Shakespeare in Popular Music, part One

Standard
by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century)

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (late 15th century)

Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal. T.S.Eliot

Sometimes,it’s not really stealing, its is simply paying homage to great words and great ideas.  I was actually surprised by the number of pop songs that have taken inspiration by Shakespeare’s words or plays. The variety of artists range from Bob Dylan to Dire Straits, with Canadian contributions by The Tragically Hip, The Barenaked Ladies and Rush.

A personal favourite is “Cemetery Gates by The Smiths. I fell in love with the lyrics, and was surprised that the words had a literary pedigree. The quote is from Richard III,  Act Five, Scene III

  RATCLIFF
Ratcliff, my lord; ’tis I. The early village-cock
Hath twice done salutation to the morn;
Your friends are up, and buckle on their armour.

KING RICHARD III
O Ratcliff, I have dream’d a fearful dream!
What thinkest thou, will our friends prove all true?

By this time in the play, Richard’s plans are falling apart and his conscience is bothering him. The ghosts of his misdeeds, figuratively and literally, are beginning to surround him and for Richard the end in nigh.  The Smiths version conjures Shakespeare and references Wilde, Yeats and Keats, as well.

“Cemetery Gates”
The Smiths

A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your sideA dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mineSo we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people all those lives
Where are they now?
With the loves and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived and then they died
Seems so unfair
And I want to cry

You say: “ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own
But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
A hundred times, maybe less, maybe more

If you must write prose and poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loans”
There’s always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who’ll trip you up and laugh
When you fall

You say: “ere long done do does did”
Words which could only be your own
And then you then produce the text
From whence was ripped some dizzy whore, 1804

A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Oh Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose because Wilde is on mine

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