Thursday, December 02, 2004

Et Tu, Cletus

Country Music Features Cheating Hearts, Honkytonks and . . . William Shakespeare?

When Dr. Robert Sawyer, associate professor of English at East Tennessee State University, was asked by the Shakespeare Association of America to get together papers and a discussion about Shakespeare and the American South to present at a conference in New Orleans, he began taking a closer look at the Bard's influence below the Mason-Dixon line.

The resulting paper, "Country Matters": Shakespeare and Songs of the American South, investigated ways the Bard of Avon has appeared in country music. Sawyer found numerous instances when Shakespeare or his works are referenced in song lyrics, from Dolly Parton's "Romeo" to Diamond Rio's "This Romeo Ain't Got Julie Yet" to Lucinda Williams's "Little Brother, Little Angel." The result, Sawyer notes, is a sort of "deep-fried Romeo" in the Parton song, an inside joke in the Diamond Rio tune, and a cultural signifier in the Williams work. He also discovered instances of country music artists performing Shakespeare, including Jerry Lee Lewis playing Iago in a stage production in the late '60s and Garth Brooks spoofing Romeo and Juliet on television's The Muppet Show.

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