Shakespeare the Pop Song Writer

atkins-bookshelf-literatureWilliam Shakespeare is considered the world’s greatest writer — he was a brilliant playwright, but his genius really shines through in his glorious sonnets and poems. Although Shakespeare wrote plays to make a living, he wrote poetry to nourish his soul — it his art. Four centuries after they were published, the sonnets remain the most widely-read and recited poems in all of English literature. Stop and ponder for a moment: if Shakespeare were alive today, would he also be writing pop songs? Would we be singing Shakespearean pop songs?

Why not? Meet Erik Didriksen, a 27-year-old software developer by day and poet by night, who was inspired to reinterpret pop songs in the form of Shakespearean sonnets (14-lines in iambic pentameter) using authentic Shakespearean dialect. His epiphany occurred when he came across Simon Fletcher’s sonnet version of the rap song “Thrift Shop” written by American rapper Macklemore. “It was one of the funniest things I’ve read,” said Didriksen. His first poem was a sonnet version of “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. Didriksen created a blog, “popsonnet,” where he could post a new song every week. Didriksen dips into the Bard’s arsenal of wordsmithing — using clever puns, wordplays, rhymes, and wistful couplets — to create devilishly amusing pop sonnets. In October, Didriksen published a collection of his best songs, titled Pop Shakespeare, featuring the Swan of Avon rocking out on a lute on the cover. It catches your eye immediately since you don’t ever see images of the Bard having fun (the most well-known portrait, an engraving by Martin Droeshout, shows a very somber Shakespeare as if his head has been severed by a heavily-starched ruff). Below are two of Didriksen’s delightful pop sonnets that will have you smiling and tapping your feet.

Sonnet XXIV (interpretation of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen)
Is this the waking world, or do I sleep?
I find that I can’t be roused, to my dismay;
but you should not for this delinquent weep
for I’m brute whose soul’s been toss’d away.
O mother sweet, I bring thee news of dread —
my life’s at an end, for I’ve another slain;
I press’d my crossbow up against his head
and loosed its bolt away into his brain.
— but hark! I see a dark and ghostly form
amidst the lightning launch’d by Jove on high!
The cries for mercy, silenced by the storm,
are futile; I’ll not be released, but die.
— My fate now seal’d, ’tis plain for all to see:
the wind’s direction matters not to me.

Sonnet LXXIX (interpretation of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson)
The memory of her face shall long persist
for she could be the Queen of Beauty crown’d,
but I’ll remember more how she’d insist
I was the one who dance within the round.
The scene she caused made people turn their heads
as she her name and slanders did impart;
it called to mind advice I once heard said
to act with caution ’round young ladies’ hearts.
My mother, too, had shared deep chagrin
that lies can swift be seen as gospel truth,
and so I swear: she’s ne’er my lover been,
and I am not the father of this youth.
–No carnel act between us hath transpired;
therefore, the kid is not a son I’ve sir’d.

Read related posts: Were Shakespeare’s Sonnets Written to a Young Man?
When Was Shakespeare Born?
The Legacy of Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
Who Are the Greatest Characters in Shakespeare?
The Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
Shakespeare and Uranus
Best Editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

For further reading: Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen (2005)

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