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Shakespeare in music
September 22, 2009 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Amazing to see how differently Shakespeare's work has been dealt with in music: there is Jerry Lee Lewis doing a blues on Othello. David Gilmour, former Pink Floyd lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, turned Sonnet 18 into a touchingly beautiful ballad. The Metal Shakespeare Company wrote a heavy metal song about Hamlet (III/1), "To bleed or not to bleed". And yes, there is Shakespeare rap, too: William Shatner (the very same!) raps about Caesar and British rapper Akala thinks he is a reincarnation of the bard. Last but not least, the Beatles tried their luck at Shakespeare, too (no music this time): they did a skit on the famous Pyramus and Thisbe scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream (very rare footage!).
posted by Matthias Rascher (37 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget about Cleo Laine
posted by Beautiful Screaming Lady at 12:28 PM on September 22, 2009


Or Lord Buckley...

"Hipsters, flipsters, finger poppin' daddies, knock me a lobe! I came here to lay Caesar out and not to hip you to him."
posted by jonp72 at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


hot shit, that Beatles thing is the most amazing clip on youtube.
posted by shmegegge at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2009


John Harle's Terror & Magnificence is little-known but terrific. Here's Three Ravens and When That I Was & a Little Tiny Boy, which features vocals by Elvis Costello.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:35 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Beatles video really is amazing. They nailed the vibe of the original scene and successfully updated it. ("GO BACK TO LIVERPOOL!")

Here's a bit more info on it.
posted by PlusDistance at 12:39 PM on September 22, 2009


I've always liked What a Piece of Work is Man from Hair.
posted by inconsequentialist at 12:49 PM on September 22, 2009


So much more fun listening to that music than in reading that old crap.
posted by Postroad at 1:00 PM on September 22, 2009


Shatner Raps Shakespeare

That's some hellish Star Trek VI parody, isn't it?
posted by zarq at 1:06 PM on September 22, 2009


Under the Greenwood Tree by Donovan
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:22 PM on September 22, 2009


The Barenaked Ladies wrote some music for lyrics Shakespeare wrote for As You Like It.
posted by Copronymus at 1:24 PM on September 22, 2009


Somebody's performance of Ophelia's soliloquy from Romeo & Juliet turned up as a sample in a German house track a couple of years ago, Robag Wruhme's Wuzzelbud "KK".
posted by with hidden noise at 1:31 PM on September 22, 2009


William Shatner (the very same!) raps about Caesar

what
what
what
what hwat wat what

where is that from my mind hurts
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2009


Thank you all so much for your comments and for adding more great music. Let's bring it on!
posted by Matthias Rascher at 1:55 PM on September 22, 2009


Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn produced the amazing Shakespeareian album Such Sweet Thunder (or on youTube). Essential listening for anyone who likes Jazz. Or who thinks they might like jazz. Or has functioning ears at all.

From my first link:
Because it's one of the most remarkable orchestral pieces in all of American music. "Such Sweet Thunder" is a twelve-part suite that's based on the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare. Ellington and Strayhorn gave great attention to the material of Shakespeare and tried to make pictures that would take you into the mood.
posted by metaBugs at 2:14 PM on September 22, 2009


The Gilmour link was alright enough, but really, would it a' killed him to throw in a guitar solo?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2009


The Shatner link is from Free Enterprise.
posted by khaibit at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2009


Using a very generous definition of "music" one could also count the Othello-rap from the Reduced Shakespeare Company's abbreviated edition of the Bard's works.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:27 PM on September 22, 2009


Shakespeare's gravesite is in danger from a rotting roofbeam!
posted by longsleeves at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2009


with hidden noise: Ophelia's soliloquy from Romeo & Juliet

Hamlet, surely?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2009


Additionally, 'O Mistress Mine' has also been covered, on Nitin Sawhney's 2003 Human album.
posted by junebug at 2:35 PM on September 22, 2009


Sting has used lines from Shakespeare often. Including an album title ("Nothing like the sun") and the second verse of his song "Consider Me Gone."
posted by dnash at 2:43 PM on September 22, 2009


shakespehian - of course!
posted by with hidden noise at 2:49 PM on September 22, 2009


I've been looking in vain for internet video of the Hamlet musical that was performed on Gilligan's Island.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:01 PM on September 22, 2009


By far the best episode of the "Fame" TV series was "The Strike" from season 1, which had the students compose and perform their own take on "Othello" (YT). I bought the first season DVD set recently just to have this episode, which I haven't been able to get out of my head since the 80s (sad, I know).
posted by lhauser at 3:11 PM on September 22, 2009


I love the swing version of Come live with me and be my love. Which is by Marlowe, not Shakespeare.

But it's attached to a Shakespeare adaptation. And it has Sir McKellan in it, and it swings. So that's awesome.
posted by feckless at 4:07 PM on September 22, 2009


Richard Thompson wrote a three-minute distillation of "Hamlet" and put it to music.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:17 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been looking in vain for internet video of the Hamlet musical that was performed on Gilligan's Island.

Here's a version of it as done by some high schoolers.

I mostly link it because it's a video of a revue of a play-within-a-play-within-a-TV show.
posted by Copronymus at 4:34 PM on September 22, 2009


Richard Thompson wrote a three-minute distillation of "Hamlet" and put it to music

I thought this was a misattribution of Adam MacNaughton's sublime Oor Hamlet (Tich Frier doing it here, alas, lacking MacNaughton's breakneck pacing).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:40 PM on September 22, 2009


Come to think of it, Richard Thompson at his bleakest goes for the sort of verse/chorus downbeat/ironically upbeat juxtapositions that Billy Shakespeare does as well. The chorus of "The World is A Wonderful Place," with its

If this is called living
I’m folding my hand
I’m sick of the same brick wall

You live and you die
There’s no reason why
The world is a wonderful place


is not a million miles from

Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho! the holly!
This life is most jolly.


or

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never;
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny;
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into. Hey nonny, nonny.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:48 PM on September 22, 2009


Let's not forget the first Shakespearean rappers (starts about 2:14)
posted by jonp72 at 6:26 PM on September 22, 2009


Here's that Beatles clip in full color.

I guess I should post this in ask...but does anyone know who plays Wall and the Prologue?
posted by PlusDistance at 7:03 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate count? (aka Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew)
posted by binturong at 7:33 PM on September 22, 2009


If Kiss Me Kate counts, what about Christopher Reeve and the Muppets performing Hamlet and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare"?
posted by bentley at 8:56 PM on September 22, 2009


That Beatles clip is priceless. I especially love how Paul's Liverpudlian accent allows him to rhyme "thy mantle good" with "stained with blood", something none of us American kids could ever manage in English class. (It was a serious point of contention in 8th grade, and I'm sure our teacher heard the same "But good doesn't rhyme with blood! What kinda classic is this?!" complaint year in, year out.)
posted by Spatch at 5:36 AM on September 23, 2009


My high school drama troupe once competed in the state-wide drama festival against a school which had written its own Shakespeare-oriented music revue (I think after the opening number we'd all pretty much decided "whelp, we've lost, let's just sit back and enjoy this").

They opened with a filk of the song "Willie And the Hand Jive," worked a whole bunch of quotes from the Sonnets into the midst of the song "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", and the finale was a couple guys in the troupe doing a rap of a speech from Midsummer Night's Dream while the rest of the cast did the beatboxing around them.

Tangentially -- I have seen the Scottish Play a hell of a lot, and invariably almost everyone stages the Three Weird Sisters as these weird hypersexualized, writhing, keening women, and I just got to be sick of it; but once I saw a group stage the "Bubble, Bubble, toil and trouble" scene with the Three Weird Sisters and a few others doing a stomping, hand-clapping get-down-with-your-bad-self dance around the cauldron and chanting the words instead, and it creeped the absolute hell out of me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on September 23, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: "
Tangentially -- I have seen the Scottish Play a hell of a lot [...]
"


By "The Scottish Play" I assume you mean... Macbeth?
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2009


almost everyone stages the Three Weird Sisters as these weird hypersexualized, writhing, keening women

I'd much rather see the witches as hypersexualized keening women than the way it was done in a production I saw several years ago. It wasn't so much "Ooh, eerie eldritch presences" as "Oh, Grandma's escaped from the attic again". The witches shuffled around a plastic Halloween cauldron, throwing gummi worms into a nonexistent brew--you could hear the "clank" as each worm hit the completely dry bottom.

For my part, I've always wanted to do Macbeth in modern dress just so I'd have an excuse to do the three witches as a sort of proper maiden/mother/crone trio--schoolgirl, business-suited working mom, and a quasi-Miss Havisham figure.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:09 PM on September 23, 2009


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