If music be the food of love: 20 songs inspired by Shakespeare

Songs inspired by Shakespeare have been around for a long time and more artists in many genres continue to be influenced by the great English playwright.

If Music Be The Food Of Love

Various Artists

  • Folk
  • Alt-Country
  • Alternative

  1. Full Fathom Five - Ralph Vaughan Williams
  2. Waiting (O Mistress Mine) - Nitin Sawhney
  3. My Sad Captains - Elbow
  4. Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons
  5. Ophelia - The Lumineers
  6. Sonnet 29 - Rufus Wainwright and Florence Welch
  7. The King Must Die - Elton John
  8. Romeo and Juliet - The Indigo Girls
  9. Love Story - Taylor Swift
  10. Romeo - Dolly Parton
  11. The Milkman Of Human Kindness - Billy Bragg
  12. Romeo Had Juliette - Lou Reed
  13. Ophelia - The Band
  14. Macbeth - John Cale
  15. Richard III - Supergrass
  16. Shakespeare's Got A Gun - Dan Bern
  17. The Star Crossed Lovers - Duke Ellington
  18. To Be Or Not To Be - BA Robertson
  19. Desolation Row - Bob Dylan
  20. Exit Music (For A Film) - Radiohead

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…