Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night
Told the first father that things weren’t right
Twelfth Night (1601-2) is a play by Shakespeare, innit.
Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row
Ophelia is a tragic character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1599-1601).
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
That’s my boy!
The phrase ‘Time out of mind’ is from Act 1, Scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet:
Well, I’m scuffling, and I’m shuffling
And I’m walking on briars
I’m not even acquainted
with my own desires
As You Like It, Act 1, Scene 2 (found and submitted by Nick Dorman to Dylan Chords):
And later in the same scene:
Othello told Desdemona, “I’m cold, cover me with a blanket,
By the way, what happened to that poisoned wine?”
She said, “I gave it to you, you drank it.”
Po’ boy, layin’ him straight,
Pickin’ up the cherries fallin’ off the plate.
Othello and Desdemona are characters in Shakespeare’s Othello (1603). Interestingly, it looks like Dylan has confused or (being generous) deliberately conflated the plot of Othello, in which Othello dies by stabbing himself, with the plot of Romeo and Juliet, in which Romeo dies after drinking a fatal poison.
That’s it for the obvious references (that I can find anyway) – now here’s some more obscure ones.
More Oblique References
You’d only spot these if you’d spent far too much time playing Shakespeare and reading Dylan. I didn’t find these.
Dragon clouds so high above
I’ve only known careless love
It’s always hit me from below
This time around it’s more correct
Right on target, so direct
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
And in Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 14:
Thanks to Ellis Sharp for this stupidly obscure reference!
This reference is given greater credence by the later literary reference in the song to Verlaine and Rimbaud, two other poets.
My clothes are wet, tight on my skin
Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in
I know that fortune is waiting to be kind
So give me your hand and say you’ll be mine
And in Measure for Measure, Act 5, Scene 1 (submitted by Mike Conley toDylan Chords):
Dylan doesn’t just quote Shakespeare, he also uses the same kind of scripting techniques and has even suffered some of the same traps of fame.
The folk narrative of the lecherous and unjust judge in Dylan’s Seven Curses parallels the premise of Measure for Measure, when Isabella pleads for mercy to the nasty judge Angelo for her brother, Claudio, who is to be executed for fornication. Over the course of two scenes between Angelo and Isabella, it becomes clear that Angelo harbours lustful thoughts about the novice nun, and he eventually offers her a deal: Angelo will spare Claudio’s life if Isabella will yield him her virginity.
I could have saved myself the trouble of copying that from Wikipedia by just making a few edits to the Bob Dylan lyrics:
When the judge he saw Reilly’s daughter
His old eyes deepened in his head,
Sayin’, “Gold will never free your father,
The price, my dear, is you instead.”