This article draws on a wide range of literary and archival sources in order to explore the cultural resonances of drumming in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. It concentrates not on instrument design and playing techniques but on the varied meanings that contemporaries attached to the ubiquitous sound of the drum. The discussion begins and ends with the unmistakable military associations of drumming. In between, consideration is also given to a range of interconnected but sometimes contradictory resonances that appear to have endowed drums with considerable cultural significance. Drums spoke, for example, of authority and they worked hard to impose order in urban streets. They also played their part in the contemporary culture of punishment, and many miscreants were subjected to the humiliation of public percussion. Beyond this, drums were particularly potent in their ability to express masculinity, and female drummers were rare and remarkable. The primal potency of the instrument also rendered it valuable to the insubordinate, and rioters—like soldiers— were regularly called together 'by the drum'. Lastly, the sound of the drum was sometimes intensely festive and could also be used to publicize special events such as dramatic performances and the display of curiosities. The repercussions of drumming were thus varied, and confusion sometimes resulted when the different possibilities became entangled.
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