In Shakespeare’s day, music was integral to the theater-going experience. Whether it was a Fool entertaining his masters, a fairy making mischief, or an ingénue committing herself to a lover, songs were—and are—a vital part of any Shakespeare production. So it’s fitting that the Bard would find his way into the music we know and love best today. Here are our favorite nods to Shakespeare in popular music. Some of them may surprise you.
Mumford and Sons, “Sigh No More”
They’re not bad lyricists by any stretch, but there’s no way Mumford and Sons could’ve come up with “man is a giddy thing” themselves. Lines from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth (“stars, hide your fires”), completely elevate the songwriting on this disc, and “this is my conclusion.”
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The Band, “Ophelia”
What if Hamlet came to his senses and wrote a rowdy little number begging Ophelia to come back? Bonus round: the Punch Brothers do a great cover, if you want to get even more meta.
Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You”
“For I am as constant as the Northern Star…” You might not remember this phrase from Julius Caesar, but Joni Mitchell’s boyfriend does, using it to assure her of his fidelity in this achingly gorgeous 70s track.
Jeff Buckley, “Lover You Should’ve Come Over”
It’s hard to imagine hunchback monomaniac Richard III as a romantic lead, but Jeff Buckley is worthy of swoons and shivers in this ballad. Buckley trades the classic line, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” for “My kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder,” and we all sigh.
“Then there’s the music—always a woman singing somewhere, an old man playing the banjo. Maybe just a pair of maracas the girl shakes by the cash register. Maybe a violin that reminds you of your mother. Maybe a tune that makes you want to forget.” —Jeanette Winterson in The Gap of Time, a retelling of The Winter’s Tale
Rufus Wainwright, “Sonnet 29”
It’s too bad Rufus can’t come sing this at your wedding, because that’s all you’re going to want once you hear it.
Cole Porter, “Too Darn Hot”
Who wasn’t more popular than Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald in their day? This swinging piece from Kiss Me Kate (about a production of The Taming of the Shrew) is one of the most well-known jazz standards of the last century.
Elvis Costello, “Miss Macbeth”
Miss Macbeth spends her time frightening children, writing letters in poisoned ink, and talking to statues. Not too far off from the original, but with a healthy helping of contempo Briticisms.
Taylor Swift, “Love Story”
The over-the-top earnestness, nay, the utter teenage-ness of this song will remind you exactly how you felt reading Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade. And that’s something pretty special.
What’s your favorite Shakespeare reference in song? Did we miss any major ones?
Image credits: Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock.com.