The Bard and the Beatles

Dap to j5 for the kick in the pants to get this thing blooming in springtime.

Before I even got to school this morning, I had already heard twice (once on the Today Show and then on NPR) that April 23 is William Shakespeare’s birthday. When I sat down in the computer lab during an off period thinking of something to do, I realized I could get back into the swing of things right here on RofH. Pondering what song to pick in honor of Bill’s b-day, I wondered what artist could be so blandly ubiquitous yet sharply poignant and relevant all at once.

And of course, there is only one answer: The Beatles. (This is also convenient as a crutch for me to get back into things on the blog to use the most well-known poet/playwright/frilly-clothe-wearer ever and the most famous band of all time. Believe that).

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Shakespeare was the author of almost 40 plays, most of which were either comedies or histories. However, I’d wager a guess that most people know him for tragedies, especially Romeo & Juliet, which has set the archetype for romance for the better part of 400 years. The Beatles, arguably the most famous band ever, are known for hundreds of songs. However, “Yesterday” – despite being a song written only by Paul McCartney and performed as a solo without any other members – remains the most covered song of all time according to Guinness and was voted the best song of the 20th century by various polls. This popularity mirrors the popularity (I’m afraid that ‘popularity’ isn’t even a big enough word to describe) of Shakespeare throughout the past 400 years of writing, speaking and entertainment.

Some contributions of Shakespeare to our everyday language:

  1. “in my heart of hearts”
  2. “my mind’s eye”
  3. “a sorry sight”
  4. “all’s well that ends well”
  5. “at one fell swoop”
  6. “star crossed lovers”

Of course The Beatles remain similarly influential in musical ways.

Another interesting link between the song and Shakespeare revolves around authorship. Over the course of centuries, some have speculated that perhaps Shakespeare was not the author of all the plays attributed to him. Perhaps some were written by others, including his contemporary Christopher Marlowe. Ironically, McCartney claims to have gone through a phase of doubt over whether he had come up with the melody to “Yesterday” or if he had subliminally absorbed it without realizing it. After humming the melody around for weeks to other people in the music business, Sir Paul eventually convinced himself that the melody that came to him in a dream was in fact his own and not that of someone else.

I would write more, but the amount of effort I want to put into Shakespeare and the Beatles is very very little. Being my first entry back in 5 months, cut me some slack. Hopefully more to come.

I think a lot of the comparisons are obvious, but that could just be the convenient device I’ll use to stop writing. 

Suggestions? Connections?

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2 Responses to The Bard and the Beatles

  1. B. Vincelette says:

    The issue of authorship is something widely debated in academic circles as a theoretical construct. The McCartney story fascinates me because there’s such an explosion in copyright litigation, especially because of digital writing spaces (the Internet, etc.). Some scholars say that all writing is, at some level, shared authorship–“distributed authorship” or “assemblage.” I’ve actually been co-writing a book chapter about this and YouTube parodies–basically the connection between teaching and intellectual property & how research relates to copyright. You touched on it in your post.

    • Kevin says:

      Authorship as a theoretical construct? I love that. So even though the comment title will show that “Kevin” wrote this, the comment in fact was co-authored by Chuck Klosterman, Joseph J. Ellis, my dad, and the Hardy Boys. Maybe writing and creating music is more akin to an apprentice-driven profession where the teacher’s influence shows through the apprentice’s work. But then that makes me think of the idea of “authorship” versus “ownership” and how artists, writers, and creators may view how something can be created and yet not owned. And now I wonder, how on earth could there be such thing as “intellectual property” involved in legal cases?

      “No, this belongs to me because I thought of it.” Definitely no oversoul in that one.

      By the way, you’ve just made the intellectual level of this blog increase about 10000 times higher than “Abe Lincoln would like CSN.”

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