Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Modern Day Song References to Shakespeare

Now that I have concluded my analysis on the music used in movie adaptations of
Hamlet, I am now going to do a series of posts talking about and analyzing Shakespearean references in modern day songs. I plan to do at least three posts on the subject. With this theme for my upcoming posts, I hope to show that Shakespeare is still relevant in pop culture, specifically in modern day music.

The first song I would like to talk about is called "Desolation Row" by Bob Dylan. This song has two Shakespearean references, one about Romeo and another about Ophelia. The song mentions many characters who are undergoing unfavorable situations. Here is the stanza in which Romeo is mentioned:
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning

“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend

You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row
This reference to Romeo is very subtle, but it has a lot of meaning. Like the Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Bob Dylan's Romeo is going through some hard times with a girl. He is struggling to find out whether his Juliet (aka Cinderella) is really his girl or not. Much like the play, the song references an opposing force who does not want Romeo to be with Cinderella.

The second Shakespearean reference talks about a young girl named Ophelia who, like the Ophelia in Hamlet, is an "old maid" at a young age. Here are the lines used in the song:
Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window

For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row
The Ophelia mentioned in Dylan's song seems very similar to the Ophelia in Hamlet in that they are both young girls who seem to have passed through tragic events. Dylan also mentions that Ophelia is a sinful girl in that she is lifeless. This is very representative of Shakespeare's Ophelia in that she is also lifeless, due to her preoccupation with Hamlet, and is accused of being a sinful person after she dies mysteriously.

I believe that both of these references show that Shakespeare is still relevant when composing songs today. Bob Dylan is a very famous and influential singer/songwriter. He has won many awards and has received much critical praise for his work and songwriting ability, yet he still feels it is necessary to draw upon Shakespeare for inspiration in his work.

For those interested, here is an actual recording of the song: