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‘If Music Be The Food Of Love, Play On’: Songs Inspired By Shakespeare
April 23, 2012
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On this day in 1564, one of the English-speaking world's most famous writers was born - or so scholars think. William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, and April 23 is the date that most experts have pegged as his most likely date of birth - which is convenient, because it is also the date of his death in 1616.

Either way, it's a good day to celebrate The Bard, whose writing continues to have a profound influence on popular culture. We've put together a playlist of 12 songs that reference William Shakespeare and his work, drawing on his plays, his characters and, well, his name for inspiration:

The Tragically Hip "Cordelia"
Hip frontman Gord Downie refers to a number of Shakespearean characters in this tune, from Cordelia of 'King Lear' to Macbeth. Key quote: "It takes all your power to prove that you don't care. I'm not Cordelia, I will not be there."

Bob Dylan "Desolation Row"
The closing track on Dylan's sixth studio album, 'Highway 61 Revisited', features images and characters from a few plays, including Ophelia from 'Hamlet' and Romeo.

The Band "Ophelia"
It may be one of their most upbeat and feel-good tracks, but these lyrics are as dark as the inspiration Hamlet provided: "Ashes of laughter, the ghost is clear. Why do the best things always disappear? Like Ophelia, please darken my door."

Lou Reed "Romeo Had Juliet"
In a modern-day take on popular characters, Reed sings about two New York lovers (Romeo Rodriguez and Juliet Ball) who are pulled a part by their families on the East and West sides.

Elvis Costello "Miss Macbeth"
With another modern take on one of Shakespeare's most famous characters, Costello investigates what it's like to be such a harshly depicted character: "As they tormented her, she rose to the bait / Even a scapegoat needs someone to hate"

Elton John "The King Must Die"
Elton's lyricist and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin name-checks Julius Caesar, Hamlet and even Shakespeare himself in the opening lines, "No man's a jester playing Shakespeare around your throne room floor."

Radiohead "Exit Music (For A Film)"
The song was written to play over the end credits of Baz Luhrmann's 1996 version of 'Romeo and Juliet' (although it didn't make it onto the soundtrack), but Thom Yorke says it was also inspired by Shakespeare's play itself and Zeffirelli's '60s 'Romeo And Juliet' film. A song about "two people who should run away before all the bad stuff starts."

John Cale "Macbeth"
Just like the other former Velvet Underground member on this list, Cale's tunes feature many Shakespeare-influenced lines. This is one of his most obvious, providing a variation on the famous Hamlet line: 'Alas for poor Macbeth.'

The Reflections "(Just Like) Romeo And Juliet"
Young love was a common theme in the early days of rock'n'roll and this top ten hit from 1964 draws parallels to arguably the most famous young lovers of all time.

The Eagles "Get Over It"
Their first single, released 14 years after they broke up, references Shakespeare's Henry VI Pt. II ("Old Billy was right: let's kill all the lawyers - kill 'em tonight") as Don Henley croons his frustration.

Dire Straits "Romeo And Juliet"
Written by singer and lead guitarist Mark Knopfler, this tune is yet another modern variation on the tale of the two lovers, with nods to the original play and the adapted musical 'West Side Story'. It plays out like a conversation during their first meeting.

Rush "Limelight"
Rush's drummer and lyricist Neil Peart paraphrased the opening line's of the "All the world is a stage" speech from Shakespeare's play 'As You Like It.' That line was also used as the title of the band's 1976 live album, 'All The World's A Stage.'

Last season on the show, Neil Peart talked to George about his band's creative process, and how Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' spawned their arena-filling hit 'Limelight':


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