Dylan Struggles with Shakespeare In The Tower Of ‘The Great Vowel Shift’


by Larry Fyffe

Those readers and listeners of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics who scoff at the idea that the American singer/songwriter includes autobiographical information in some of these lyrics will surely change their minds when faced with the following evidence showing that Bob did indeed meet and converse with William Shakespeare in an alleyway.

Dylan slips in Shakespeare’s way of speaking when writing certain words down on paper even if he does not sing the old pronunciation out loud when he performs the songs in front of today’s audiences.

We’re talking about written rhymes that do not sound the same when pronounced today as they did way back then – ‘love’/move’:

So either by thy picture or my love
Thyself away are resent still with me
For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move
And I am still with them and they with me
(William Shakespeare: Sonnet 47)

The Elizabethan tongue-pronounced ‘love’, which is quite similar to that of today, the Bard rhymes with today’s lip-pronounced ‘move’ which certainly doesn’t work in modern English.

As already pointed out, Bob, having conversed with Shakespeare in the alley, uses the the Bard’s rhyme pattern in the song lyrics below – ‘love’/’move’:

She’s everything I need to 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)

In Shakespearean English there’s another seemingly strange rhyme
– ‘prove’/ ‘love’:

O, change thy thought that I may change my mind
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind
Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove
(William Shakespeare: Sonnet 10)

Not a ‘sight-rhyme’ but a pure rhyme, for sure:

O absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove
Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave
To entertain the time with thoughts of love
(William Shakespeare: Sonnet 39)

Oscar Wilde claims that the Bard, in many of the sonnets, speaks about a boy actor – Willy Hughes (Hues) – who plays Juliet. The movie ‘Shakespeare In Love’ changes things around a bit.

That Bob Dylan lifts rhymes from his conversations with the Elizabethan sonneteer is evidenced by Shakespeare’s pairing ‘one’ with modern-sounding ‘alone’:

Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one
So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help by me to be borne alone
(William Shakespeare: Sonnet 36)

Getting right down to it, ‘Untold’ has learned that time-traveller Dylan mentions in his forthcoming autobiography that they both had a good laugh when he told Shakespeare that the old pronunciation of ‘one’ in the sonnet above inspired:

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Like a rolling stone
(Bob Dylan: Like A Rolling Stone)

Dylan also reveals that he consciously tangles up the ‘one’/’alone’ rhyme in the song below – ‘ones’/’lonesome’:

But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go
(Bob Dylan: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go)

He goes on to comment that certain rhymes stay forever young – ‘above’/’love’:

Askance and strangely; but, by all above
These blenches gave my heart another youth
And worse essays proved thee my best of love
(William Shakespeare: Sonnet 110)

So whether or not Dylan is imitating Shakespeare’s manner of speaking in the following lines, there is really no way to tell:

Well, I struggled through barbed wire
Felt the hail fall from above
Well, you know I even outran the hound dogs
Honey, you know I’ve earned your love
(Bob Dylan: Meet Me In The Morning)

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