Bob Dylan Sings Measure for Measure

Date: 2011
Posted by: BardfilmKJ
Cast: None
Credits: Singer/composer: Keith Jones
Duration: 5.03

As a Shakespearean who is also a lifelong Bob Dylan fan, it is difficult to express just how must joy this video has brought to me. With pitch-perfect Dylan intonation, Keith Jones sings and strums along to his summary of the plot of Measure for Measure, borrowing the tune of ‘Seven Curses’ (Dylan’s version of the traditional song ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’ which featured among his early repertoire). Some rudimentary but helpful illustrations guides us through the narrative, with some wordy extracts from the notes to the Arden edition to demonstrate that it is someone who knows the play only too well who singing to us.

This isn’t just a scholarly joke. ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’ is about a woman (a man in some versions) due to be hanged who pleads for her life but is let down by a succession of people until her true love at the end is able to save her. ‘Seven Curses’ changes to the protagonist from the victim to the victim’s daughter, who is seduced and betrayed by a judge who has her father executed. The themes of corruption and betrayal fit all too well with Shakespeare’s story, while use of the ballad reveals the folk narrative that may underpin the play. The connection might have worked even better had not the writer/composer felt an obligation to be true to Shakespeare and all the complications of his plot. It might have been better to make things simpler and stay true to where the song should lead you. But Shakespeare would surely have been proud of rhyming ‘Claudio’ with ‘bozo’.

Keith Jones is a professor and English and Literature, and the person behind the excellent Bardfilm: The Shakespeare and Film Microblog. Other videos of his have appeared on BardBox before now, only to be taken down from YouTube for their re-use of published music. Here he is on safer ground, giving us his own music, in a unique blend of scholarship and goofiness.

YouTube page
Wikipedia entry on ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’
Bardfilm: The Shakespeare and Film Microblog has three posts on this subject: Shakespeare and Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Will Shakespeare, and Measure for Measure and Dylan and Shakespeare, Continued.