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Shakespeare's Love-Song Legacy

Shakespeare's works have influenced a wide variety of products over time, not the least of which has been the world of music - most specifically, that of the love song.

Songs about love are everywhere, from eighteenth century operas to thrash metal hits. In today’s music industry, the charts are full of love songs, about every kind of relationship or romantic thought imaginable. And of course, as the teller of some of the greatest love stories of all time, Shakespeare provides endless inspiration for these love songs.

Where to begin? Shakespeare's love-song legacy is vast. The web is full of playlists of “songs inspired by Shakespeare” – and there are thousands of tracks that could be talked about. Some stories, themes and characters are especially popular. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Romeo and Juliet has been the biggest inspiration for love music by far over the centuries. Some musicians have been inspired by iconic moments from the play: the couple’s first meeting, the balcony scene, the lovers’ plan to flee the city of Verona, and the play’s tragic ending. Some write music which encompasses the whole story, while others focus on the iconic characters, both in and out of context of the play. Here are twelve very different love songs which have been inspired by Shakespeare’s most romantic play over the century (only available for Spotify users):

This list includes music that is clearly inspired by or refers directly to Shakespeare’s story and characters. There are many other songs which include less direct references or mention “Romeo” or “Juliet” as a universally recognisable name for  a lover – even though they might fall out of love or live happily ever after in the song. These include Fever (Peggy Lee), Just Like Romeo and Juliet (The Reflections), and Basement Jaxx’s Romeo.

There are, of course, many love songs based on other plays. Richard Wagner rewrote the plot of Measure for Measure for his opera Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), giving it a happier ending and apparently advocating “free love” (for more info, see Dave Paxton’s article on the topic). Other musicals have been inspired by Shakespeare’s love stories, such as Kiss Me Kate, which uses the plot from Taming of the Shrew, and bases much of the action around a performance of the play itself. Much Ado About Nothing has provided more recent inspiration for Mumford and Sons, as Sigh No More contains various references to the play, with the lines “Serve God, love me, and mend”, “Sigh no more”, “One foot in sea, one on shore”, and “man is a giddy thing”.

There are hundreds more pieces of music and songs inspired by Shakespeare’s love stories – not to mention the countless pieces of music inspired by other themes, plays and characters from Shakespeare’s work. But many are much more obscure and quite difficult to find! We look forward to discovering more as time goes on.

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