Was Shakespeare a rock star? He was popular in his time, but what if his reputation then paralleled celebrity today? That’s one of the questions underlying the current Broadway musical sensation Something Rotten, the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, would-be playwrights stuck in the shadow of the Bard of Avon. The sound track is clever (albeit with a few school-inappropriate sections), and raises some interesting questions about how it might be used in classes studying Shakespeare.
Clearly, Something Rotten does not portray a realistic Elizabethan England, but it does use Shakespeare’s words in some of its lyrics. One of my favorite songs from the show, “Will Power,” envisions Shakespeare as a rock star, with genuine Shakespearean language integrated into song. I will never hear “Now is the winter of our discontent” in quite the same way again!
The show is new enough that few video representations are available, but you can see part of “Will Power” in this medley performed on the Today show. The excerpt from “Will Power” starts about 2:43.
It’s not exactly the Royal Shakespeare Company, but isn’t it fun? If you want to read the full version, you can find the lyrics here. If you decide to use the song with students, it would be best to get the full version from the sound track, since it includes more relevant lyrics–including a bit of ballad from Romeo and Juliet.
I can’t help but think that for students who are less than enamored with Shakespearean language, hearing those words as musical expressions of love, enthusiasm, etc. might give them new life. Imagine an assignment in which students are challenged pick a section from the text(s) being studying and explain why it would make good song lyrics, with a description of the type of music that would best express its meaning. Perhaps they could even write the music. Such an assignment brings opportunities for creativity, but could also help students understand Shakespeare as a writer whose goal was to communicate core human emotions in a way that was meaningful—not obscure—to his audiences.
I’d love to hear what happens if your students explore Shakespeare through music. Perhaps “Will Power” can have some competition!
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