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There is an interesting variety in glosses of the term "burthen."

The OED redirects the entry for "burthen" to that of "burden" which, similar to the modern version, refers to something being borne. In order to make any sense of the text's usage, "Burthen: Ding-dong," we must move all the way down to the tertiary definiton: "Used in the Eng. Bible (like onus in the Vulgate) to render Heb. mass{amac}, which Gesenius would translate ‘lifting up (of the voice), utterance, oracle’, but it is generally taken in English to mean a ‘burdensome or heavy lot or fate’." Thus the most common gloss of "burthen" would suggest the burden of mourning, and the sad tone of dealing with unpleasant faith.

The Arden Tempest, on the other hand, offers the following note: "As bass became confused with refrain, so bourdon with burthen.
"Bourdon" is defined by the OED as "The low undersong or accompaniment, which was sung while the leading voice sang a melody." This gloss suggests that there are a number of spirits making up the song, and that Ariel hears another spirit making the bell sound, perhaps one of the sea-nymphs. This gloss suggests no particular judgment on the nature of the sound as burdensome, and tends (in my mind) to make a little more sense, although it assumes mistakes on the part of the editors or printers of the folio.

The Variorum Tempest notes for this line that the version of Ariel's song reprinted in Wilson's "Cheerful Ayres or Ballads" in 1660 omits the word stage direction entirely, instead following the song with the line "Ding Dong, Ding Dong, Bell." This gloss suggests that the troublesome word had nothing to do with the intention of the author, and has more to do with the abundance of unattributed stage directions prevalent in the first folio.

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