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What music would Shakespeare’s characters listen to?

Shakespeare’s characters can often appear far-removed from our modern day world of YouTube, Beyoncé, and “grime”. Yet they were certainly no less interested in music than we are now, with music considered to be at the heart of Shakespeare’s artistic vision. Of course our musical offerings have come a long way since Shakespeare’s day, but we think it is a shame that Juliet or Macbeth never had the chance to hear the delights of Katy Perry or Slipknot. So to celebrate Shakespeare’s relationship with music, we’ve imagined what playlists some of his most famous characters would have listened to. Explore our choices below, and let us know if you agree or disagree:

Henry V

As the Battle of Agincourt approaches, what playlist would get Henry V pumped up and ready to give his soldiers the rousing speech they need? We’re pretty sure the St. Crispin’s Day speech could have been inspired by ‘Danger Zone’ by Kenny Loggins. In the lead up to the battle Henry would also likely be working out every day, and would definitely need the ultimate gym tune: ‘All I Do is Win’ by DJ Khaled.


It was Romeo who said “How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears!”. That might be so during the early romantic stage, but what music would help a thirteen year old Juliet, once her father tells her she will be married against her will to Count Paris? It is far more likely she would find solace in these choice lyrics of ‘Rules Don’t Stop’ by We Are Scientists: “This is no time to behave/Let’s both get carried away”. Although we don’t think drinking a potion – making her family believe she is dead and leading to the untimely death of herself and Romeo – was quite what they had in mind.

Juliet by John William Waterhouse (with additional headphones). Original image, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Hamlet had music on his mind in his conversation with Rozencrantz and Guildenstern: “Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.” Do we think it is fair that Hamlet is sometimes referred to as the ‘original emo’? Perhaps not, but his angst and confusion at the state of the world would surely have allowed him to relate to Gary Jules’ ‘Mad World’.


While at the mercy of Oberon and Puck’s tricks, we believe the fairy queen Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream would maintain her proud and regal exterior with powerful compositions from Beethoven and Vivaldi. A spot of Mozart would be a perfect choice for her question to Bottom: “What, wilt thou hear some music, my sweet love?”.


Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing – witty, fiery and assertive – would “rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”. Arguably the strongest of all Shakespeare’s female characters, she would certainly enjoy a bit of Chaka Khan and Beyoncé. If another musical version of the play were produced, we think her wonderful repartee with Benedick could be set to ‘You’re so Vain’ by Carley Simon.


At the beginning of Much Ado about Nothing Benedick vows to remain a bachelor forever… before meeting his match in Beatrice. The will-they, won’t-they, back and forth between the two lesser-romantic characters of the play could be set to ‘Hot N Cold’ by Katy Perry. After the spikey word-play between them, Benedick is often left outsmarted. It’s a shame he couldn’t play ‘I Love You/You Suck’ by Reel Big Fish as a fitting and eloquent response.


Once Macbeth had received a (pre-murdering) pep talk from his wife Lady Macbeth, he was still showing signs of some nagging self-doubts. He didn’t want to kill King Duncan, and seemed to have some fairly well-founded concerns about that. However, it may have helped to get him in the zone by listening to ‘Raining Blood’ by Slayer or ‘Smasher/Devourer’ by Fear Factory.


Helena spends most of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in emotional turmoil having been jilted by Demetrius and still pining after him. Although her love is eventually returned, thanks to fairy magic, we think the playlist below would have made a wonderful 90’s-style mixtape for her unrequited love.

Featured image credit: Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Edwin Landseer (with additional headphones). Original image, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. Kathleen Marszycki

    Wonderful job, OUP! This is aweseome and gives libraries plenty of ideas for programs! Many thanks!

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