Come On In and Cover Shakespeare

Here’s an idea that just hit me over in the bad Shakespeare thread:

All Shakespeare performance is cover songs.  Discuss.

Think about it.  Somebody writes the lyrics to a song, and the music.  Somebody else comes along later and performs their version of it.  Maybe they change it up, maybe they try and stay true to the original as best they can.  Maybe it’s worse than the original, maybe it’s even better.  Maybe it’s just … different.  But there’s no doubt that everybody listening understands, “Ok, wait, is he actually doing Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time?”  Whether you like the original or not, and whether you like this version or not, are entirely subjective.

Isn’t Shakespeare in the exact same situation, save one important caveat?  He gave us the words, and if you know how to read them, he gave us the “music”, for lack of a better term.  Then it’s up to who comes along later to decide how true they’ll stay to the original, what they’ll keep and what they’ll change, how they’ll “make it their own” to steal an American Idolism. The caveat? Surely somebody knows what I’m going to say.  For any given cover song, chances are almost perfect that we have an original.  That is simply not true with Shakespeare.  Nobody today gets to see what it looked like originally.  Even the best recreations only get half way there, because we didn’t live when Shakespeare did. It’s like trying to listen to songs from the 1960’s today, if you weren’t there.  You can research history all you like, but Neil Young’s “Four dead in Ohio” song just can’t possibly be the same if you weren’t alive to wake up the next morning and read that in the papers. This, in turn, makes me think of another post on the subject of quality, that maybe I’ll have time for later today, I’m not sure.  I think we’re getting pretty metaphysical here.

One thought on “Come On In and Cover Shakespeare

  1. Perhaps a better example of a covered song would be "Help" by Deep Purple (pretty unrelated, I just like the song):

    It's a good song, but the tone is nothing like the original. Did the Beatles know of this cover? Did they like it? Did they hate it? Did they wish that'd done it like that?

    If the song is covered in later years, will anyone try to do it like this version? Are there people who hate the song, but like this cover?

    Is there such thing as a good or bad song, or just a good or bad performer? To what lengths is a performer allowed to go to in trying to make a song they're covering "better"?

    Stop me at any time… I'm very good at long strings of questions.

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