• Charles Trainor Siena College
Keywords: Fielding, eighteenth century, song, aesthetics, theater


Given Fielding’s noteworthy achievement as a songwriter, two puzzling issues arise. First, why are his lyrics so superior to his poetry, and second, why did he become immersed in popular song when he had limited respect for the form? The second question is the more easily answered: the often impecunious Fielding embraced ballad opera after noting the monumental success of The Beggar’s Opera. Its appeal for him, though, was not simply financial as its attack on Italian opera and use of songs to make moral points also attracted him. Once underway, however, his career as a lyricist quickly revealed his talent for word-painting, as he skillfully used music to reinforce his words’ meaning; and he integrated his airs so smoothly into the action that many are written as dialogue, giving them dramatic force. He also proved highly adept at setting new words to old melodies, using the previous lyrics to provide an interpretive framework for his own. Ironically, too, his limited respect for the genre contributed to his success as he abandoned the stilted and elevated style of his poetry and adopted popular music’s easy informality. Indeed, if English song was ‘low’, it was ultimately by stooping that Fielding conquered