Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dylan and Shakespeare, Continued

Dylan, Bob. “Seven Curses.” The Bootleg Series: Vol. 1-3. Columbia, 1991.

As a class, we determined that the folk narrative of the lecherous and unjust judge exemplified in Dylan's "Seven Curses" (for which, q.v.) differs from Shakespeare's version in several important respects:
  1. Dylan's accused is unequivocally guilty.  The first line reads, "Old Reilly stole a stallion" not "Old Reilly was unjustly accused of having stolen a stallion."  Claudio's guilt is less plain—or, at least, less straightforward.  He acknowledges his guilt but considers that the circumstances merit some degree of leniency.  

  2. The relationship between the accused and the woman whose virtue is set as the price for the accused's freedom is father and daughter in Dylan; in Shakespeare, it's brother and sister.

  3. The accused in Dylan advises the woman not to acquiesce to the unjust judge's demands ("Get on your horse and ride away").  In Shakespeare, the accused does so, too—at first.  From "Thou shalt not do't" (III.i.102), Claudio soon switches to "Sweet sister, let me live" (III.i.132).

  4. The woman is double-crossed in Dylan; in Shakespeare, there's something of a quadruple-crossing:  The unjust judge attempts to double-cross the woman, but the woman ends up double-crossing the man.

  5. Ethical questions seem clearer in Dylan.  Because the end failed to justify the means, the means should not have been attempted.  In Shakespeare, what should be done or what should have been done lacks the clarity expressed in Dylan.

  6. The consequences in Dylan are the seven curses, whether they are uttered by the woman, the bard, the narrator, or natural law; in Shakespeare, the consequences are neither fully comic nor fully tragic.
The cumulative effect of all this is to make everything much more complicated.

Of course, Shakespeare has five acts for his version.  Dylan has just under four minutes.

Imagine what Dylan could do with five acts!  How about it, Bob?  A musical version of Measure for Measure?  Tell you what—have your people call my people.

Note: You can now hear what it would be like if Dylan had actually sung the plot of Measure for Measure right here, right now!
Links: The song at

No comments:

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.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest