of which it apperteineth not here to speake. (70)

[6]See Book II, Chapter VIII, “How the good maker will not wrench his word to helpe his rime, either by falsifying his accent, or by vntrue orthographie” (67).

[7]“There be three speciall notes necessary to be observed in the framing of our accustomed English Ryme.  The first is, that one meeter or verse be aunswerable to an other, in equall number of feete or syllables, or proportionable to the tune whereby it is to be reade or measured”(Webbe 268).

“Others there are, that have no composition at all; but a kind of tuneing, and riming fall, in what they write. It runs and slides, and onely makes a sound. Womens Poets they are call'd: as you have womens Taylors”(Jonson).

[8]“Rose-cheeked Laura” is so widely accepted as an example of successful quantitative verse in English that it is noted as such in the most recent edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature: “[...] this song is a brilliant example of quantitative verse made musically effective in English”  (1198 n.1).

[9] Sense 2b is “a musical setting of a hymn or psalm, usually in four-part harmony”, 2c is “applied to the medieval ecclesiastical modes” with an example from Morley emphasising “keys” and “melodie”, 3a is “the state of being in the proper pitch”, and the figurative usage 3b “in or out of tune” depends upon 3a.  Sense 4a “style, manner, or ‘tone’ (of discourse or writing)” and the figurative senses 4b and 5, which also use the word “tone”, clearly all depend upon sense 1a, the eldest etymological daughter, “a (musical) sound or tone; especially the sound of the voice”; sense 1a, again, is the same as the first sense of the noun “tone”.  The citations for OED senses 1b, 2d and e, and 3c and d of “tune” contain no examples of usage from 1500-1700; but none of these refers to rhythm either.

[10]Sense 1 of “musical” is too general to be helpful: “of or belonging to music”.

[11]There are examples from our period for “tune, v.” for senses 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 4a; all but one use one or more of the words “tone”, “pitch”, “musical”, “song”, “harmony”, and “sing” in their definitions.  The exception is sense 2c, “to put into a proper condition for producing some effect; to adapt to a particular purpose”, one of the figurative senses in 2 which are dependent upon sense 1a, “to adjust the tones of (a musical instrument) to a standard of pitch”.  There are relevant examples for sense 1 of “tuned”, which is “put in tune, sounded musically, etc.”, and for senses 1a, b, c, d and e of “tunable”, all of which depend on sense 1, “tuneful, musical, melodious, harmonious, sweet-sounding”.  “Tuneful” is “full of ‘tune’ or musical sound”, “producing or yielding musical sounds”, “relating or adapted to music” in all Early Modern senses (1, 2 and 3 respectively).  “Tuneless”, not surprisingly, is “untuneful, unmusical, unmelodious” in sense 1, the only sense with relevant examples.  The single sense of “tunably”, which is “tunefully, musically, harmoniously”, also has Early Modern examples; as do the single senses for “tunableness”, which is “tunefulness, harmoniousness”, and “tunefulness”, which is “tuneful or musical quality”.  There are no examples from the period 1500-1700 for “tunelessly” or “tunelessness”.

[12]The nine new works supporting the OED are Elyot (1538), Cooper (1584), Speght (1598), Minsheu (1599), Florio (1611), Cotgrave (1611), Bullokar (1616), Cockeram (1623) and Blount (1656).  Palsgrave (1530) and Florio (1598) also support OED readings.

[13] In fact, all but three of the Renaissance OED senses are represented in the working copy of the Lexicons database. These are 2c and 6a &b for “tune, n.”.

[14]Most of the sources I have listed here are demonstrably indebted to others.  For example, for a detailed discussion of the relationships between Cawdrey, Bullokar, Cockeram, and Blount, see Starnes and Noyes.  In addition to demonstrating the debts that Early Modern English lexicographers owed one another, Starnes and Noyes demonstrate the differences among the various works as they are manifested in changes the lexicographers made to the individual word-entries they borrowed.  In my opinion, the citations for “tune” and its derivatives in the works I have listed here show sufficient differences overall to suggest that the author of each work considered the contents of his borrowed word-entries carefully; even Florio's two editions of World of Words show significant differences.  I am confident that the citations reflect the opinions of the lexicographers in whose works they appear.  I have therefore counted each citation separately in my calculations, whether or not it seems borrowed from an earlier work.

[15]See quotations from Florio in the following discussion.

[16]Number can mean “musical periods or groups of notes” (“number” 18 OED, first example 1579 from Morley); whereas measure more consistently refers to duration.  See, for example, Puttenham's references to “concorde in long and short measures”  (68) and “poemes in variable measures, [which] coupled a short verse with a long” (33); also Florio 1598 under “modi”: “the measures, rest, times, or pauses in singing or playing”; and OED sense 2f for “measure”: “duration (of time, of a musical note). Obs.” (the first example given is “1662 Playford Skill Mus. i. viii. 26 Pauses or Rests are silent Characters, or an Artificial omission of the Voyce or Sound, proportioned to a Certain Measure of Time”).   Blount's “number or [my italics] measure” may indicate that he thinks of the two words as equivalents.  Florio's  “accent and [my italics] number”, however, suggests that “number” is different from duration (“accent”, like “measure”,  indicates duration -- see following discussion).  I am inclined to think that Florio, at least, uses “number” in its more usual sense of “the precise sum or aggregate of any collection of individual things or persons” (“number, n.” 1aOED). 

[17]The non-OED works supporting Puttenham's readings are Sherry (1550),  Cooper (1584), Thomas (1587), Coote (1596), Minsheu (1599), Cawdrey (1604), Florio (1611), Cotgrave (1611),  Cockeram (1623), and Blount (1656).  Florio (1598) also supports Puttenham's readings.

[18]See note 12 for the list of works supporting the OED.

[19]The only more common association is with “sound” and its derivatives (47 times).  The next most common associations are “music” (22 times) and “note” (21 times).  These statistics reinforce the support in the Lexicons for OED sense 1a of “tune”, “(musical) tone”.

[20]“Tonus” is “tune, note, or accent” (Thomas 1587); “tono” is “a tune, a note, an accent” (Florio 1598) and “any tune, note, ayre, accent or sound” (Florio 1611),  “tuono” is “a tune, a note, a sound, an accent” (Florio 1598);  “accent in tune” is “tone, sumphonie” (Cockeram 1623).

[21]“Modolare” is “to sing or make harmonie, to meaure, to tune and accent” (Florio 1598) , “modolatore” is “he that singeth [...] in measure, in tune and accent” (Florio 1598 and 1611).

[22]“Accentus” is “tune, tenor, the rising and falling of the voice [...] as in the close of a Period we let fall the voice, in a demand raise it” (Blount 1656).

[23] “Accentus” is “an accent or tune, wherby a sillable is pronounced” (Elyot 1538); “accentare” is “to accent or giue a due sound to any word or letter, to tune” (Florio 1598).

[24]For example, “Accentus” is “the rising or falling of the voice” (Cooper 1584); “the accent of euery worde” is “the due moderation and measuring of the voice in pronouncing a word”  (Florio 1598).

[25]“Prosodia” is “the craft of accentinge” (Elyot 1538), “the arte of accenting” (Cooper 1584), and “the arte of accenting, or rule of pronouncing words truly, long, or short” (Florio 1598 and 1611).  “Prosodie” is “the Art of accenting, or the rule of pronouncing wordes truely long or short” (Cockeram 1623); “prosody” is “the art of accenting, or the rule of pronouncing words truly, long and short” (Blount 1656).

[26]Of the glossaries of old, technical or slang words, Thomas Speght's, which supports OED senses of “tune” only, is one (the 1598 glossary of Chaucerian words that I have already mentioned).  Others include, for example, Rychard Banckes' Herball (1525), John Cowell's legal dictionary, The Interpreter (1607), Thomas Dekker's The canter's dictionary (1608) of that particular strain of slang.  There are even works on prosody, such as Thomas Campion's Observations in the art of English poesie (1602).

[27]“Tone” and its equivalents in other languages are explained fifteen times by “tune” itself  (i.e., not by its derivatives); “accent” and its foreign equivalents are explained nine times by “tune” itself.

[28]See note 7 for Jonson's phrasing.

[29] From Shakespeare's “As You Like It”:

Touchstone: Truly young gentlemen, though there was no great matter in the ditty, yet the note was very untuneable.

First Page: You are deceived sir.  We kept time, we lost not our time. (5.3.37-41)

Works Cited

  • Jonson, Ben. Timber(1640). Representative Poetry Online.
  • Lancashire, Ian (ed). Lexicons of Early Modern English, vers. 0.3.0.dev, in progress, 2002, 17 May 2002 & 10 March 2003. 
  • The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Stephen Greenblatt, assoc. gen. ed, 7th ed, vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000)
  • Puttenham, George. The Arte of Poesie (1589). ed. I. Lancashire,  1998,  Representative Poetry Online, vers. 3.0, 2002, Web Development Group, Inf. Tech. Services, U. Toronto Lib., 10 March 2003 http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/displayprose.cfm?prosenum=17&subfile=puttenham_artofp_all.html.
  • Puttenham, Richard. The Arte of English Poesie, STC 20519 (British Library copy), Early English Books Online, ProQuest Information and Learning, 10 March 2003 wwwlib.umi.com/eebo/image/11026
  • Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. ed. Agnes Latham, Arden (London: Routledge, 1991).
  • Starnes, De Witt T. and Gertrude E. Noyes. The English Dictionary from Cawdrey to Johnson 1604-1755. Chapel Hill: U. North Carolina Press, 1946.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed, 1989, 10 March, 2003 www.chass.utoronto.ca/oed/.
  • The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
  • Webbe, William. A Discourse Of English Poetrie (1586) in Elizabethan Critical Essays, vol. 1., G. Gregory Smith ed. London: Oxford UP, 1950.



Jennifer Roberts-Smith (Department of English, University of Toronto)





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