Without a doubt, William Shakespeare is the most famous playwright who has ever lived. His body of work has been translated into nearly every language from this planet, and even some that aren’t. His works have been staged as plays, musicals, films, music, porn and even a vlog series.
This is possible because his talent with crafting words and characters is nearly unparalleled in human history. Seriously, Romeo and Juliet are almost as famous as their creator, as their characters — along with almost all his others — can be adapted to fit in any place and in any time. Is it any wonder that some of those characters worked their way over into K-pop, taking their personas and themes with them?
Romeo — Romeo and Juliet
Let’s start off with the most famous and most inspiring of Shakespeare’s plays. The thing that most people fail to understand about this play is that Romeo and Juliet are morons. This isn’t me saying that. Shakespeare was saying that. The whole point of the play is that teenagers make bad, impulsive choices. Romeo is a serial monogamist that constantly falls too hard, too fast. He starts off in love not with Juliet, but her cousin Rosaline. Yet, the moment he sees Juliet, he finds a new target for his overly intense passion.
Shinee‘s “Juliette” perfectly captures the mentality of Act 2, Scene 2 Romeo. The language used immediately brings to mind the famous balcony scene, specifically before Juliet starts talking. For one, Shinee is addressing Juliette directly, pleading with her to love them, just as Romeo did then.
Juliette, I’ll give you my soul
Juliette, please accept me
Juliette, sweetly, a little more sweeter
Whisper my serenade
There are many other references to the work within the song, some a bit less obvious. This refers to the above-mentioned monologue, where Romeo states that Juliet is the sun, outshining torches and the waning moon.
The moonlight, as if it’ll spill, is definitely dark
Including the almost exploding torchlight
I need to learn how to shine like she does
If I look at her, I’ll be blinded
Of course, Shinee is not alone in taking on the role of Romeo. Infinite also invoked that tragic romance in their song “Last Romeo.” However, they are much more Act 5 Romeo, believing their love to be gone. They open alluding to Romeo’s choice of death.
I don’t care if it’s poison,
I will gladly take it
The chorus itself is rife with the passions of Romeo, once again referring to Juliet as a source of light. The finality also evokes Romeo’s single-minded determination to commit suicide, as does his blindness to anything but her.
Shine on my path,
whether I want it or not,
the decision has been made
I will put everything at risk
I will protect you no matter what hardships come
I can’t see anything else but you
Infinite has many other bits of Shakespearian shout-outs. They refer to kissing as “sinful” — in the play Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss is followed up with Romeo’s classic pick-up line “Sin from my lips? Trespass sweetly urged, give me my sin again.” Juliet as the sun makes a reappearance with “Sun, rise and give me strength.” And, of course, we can’t forget the evocation of star-crossed lovers.
Listen destiny, don’t block me
I’ll be the last man
to fight against the world over one love
Helena and Demetrius — A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is arguably the best-known of Shakespeare’s comedies. It features tricking people into love, shotguns weddings, a very misguided fairy and the aphrodisiac juice of a hermaphroditic flower. It’s that last one that’s relevant here. Helena is in love with Demetrius, but he doesn’t give a single fuck about her until the love potion makes him.
San E and Raina‘s duet “A Midsummer Night’s Sweetness” is obviously a reference to Midsummer Night’s Dream. The whole play takes place in a fairy world, where reality doesn’t count. Similarly, the two had an unreal feeling night.
On a hot night, I can’t fall asleep
Thinking about this and that, I finally call you,
I didn’t know you’d come out
The tickling wind, us laughing
The stars in the night sky, you seeming a little drunk
Refreshing beer, cheers, what more can I ask for?
In the garden of memories, the story flowers,
Laughter flowers start to bloom
The evocation of a garden also brings to mind Midsummer, where the garden of Titania plays a huge role. Both San E and Raina are caught up in the spell of their midsummer night, enjoying the night, and here, it could be argued they’re the much more stable Hermia and Lysander, but the details point to the more destructive Helena and Demetrius.
Only San E is mentioned as being drunk, which will wear off and leave him feeling different, while Raina is content with shockingly little from him, as if he never pays her any attention at all. Then, of course, there’s “You End, and Me,” Raina’s solo debut and the spiritual successor to “A Midsummer Night’s Sweetness”.
Our love was on fire but now I’m unhappy
The midsummer night’s honey-like times have come to an end
Apart from the obvious reference, this ties up the previous story. Just as Helena genuinely loved Demetrius, Raina genuinely loved her ex. He suddenly fell out of love and ended it, the magic haze lifting. The play might end happily, but the potion will wear off, and Helena will find herself in Raina’s shoes.
Beatrice — Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing is one of the lesser-known comedies, revolving around tricking people into love, shotgun weddings, and a priest making people believe a young woman is dead — hey, Shakespeare was good with character, not plot. Beatrice is a spirited young woman who refuses to marry, all the while keeping up verbal sparring with Benedick. Guess what happens.
2NE1 gives a great shout-out to her most famous speech in the B-side “Pretty Boy.” The speech in question revolves around why Beatrice won’t marry. She says that older men are “not for me,” or not to her taste, while about younger ones “I am not for them,” as they couldn’t handle her wilder side.
You’re not for me, I’m not for you
In “Pretty Boy”, 2NE1 are saying the same thing: pretty boys are not their type, and they couldn’t handle these girls anyway. They want a man, and won’t settle for anything less just so they won’t be single. While there are no other references to Much Ado, the song is too perfectly in character for Beatrice, and the phrasing is too deliberate to be an accident. They’re snarky, they’re witty, but most importantly, they are not backing down until they themselves decide to, just like Beatrice.
Shakespeare is omnipresent. He’s everywhere, even when no one recognizes it. What are your favorite Shakespearean shout-outs readers?
(Images via Woolim, Pocket Books)