Monday, May 7, 2018

400 Years Ago - A Literary Lesson

If you remember your salad days, you're quoting Shakespeare; if something of yours has vanished into thin air, then you're quoting Shakespeare; if you refuse to budge an inch or play fast and loose, if you've been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, then it's a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare. Indeed, even if you send me packing and wish I were dead, by Jove, O Lord, tut, tut and for goodness' sake, it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare. And you're not alone. 400 Years after Shakespeare's death (April 23, 1616) we quote directly, we paraphrase, we use the Bard's words out of context. 

In 1965, Dylan took on Shakespeare with "Desolation Row:" "And in comes Romeo, he's moaning 'You belong to me I believe.'/ Ophelia, she's 'neath the window, for her I feel so afraid." Although the specific narrative doesn’t necessarily follow Shake's (mixing it up a bit), a plethora of characters that paint Dylan’s urban landscape are plucked straight from Liam (you know, we're on a familiar basis). Similarly, The Band’s "Ophelia," despite its bouncy, syncopated rhythm, has lyrics nearly as dark as those of Hamlet, drawing directly from the madness that Ophelia suffers, to portray, if melodramatically, a disconnected, out of touch young woman. Sting borrows directly from Shakespeare's Sonnet 130: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," he sings in a torchy ballad. The album as well was titled Nothing Like the Sun. Morrissey flirted with the Bard (Morrissey liked to flirt with British Gods, most notably in "Cemet'ry Gates") in "You've Got Everything Now," which opens with a slight variation on a line from Much Ado About Nothing: "As merry as the days were long."

Sigh No More is the title of Mumford and Sons hugely popularly first album as well as the first song on that album. This too alludes to Much Ado About Nothing: "Serve God love me and mendFor man is a giddy thing, and One foot in sea and one on shore." Macbeth plays a role in "Roll Away Your Stone:" "Stars hide your fires/And these here are my desire" can be compared of course to "Stars, hide your fires,/Let not light see my black and deep desires."

But it's not only through the lyrics that we recall our fave Elizabethan rock star. The Beatles so memorably plucked out a BBC soundbite from King Lear for "I Am the Walrus." With their all-encompassing cultural reach, you might think the Fab Four would've had more Shakespeare in their canon, but there was only this one, and it was a happy accident. While making a sound collage for "Walrus's" fade-out, Neil Aspinall switched on a radio in the studio and caught a broadcast of Lear. "Oh untimely death..." is one of the lines that pokes out, from Oswald's death scene. The complete lines run (thanks to Wikipedia, I am including the song timings): Oswald: (3:52) Slave, thou hast slain me. Villain, take my purse./ If ever thou wilt thrive,(4:02) bury my body,/ And give the (4:05) letters which thou find'st about me/ To (4:08) Edmund, Earl of Gloucester; (4:10) seek him out/ Upon the British party. O, (4:14) untimely Death!/ Edgar: (4:23) I know thee well: a (4:25) serviceable villain;/ As duteous to the (4:27) vices of thy mistress/ As badness would desire. Gloucester: What, is he dead?/ Edgar: (4:31) Sit you down father, rest you."

"Pack and get dressed/ Before your father hears us/ Before all hell breaks loose/ Breathe, keep breathing/ Don’t lose your nerve/ Breathe, keep breathing/ I can't do this alone"

Radiohead's "Exit Music" was inspired of course by Baz Luhrman's contemporary film remake, Romeo + Juliet, and Thom Torke wrote "Exit Music" for the closing credits. The result is a beautiful track that could end nearly any film. "I saw the Zeffirelli version when I was 13 and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn’t understand why, the morning after they shagged, they didn't just run away," Yorke has been quoted about the song. "The song is written for two people who should run away before all the bad stuff starts. A personal song." My Chemical Romance’s song "The Sharpest Lives" contains (yet another) reference to Romeo and Juliet : "Juliet loves the beat and the lust it commands/ drop the dagger and lather the blood on your hands, Romeo."

But everyone of course hates Shakespeare.