June 19, 2018 / 2:20 PM

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The Brutality of The Bard: 2Pac, Dethklok and More Celebrate 'Talk Like Shakespeare Day'


Happy "Talk Like Shakespeare Day" to all of our favorite readers and theatre geeks. We at Music Times tend to write more about Broadway musicals, or the occasional opera based on one of William Shakespeare's works, versus the stage plays themselves (you know...we write about music). There's no denying that the legendary playwright has had an impact on music with his words...in the most brutal way possible. For all of his poetry, the Bard turned out enough gritty one-liners that would have made Robocop a Best Picture nominee without removing any of the bloodshed. Take heed as 2Pac, Iced Earth, Dethklok and more demonstrate how "talk like Shakespeare" means "talk like a badass."

The Pound of Flesh by Total Death

Shakespeare was so hardcore that a band titled "Total Death" took a concept from one of his plays and made it into an album. And not just any one of his plays: a comedy. That's right...the "pound of flesh" theme—the idea of putting your own body up as collateral, an idea recycled in the morbid classic film Se7en—was taken from The Merchant of Venice, which experts label as a "comedy." The lesson: Shakespeare's comedies were often as brutal as his tragedies and, let's be honest: Most of his histories are just as tragic as the actual tragedies. The choice of inspiration for the band's most recent album is especially relevant: Total Death hails from Italy, and of course the title city of Venice is in their homeland. Geographical and literary themes alike are explored in songs such as "Synthesis of Human Failure."

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Iced Earth

Now we've seen just how hardcore that Shakespeare's comedies can be, let's consider how hardcore things get during the tragedies. One of the most hardcore, and perhaps the most quotable of all The Bard's works is MacBeth, the story of an ambitious thane who's driven to evil in his hopes to become king. One of many B.A. lines dropped during the plot is "something wicked this way comes," one of many phrases used by the play's witches that just begs to have a metal album named after it. Iced Earth did just that and more: Frontman Jon Schaffer "Something Wicked Saga,": which would serve as a theme on later albums as well. This kind of draws Iced Earth's legitimacy as a band into question: What artist would use a line from MacBeth for their own alternate purposes? Oh wait...William Faulkner and The Sound and The Fury. Right.

Sound and The Fury Hardcore Festival

Speaking of certain famous lines from MacBeth: All music has sound...but hardcore music has a tad more fury than most genres. Therefore the folks over at 6131 Records decided to use the phrase as the title for its festival that showcased the genre in Santa Barbara up until 2013. Don't expect to have heard of too many participants—from a scene that prides itself on its underground nature—but "big names" such as Touché Amoré, Single Mothers and Xibalba were frequent contributors. Unfortunately, the pressure and costs of running a music festival eventually caught to the literally-two guys who ran the event, causing it to fold during 2013.

"If I Die 2Nite" by 2Pac

Metal may have taken a liking to the works of Shakespeare but don't think that other genres have forgotten about the playwright. Tupac Shakur, an icon of gangsta rap and perhaps the most profane individual in music history, virtually opened his acclaimed album Me Against The World with a quote from The Bard. Sure, there's the "Intro," but the first actual song-—"If I Die 2Nite"—opens with a spoken line from Julius Caesar: "A coward dies a thousand deaths. A soldier dies but once." OK, so that's an edited version of Caesar's (the character) quote but "a coward dies a thousand deaths" is clear homage. Shakespeare, by way of Caesar, was professing a theme that gangsta rappers have echoed for years: Death is inevitable so it's better to live like the OG while you're alive. Shakespeare has popped up in other hip-hop situations as well: An episode from the hit first season of Empire was titled "Out Damned Spot," yet another reference to the brutally iconic MacBeth.

The Winter of Our Discontent by Warhammer

The Winter of Our Discontent by Warhammer is an almost a disappointing entry for the legacy of Richard III, one of the bloodiest and most twisted of Shakespeare's works. "The winter of our discontent" is truly the most popular quote to have come from the tale of king, who reportedly killed his own nephews and began chopping down anyone who had a chance of getting to the throne while he was around. The progression of the plot is almost a tour of different metal subgenres...his coldblooded approach to murder during the middle acts suggests the shameless approval of murder expressed within death metal and grindcore. By the final act however, Richard has realized that he is hated by all and will die lonely, a doom-laden message that's almost more hardcore than his murderous methods.


Some bands get some kudos for referencing the brutality of Shakespeare, even if they don't do so in as hardcore a style as metal of gangsta rap. The indie rockers Titus Andronicus take their name from a play often cited as the most violent of any play in Shakespeare's canon. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs also get a shout-out for the song "Heads Will Rolls," which opens with the catcall "off with your head." Although many attribute that famous line to the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, it was initially penned by Shakespeare during Richard III. Surprise........not.

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