Bob Dylan And The Shakespearean Tambourine Rhyme Twist

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan presents in his song lyrics bits and pieces of  autobiographical material. The stories about his adventures as a time traveller are  particularly interesting – his journey back to the Elizabethan era, for instance:

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well

(Bob Dylan: Stuck Inside Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again)

Though of course nobody living today actually sees him there, the previous ‘Untold’ article entitled ‘The Mystery of W.H. Solved’ supports Dylan’s claim that he also encounters Willy Hughes, William Shakespeare’s boyfriend. Dylan runs into Willy for the last time in ‘Scarlet Town’, where on another time trip, Bob – for compassionate reasons – changes Hughes’ last name to ‘Holme’.

Apparently, some readers are skeptical that Dylan ever met the Bard or his ‘sweet’ buddy for that matter. However, it’s clear that the American singer/songwriter would have had to be fluent in Elizabethan English that the two Wills speak:

Came there for cure
And this by that I prove
Love’s fire heats water
Water cools not love

(William Shakespeare: Sonnet 154)

While referring to the early ‘psychology’ based on the elements of water, fire, earth, and air, the author of the above sonnet rhymes the word ‘prove’ with the word ‘love’ though in modern English ‘prove’ is pronounced the same as  today’s ‘move’.

However, in Shakespeare’s day, the words ‘move’ and ‘prove’ rhyme with ‘love’:

Then happy I that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove nor be removed

(William Shakespeare: Sonnet 25)

And again:

Doubt thou the stars are fire
Doubt that the sun doth move
Doubt truth to be a liar
But never doubt I love

(Hamlet, Act II, sc. 2)

It’s obvious that, due to his travels into times past, Bob Dylan, in some of his writings (not vocalized when sung) lapses into communicating in the language that Elizabethans use:

I met somebody face to face, and I had to remove my hat
She’s everything I need and love, but I can’t be swayed by that
It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be
But she ain’t a-gonna make me move, I guess it must be up to me

(Bob Dylan: Up To Me)

That is, the singer/songwriter silently rhymes in his mind  the words ‘remove’, ‘love’, and ‘ move’. Modern scholars examining Dylan’s song lyrics, like Christopher Ricks in ‘Dylan’s Visions Of Sin’, miss the autobiographical influence of time travel thereon, and declare that pairing words like ‘move’ and ‘love’ be merely the creation of ‘sight’ rhyme.

Oscar Wilde speculates that Shakespeare, like Dylan, provides Willie Hughes with an alias, calling the boy ‘Hues’ in “The Sonnets”.  Not all of Dylan’s songs reflect on the writer’s life, but it is important to keep an open mind  for that aspect in his lyrics lest their true meaning be swept aside by a broom too broad.


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