Alas, Poor David Bowie … Shakespeare in Song

There have been many, many attempts to categorize Shakespeare references in modern popular music, but I’ve yet to find anything I’d consider the master list. But since we haven’t done it for awhile, and this attempt seems new, I give you Shakespeare in Song, Categorized by Play, on The AWL. The choices in this list are interesting, ranging for instance from the background noise in The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” coming from King Lear, to David Bowie’s habit of carrying a skull when he sings “Cracked Actor.” References to Sting (“Nothing Like The Sun” being a pretty obvious one) are nowhere to be found. Likewise no Dire Straits (“Romeo and Juliet”). I think the task is just too difficult.  Is it a Shakespeare reference every time somebody says Romeo? Or Juliet? I’d love it if somebody made a list of songs that contained actual Shakespeare text as lyrics. That’d be a great start.  Then we can go from there and debate whether Led Zeppelin’s “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold” is or is not a Merchant of Venice (“all that glisters is not gold”) reference.

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7 thoughts on “Alas, Poor David Bowie … Shakespeare in Song

  1. I'm surprised they didn't include Romeo and Juliet there, there must be at least 50.

    Off the top of my head, "Midsummer Night's Scene" by John's Children, and "B is for Brutus" by the Hives. There's also "Cassius" by Foals, but that's partly about Cassius Clay and partly about the historical Caius Cassius, not the character in the play (although how much of our perception of the historical Cassius is based on Shakespeare's Cassius is a different matter).

  2. Oh, and let me add "Desdemona" by John's Children, and "Planet Queen" by T.Rex, which says 'perchance to dream' a couple times.

    There's also a current popular song which isn't really worth mentioning, so I won't.

  3. Rufus Wainwright has set Sonnets 20 and 29 (that I know of) to music in their entirety. Worth a listen – Youtube has both.

  4. Saul Williams' Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare) Feat. Zack de la Rocha is a rework of Mark Antony's funeral oration in a more modern context. It's also available on YouTube, and also worth checking out.

  5. While I love Rufus' work with the Sonnets, I would not count it the same as we're talking about here. He's literally taking nothing but text, and singing it. That's different from integrating a portion of Shakespeare's text into your own lyrics.

    And I'm guessing that "same person" is referring to Love Story by Taylor Swift? 🙂

  6. Yes, alas, that's the one. 🙂

    Another awesome song is "Comedy Tragedy History" by Akala, which works in the titles of almost all of Shakespeare's plays in the lyrics.

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