Bob Dylan’s new album, Tempest, releases September 11, 2012, exactly eleven years after the release of Love and Theft. Since The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play, some have wondered if this will be Dylan’s last album. I kind of doubt it, and here’s why. Dylan himself has pointed out that they are two different titles since his drops the article, but he often seems to deflect such questions in interviews. Dylan possesses a proclivity for rewriting Shakespeare, and his upcoming album title is not the only example of said proclivity. Love and Theft clearly shows Dylan’s tendency to re-write Shakespeare. The following list from Love and Theft includes a few of Dylan’s allusions to Shakespeare and allusions to other literary authors and characters.
from “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum”
Dylan’s narrator says, “They’re going to the country and they’re going to retire. They’re taking a streetcar named Desire.” Dylan alludes to Tennessee Williams, making the Williams title a literal mode of transportation for Dylan’s own characters, whose names are taken from characters in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.
from “Floater (Too Much to Ask)”
Dylan sings, “Romeo, he said to Juliet, ‘You got a poor complexion; it doesn’t give your appearance a very youthful touch.’ Juliet said back to Romeo, ‘Why don’t you just shove off if it bothers you so much?’” With this, Dylan improves upon Shakespeare’s tragic love story, giving Juliet a spine and some spunk.
from “High Water (for Charley Patton)”
Dylan sings, “Charles [Henry] Lewes told the Englishman, the Italian, and the Jew, ‘You can’t open up your mind, boys, to every conceivable point of view. They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on highway 5.’ Judge says to the High Sheriff, ‘I want him dead or alive, either one. I don’t care,’ high water everywhere.” Lewes was a nineteenth century, English Renaissance man. Here, Dylan fictionalizes Lewes’ life, and Darwin’s is also revised.
He says, “Big Joe Turner looking east and west from the dark room of his mind, he made it to Kansas City, Twelfth Street and Vine, nothing standing there, high water everywhere.” Here Dylan rewrites the life of Big Joe Turner, an actual blues man from Kansas City.
Dylan sings, “Trailing moss and [mistletoe?], the purple blossoms soft as snow, my tears keep flowing to the sea. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, it takes at thief to catch a thief. For whom does the bell toll for [sic], love? It tolls for you and me.” Here Dylan has borrowed from John Donne and Ernest Hemingway and re-used the words for his own purposes. I don’t think of the use as plagiarism; instead, it’s merely an allusion.
from “Po’ Boy”
The narrator claims, “Othello told Desdemona, ‘I’m cold; cover me with a blanket. By the way, what happened to that poisoned wine?’ She said, ‘I gave it till you drank it.’ Poor boy, laying ‘em straight, picking up the cherries off the plate.” In these lines, the author seems to mash up the plot of Hamlet with the names of Shakespeare’s Othello, allowing Desdemona revenge on Othello for falsely accusing and murdering her.
from “Cry a While”
Dylan sings, “Last night across the alley, there was a pounding on the wall. It must have been Don Pasquale [breaking in to make] a booty call.” Dylan alludes here to Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera, Don Pasquale (1843).
from “Sugar Baby”
The narrator says, “Look up, look up. Seek your maker before Gabriel blows his horn.” Here Dylan alludes to the archangel Gabriel, who explained Daniel’s visions and announced the birth of Jesus to Mary.
Speaking of plagiarism, Dylan was accused of plagiarizing South Carolina poet Henry Timrod on the album, Modern Times. Like me, Timrod was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Also like me, he taught in Florence, SC. Here’s a picture of the school:
Like Timrod, Dylan is something of a poet. In the mid-sixties, Dylan wrote a book of poetry called Tarantula (1971), which he claims he didn’t intend to write.
In addition to poetry, Dylan has prose literary links, a non-fiction book he wrote called Chronicles: Volume One (2004). So far, there has been no second volume. Here’s a brief audio excerpt of the memoir.
There’s also Dylan’s literary connection with Joyce Carol Oates’ short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Apparently, Oates was inspired after listening to Dylan’s “It’s All Over, Baby Blue.”
One other indirect literary connection happened in 2000 when Dylan wrote a song for the film Wonder Boys, which was an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel of the same name. Check out the awesome video for “Things Have Changed.”
My guess is that Bob Dylan will continue to make albums as long as he’s alive. Based on his past work, Dylan seems bent on re-writing literature and history. Don’t expect him to start changing that now.