Author: Erik Didrikson
Publisher: Quirk Books
The idea for this collection — like many of the most bizarre, wild, and entertaining ideas of our day — began on the internet. More specifically, it began on a Tumblr blog called “Pop Sonnets.” It features Top-40 pop songs from the past 50-some years, set in iambic pentameter, and written in the style of Shakespearean sonnets. Quirk Books (the same publisher that presented William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher) collected the best of the blog’s sonnets in this volume in 2015.
Some of the songs transformed by author Erik Didriksen include:
“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift
“I’m a Believer” by The Monkees
“All You Need is Love” by The Beatles
“Let it Go” from the movie Frozen
Spiritual Content: Some songs, such as “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, mention ghosts and supernatural entities.
Violence: The song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which describes a murder, is parodied.
Language/Crude Humor: While the strongest word used in this volume is a metrically sound d**ned, some of the source material is more vulgar. For example, one of the songs covered is “F**k You” by CeeLo Green. However, the author censors the profanity in the same way I have done for you here. The way he goes about addressing the profane content in the sonnets is very creative, and sometimes more entertaining and informative than the original lyrics.
Sexual Content: Many of the pop songs in this volume have sexual overtones. Most of these songs are featured in the section titled “Rogues, Rascals, and Wanton Women”.
Positive Content: The negativity of some popular music is skewered by the humorous nature of the book. The author helps us laugh at the things that are ridiculous, annoying, cheesy, or even good about pop music. Also, this collection can acquaint readers with Shakespeare’s rich and complicated style through the use of commonly understood music.
After my great experience with William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I decided to go back to Powell’s City of Books. I was looking in the sci-fi/fantasy room, like I usually do, but I wasn’t expecting to find this book. If anything, I was expecting to buy the next volume of Shakespearean Star Wars. The similar cover design and theme drew me in. The fact that it included a song performed by my favorite band, The Monkees, solidified my purchase.
I have not regretted picking up this book. Not only is it a satirical masterpiece, but it is also a work of art in its own right. It takes time, effort, and passion to translate the ideas of pop songs into Shakespeare’s time-tested style. Didriksen’s creativity and brilliance is illustrated well in his translation of the Beatles classic “All You Need is Love” into lines like, “…if thou art guided by the simple creed, that love is all thy life doth truly need.”
The collection is divided into five whimsically named sections: “Sonnets of Love”, “Sonnets of Despair”, “Songs of Time and Mortality”, “Rogues, Rascals, and Wanton Women”, and “Ballads of Heroes”. These help cement the style and cast a satirical glow on the poems contained within them. The sections cover everything from The Village People’s “YMCA”, to the theme from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, to “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel.
My favorite way to enjoy this book is by reading the sonnets aloud to my family and seeing if they can guess which pop song each one represents. Not only does this volume entertain, it also helps readers brush up on their Shakespearean style, which might make it a fun classroom tool or personal study aid.
While there have been many attempts at putting pop music into Shakesperean English circulating around the internet, no one has quite mastered the craft like Erik Didriksen. His Pop Sonnets collection is a must-read volume for music fans and Shakespeare buffs alike.
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