Shakespeare as Bob Dylan

So I’ve been sharing my writing lately with a friend.  He’s not the literature type, he’s more of a music geek.  Here’s what he wrote me back:

I kind of group Shakespeare with Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan has written some incredible songs, yet to listen to him sing them turns many people off, when other artists cover the material, you really get the depth of the lyrics  and  think of Shakespeare in that same realm, where because the language is so dense if you will, that people are turned off and don’t see the real beauty of the stories being told.

I can see his point. There are Dylan people who know every word the man ever spoke, who hunt down every scrap he may have written a note upon. Then there are those who know a couple of his tunes, and he doesn’t really do it for them.  But then there’s a huge group in the middle who’ve probably heard a Dylan-penned tune and loved it, without ever realizing it was Dylan. (I could probably take it farther and say, “If you told them it was Dylan before they listened to it, they wouldn’t like it….”) The television series “Band of Brothers” was quite popular.  Yet I’m continually surprised that people don’t know this is a Henry V reference.  I wonder if I started like that – “Hey, did you see that HBO war series that’s named for Shakespeare’s Henry V?” – if people would like it as much?

12 thoughts on “Shakespeare as Bob Dylan

  1. Indeed, while there are many teachers who try to make the material interesting, (and they are to be commended) many of the teachers who teach Shakespeare are merely going through the motions, or do not understand the material themselves.

  2. As a teacher who didn't have the best introduction to Shakespeare in high school, I am curious to know how much you might attribute this feeling about Shakespeare to a poor introduction. I strive to make Shakespeare fun for my students, and I invariably hear they enjoy studying his works. One of the important things, in my opinion, is getting students on their feet and acting it out.

  3. Wrong thread maybe, Dana? I'm not complaining about my Shakespeare education in this one :). That was "Histories as Fiction", I think.

    And I'm with Andrew – like any other subject, there are good teachers who try to make it fun for the students, and then the those who just want to go through the motions and take home their paycheck. (And yes, though not a teacher I've worked in the school system long enough to have seen this with my own eyes.)

    Thanks for the link, Bill, I'll have to check that out. I guess we're on to something with the Dylan connection!

  4. No, maybe I didn't make myself clear. I was thinking about what you said here: "But then there’s a huge group in the middle who’ve probably heard a Dylan-penned tune and loved it, without ever realizing it was Dylan. (I could probably take it farther and say, 'If you told them it was Dylan before they listened to it, they wouldn’t like it….')"

    I wondered if perhaps a lot of folks liked Shakespeare-inspired works and might not have if you told them it was Shakespeare first couldn't be connected to a poor introduction, but you answered my question anyway. I still think a lot more people would love Shakespeare instead of the Shakespeare-inspired stuff with a proper introduction.

  5. I have to disagree with the basic premise here. I feel Dylan is the best interpreter of his material, especially on the more overtly Dylan type songs. When I here Judy Collins sing something like "It's alright Ma" , the song no longer connects, it begins to sound like someone singing some random words.

  6. NO ONE sings Dylan like Dylan–with his soul. If you think otherwise, you weren't listening. And if you were listening, you didn't hear.

  7. I love it when a post gets some traction :).

    Stew, why'd you remove those links? I wanted to go back and show my friend who started this thread! That wasn't spammy, feel free to put them back.

    Anonymous guys – I get your point, but you just put yourselves in the "fan" category, as I noted. Same with Shakespeare. We, the fans, simply don't see the source material and the delivery mechanism the same as a casual observer. We can't escape it.

    Dana, I'm with you, but I honestly think that a "proper introduction" to Shakespeare is fundamentally impossible, at least in the education system I know. My kids have known about Shakespeare since before they were in school (I think you're a regular reader, and that you know that). Once upon a time I likened it to Cinderella. Nobody ever takes a class in Cinderella, memorizes passages, or does homework on it – yet, every kid knows it. I'd like Shakespeare, at least some of it, to be the same way. My kids (7, 5 and 3 at this point) see the words "Titania" or "Oberon" in print and they go bananas, recognizing the king and queen of the fairies. I can't wait until they actually get old enough for a school curriculum to require them to know Midsummer, they'll waltz through it. But…what about until then? Shakespeare can be so much a part of life, I honestly don't think there's anything that can truly solve the problem that starts with "If you take this class from this teacher at this grade level, then you'll love it."

  8. Excellent point, Duane, and kudos to you for mentioning parents. I think you are a rarity. Most parents will not probably introduce their children to Shakespeare. In that case, some introductions could be better than others. I suppose I'm just thinking that my teachers did very little to try to make Shakespeare appealing, but I remember desperately trying on my own. I had a paperback with Romeo and Juliet coupled with the script for West Side Story in it. You remember that edition? I was so proud of myself carrying that around. Made me feel smart. Anyway, I like to think of the Hippocratic Oath, even though I'm a teacher: "First, do no harm." It's an unfortunate truth that too many interesting things, from books to science have been flogged to death by a teacher. Also, I want to teach your kids. 🙂

  9. I was lucky that my mother loved Shakespere. She drove us to the Globe Theatre in San Diego (a three hour drive, so a big deal) to see Henry V, which I think is a better introduction than the comedies they usually put on for children. It was exciting and she bought a copy of the play which my brother and I read outloud on the drive home. Kind of hooked after that.

    I also vote for Bob Dylan as a modern Shakespere. Mostly because his songs have depth – they grow with your abilty to understand them. The more you think about them, the more they mean. But you don't have to delve very far to enjoy them.

  10. Funny you mention Henry V, as my kids saw this last summer. Of course I think we're talking about different ages, mine are only 7/5/3 now and certainly not ready to read it themselves :). While they could understand the general concepts like "Who is that man and why is he yelling at all those people", they were no way near capable of following the political motivations.

    The great thing about Dream is, of course, all the slapstick. No matter how old you are, watching people scream and run around and wrestle in the mud and other such physical comedy is funny. I don't expect that my kids had any appreciation of just how good bits like "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows …" were, but that will come with time.

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