Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Beatles and Shakespeare, Take Two

The Beatles. "I am the Walrus." By John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Magical Mystery Tour. 1967. EMI, 2009. CD.

The Beatles played a scene from Midsummer Night's Dream, but they also—however unwittingly—incorporated portions of King Lear into one of their songs.

"I am the Walrus" contains, among much else, a radio spinning between stations—mostly static-filled ones—one of which was broadcasting an audio production of King Lear. I will be trying to track down a more scholarly source than my own memory, and I'll update this post when I get that material. In the meantime, I re-listened to the track from an earlier CD release than the most current, and, just after the two minute mark, some indistingishable (to me) words come in (it sounds like "What light," but there's nothing with those sounds anywhere near the rest of the words from Lear). Then, right after the "Sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun. / If the sun don't come, you get a tan from standing in the English rain" pair of lines, the lines "Now, good sir" and "poor man, made tame to fortune's . . . good pity." The lines are part of an exchange between Gloucester and Edgar at a point where Gloucester has been blinded and met the mad King (sorry if any of these are spoilers) and while Edgar is still disguised. Here's the more complete exchange:
Gloucester: Now, good sir, what are you?

Edgar; A most poor man, made tame to fortune's blows,
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,
Am pregnant to good pitty. (IV.vi.220-23)
The broadcast seems to progress at the right speed for the scene to pick up at 3:51 in the song with Oswald's lines after Edgar has fought and overcome him:
Oswald: Slave, thou hast slain me. Villain, take my purse:
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body,
And give the letters which thou find'st about me
To Edmund earl of Gloucester; seek him out
Upon the British party: O, untimely death!

Edgar: I know thee well; a serviceable villain,
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.

Gloucester: What, is he dead?

EDGAR Sit you down, father; rest you. . . . (IV.vi.246-55)
The Wikipedia entry points out that these lines formed part of the "Paul is dead" theory. Note, however, that no direct answer is given in the song, even though Edgar says, "He's dead" just two lines later. I don't know if anyone ever considered Paul's line "Now am I dead" from the Midsummer Night's Dream scene, but it could be used as evidence: those who are able to say "I am dead" are seldom (if ever) actually dead.

Links: The Wikipedia entry on the song.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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