Bard Beats: Shakespeare's Birthday Playlist

Bard Beats: Shakespeare's Birthday Playlist

11 minute read

As we celebrate the birth (and death) of the one and only William Shakespeare this month, we couldn't help but add to the merriment with a musical tribute to the Bard. Shakespeare's Birthday Playlist is certainly one for the ages!

Shakespeare's Portrait

It is impossible to ignore the profound impact that ole Bill has had on the written word. There aren't many writers who haven't been influenced by Shakespeare's wit and storytelling. And who can blame them? With characters as rich and complex as Marcus Brutus from the Tragedy of Julius Caesar and Cordelia from King Lear and themes as timeless as love, revenge, and betrayal, Shakespeare is a lyrical goldmine.

So grab your headphones, turn up the volume, and let us raise a glass to the greatest wordsmith in all the land with some truly epic Bard Beats!

Read on to see how the selection was picked!

Let's Get the Party Started

"Shakespeare's (Way With) Words" by One True Voice

We kick off Shakespeare's Birthday playlist with a song that rose up the British charts before the band met it's end. The British boy band One True Voice showcases the fact that our centuries old wordsmith could really make lover's swoon. If only we all had "Shakespeare's (Way With) words."

If I had Shakespeares way with words

I would write a sonnet, put your name upon it

Honorable Mention:

The Tragedies

Romeo & Juliet

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare book cover

"Love Story" by Taylor Swift

In the lyrics to "Love Story" by Taylor Swift, Swift references the star-crossed lovers as a metaphor. Of course, in Tay's version, there is no suicide and the lovers actually seem to live happily ever after.

Marry me, Juliet, you'll never have to be alone

I love you, and that's all I really know

I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress

It's a love story, baby, just say yes

"Exit Music (For A Film)" by Radiohead

Another song featuring the ill-fated couple was written for the ending credits of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. It's as haunting and chilling as the tragic death of the young lovers.

Wake from your sleep,

The drying of your tears

Today we escape, we escape

"Romeo and Juliet" by Indigo Girls

While we do love Dire Straits's original "Romeo and Juliet," we can't get enough of the longing and raw emotion that the Indigo Girls, specifically Amy Ray, put into their cover.

Juliet says, "Hey it's Romeo

He nearly gave me a heart attack" yeah well

He's underneath my window, now she's singing

"Hey-la my boyfriend's back"

The Killers also covered this song on their compilation album Sawdust.

"I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" by Arctic Monkeys

And we couldn't help but throw in the punk-inspired Arctic Monkeys break out song "I Bet You Look Good on the DanceFloor." With fast-paced guitar riffs, driving drums, and Alex Turner's distinctive vocals, the song references the dueling houses.

And no, there ain't no love, no Montagues or Capulets

Just banging tunes and DJ sets

Dirty dance floors, and dreams of naughtiness!

Honorable mentions:

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare book cover

"Back Stabbers" by The O'Jays

Okay, we don't really know if "Back Stabbers" by The O'Jays is a direct reference to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but there is certainly an argument for it. And we happen to love the catchy melody and soulful vocals that are reminiscent of the conspirators' betrayal and treachery, especially, "Et tu, Brute?"

All the time they want to take your place

The back stabbers (back stabbers)

(They smilin' in your face)

Honorable mentions:

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice

Shakespeare's Birthday Othello book cover

"The Willow Song" by Woods of Birnam

"The Willow Song" by Woods of Birnam is a rendition of the ballad that Desdemona sings in Act IV, scene iii of Othello just before going to bed. The audience, being familiar with the song, would have known this song of sorrow foreshadows Desdemona's death by Othello's hands.

I call'd my love false love but what said he then?

Sing willow, willow, willow

If I court more women, you'll couch with more men.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Hamlet by William Shakespeare book cover

"Off to the Races" by Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey's "Off to the Races" may be a stretch reference to Hamlet and Ophelia, but we can't help but see Ophelia in this song about the doomed lover in the garden. The song's lyrics and haunting melody evoke the sense of tragedy and despair that are central to the play.

Because I'm crazy, baby

I need you to come here and save me

I'm your little scarlet, starlet, singin' in the garden

Kiss me on my open mouth

Ready for you

"Ophelia" by Tori Amos

The beautifully tragic Ophelia who is driven to madness and suicide after being manipulated by the men in her life gets many nods in art and music. We love Tori Amos' "Ophelia" because of the hauntingly powerful themes of madness and despair and her use of Ophelia as a symbol for female oppression and emotional turmoil.

Ophelia your secret is safe

Ophelia you must break the chain

Some girls will get their way

Some fathers will control from the grave

Ophelia you must remember

Honorable Mentions:

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Macbeth by William Shakespeare book cover

"Macbeth" by Sonic Youth

This tormenting instrumental by Sonic Youth's side project Ciccone Youth's The Whitey Album channels the sense of unease and tension of Shakespeare's Macbeth. With dissonant guitars and emotional rhythm, listeners can feel the descent into madness and violence.

"Wytches Brew" by OMNIA

"Wytches Brew" by the pagan folk band OMNIA is a song that evokes the mysterious and supernatural atmosphere of Shakespeare's Macbethwith the words taken directly from the spell of the three witches. Using traditional instruments, the bodhrán and the hurdy-gurdy, the song creates a medieval folk sound that enhances the song's mystical reimagining of Shakespeare's text.

"Brief Candles" by The Zombies

The Zombies "Brief Candles" gives a gentle nod to Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy in Act V, scene v of Macbeth.

Brief candles in his mind

Bright and tiny gems of memory

Brief candles burn so fine

Honorable mention:

Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

"My Sad Captains" by Elbow

Elbow's song "My Sad Captains" is a reflective and melancholic track that references Antony's words in Act III, scene xiii in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra: "Come, let's have one other gaudy night; call to me all my sad captains; fill our bowls; once more, let's mock the midnight bell."

Another sunrise with my sad captains

With who I choose to lose my mind

And if it's so, we only pass this way but once

What a perfect waste of time

King Lear

King Lear by William Shakespeare

"Cordelia" by Tragically Hip

King Lear's youngest and most forgiving daughter, Cordelia, gets her name in lights with Tragically Hip's song "Cordelia." Unlike Shakespeare's Cordelia, however, the speaker in the song won't be as loyal as she was to Lear.

It takes all of your power

To prove that you don't care

I'm not Cordelia, I will not be there

"The King Must Die" by Elton John

Elton John's "The King Must Die" is a dramatically epic song that tells the story of a ruler who faces his own downfall. While he doesn't directly reference King Lear, we believe the king in question is likely the haughty King Lear whose own daughters drove him into madness.

No man's a jester playing Shakespeare

Round your throne room floor

While the juggler's act is danced upon

The crown that you once wore

The king is dead, the king is dead

The king is dead, the king is dead

Long live the king


As You Like It

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

"Better Strangers" by Royal Blood

Royal Blood's "Better Strangers" is inspired by a conversation between Orlando and Jaques in Shakespeare's Comedy As You Like It Act III, scene ii: "JAQUES: God be wi’ you. Let’s meet as little as we can./ORLANDO: I do desire we may be better strangers."

Royal Blood vocalist, Mike Kerr said in an interview with Drowned in Sound : "I thought: ‘What a brilliant insult!’ It really related to me, ’cause I’d been in a situation where I wanted to know someone a whole lot less, you know?"

'Cause I'm a thousand miles from danger if I make a better stranger

Thousand miles from danger if I make a better stranger

Thousand miles from danger if I make a better stranger of you

Taming of the Shrew

Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

"The Shrew Tamer" by James Fraser

This is a fun lyrical recap of Shakespeare's comedy Taming of the Shrew.

A long, long time ago

A rich young bachelor named Petruchio

Boasted that he could woo

Katherine the Veronese shrew

Much Ado about Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

"Sigh No More" by Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons' "Sigh No More" takes inspiration from the song Balthazar sings in the Shakespearean comedy Much Ado about Nothing in Act II, scene iii.

Sigh no more, no more

One foot in sea, one on shore

My heart was never pure

You know me

Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

"Pound of Flesh" by Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor's "Pound of Flesh" does not directly mention Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, but the title and context are likely inspired by it. In the song, Spektor references Ezra Pound who, before his death, asks forgiveness for his anti-semitism. He requests a pound of flesh to cover his bones. The same request–a pound of flesh–is made by Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice if Antonio is unable to recover the money lent.

Ezra Pound sat upon my bed

Asked me which books as of late I've read

Asked me if I've, uh, read his own

And whether I could spare a pound

Of flesh to cover his bare bones

The Tempest

The Tempest by William Shakespeare book cover

"Caliban's Dream" by Underworld

Written for the 2012 London Olympics Opening ceremony, Underworld's "Caliban's Dream" is inspired by Caliban's "Be not afeard" speech in Act III, scene ii of The Tempest.

And the rain? tossed about us;

In the garden of the world

But a flame arrives to guide us;

Past the gold between the anvils of the stars


Henry VI, Part II

Shakespeare's Henry VI Part II book cover

"Get Over It" by The Eagles

"Get Over It" by the Eagles quotes Dick the Butcher's popular line from Henry VI, Part II in Act IV, scene ii: "The first thing we do let's kill all the lawyers."

The more I think about it, Old Billy was right

Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ’em tonight

Richard III

Shakespeare's Richard III book cover

"Cemetery Gates" by The Smiths

The Smith's frontman Morrissey was none too happy about people misquoting Shakespeare and he says as much in the song "Cemetery Gates."

You say : "'Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn"

And you claim these words as your own

But I've read well, and I've heard them said

A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)

The quote here is supposed to be Ratcliff’s lines from Richard IIIAct V, scene v: "My lord, ’tis I. The early village cock/ Hath twice done salutation to the morn."

Honorary mention:


Even Shakespearean sonnets get some musical love.

Shakespeare's Sonnets book cover

"Sonnet 29" by Rufus Wainwright

Wrapping up the Bards Beats playlist is a musical interpretation of "Sonnet 29."

Honorable mention:

We hope you enjoyed this festive mix of songs inspired by our friend William Shakespeare. Are there any we missed? Let us know by sending an email to!

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