You know someone said that the world's a stage. And each of us must play a part. That someone was Elvis Presley of course, borrowing heavily from The Bard. The great playwright William Shakespeare who died on 23rd April 1616 was often quoted - or misquoted - in song. Even when not directly referenced, his works inspired many generations of songwriters to follow.
To celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday in 2020, we’ve put together some of our favourite tunes inspired by The Bard. Some you’ll know and some you won’t.
Some songs like Dan Bern’s ‘Shakespeare’s Got A Gun’ are loosely inspired while others such as Rufus Wainwright’s take on ‘When In Disgrace With Fortune And Men’s Eyes’ have a much more visible link to The Bard. There are also tunes here from more modern retellings of the classics. ‘Waiting (O Mistress Mine)’ features in Tim Supple’s 2003 version of Twelfth Night, while Radiohead famously drew inspiration from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet for ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’.
Bob Dylan was well-known for his love of Shakespeare and many of his works mention characters or quotes from the playwright. ‘Desolation Row’ is a two-for-one with lyrics about both Romeo and Ophelia. Ophelia is also the muse for artists such as The Lumineers and The Band, while Romeo and Juliet appear in many works across all genres.
Kudos then to those who stray from the mainstream. On ‘My Sad Captains’, Elbow’s Guy Garvey reworks the words of Mark Anthony and Elton John’s ‘The King Must Die’ draws heavily on the character arc of many of Shakespeare’s tragic characters. Taking Much Ado About Nothing as their influence, Mumford and Sons rewrite the words between Benedick and Beatrice in ‘Sigh No More’. Marcus Mumford is reported to have said”
You can rip off Shakespeare all you like; no lawyer is going to call you up on that one.
We hope you enjoy this collection of songs inspired by William Shakespeare. If music be the food of love, play on…