Jay-Z made headlines when he told Guilty Pleasures, “Britain will look back at [Chris Martin] as a modern day Shakespeare.”
This statement is understandably controversial. William Shakespeare rose to fame as the husband of Anne Hathaway (not the Oscar winner). Some may also know him as a playwright. His comedies were gut-busters, and his tragedies were tearjerkers. Perhaps his best known work is “Romeo + Juliet,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carrie from “Homeland.”
Shakespeare was known for his gun battles. / via GIPHY
But, as Jay-Z has aptly pointed out, Shakespeare has finally met his match in Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin. Chris Martin has penned universally relatable lines such as, “I feel my heart start beating to my favorite song.”
Photograph of William Shakespeare. / via Biography
Admittedly, I’m inclined to agree with Jay-Z’s statement, but the comparison merits a somewhat deeper exploration for the skeptics. I assembled a list of the times Martin bested Shakespeare at his own game. But that list was long, so I whittled it down. After some whittling, the list was double the size. But I have finally managed to condense the list down to five. Without further ado, prepare to be convinced:
5. “Trouble” (Coldplay) vs. “Hamlet” (Shakespeare)
Shakespeare in “Hamlet”:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
What Shakespeare seems to be getting at is that “fortune” slings rocks and shoots arrows at our minds. Think in terms of lottery tickets. You buy a lottery ticket and “fortune” doesn’t work in your favor. You don’t make millions. Instead, you lose a dollar.
Chris Martin in “Trouble”:
And I never meant to cause you trouble.
And I never meant to do you wrong.
And (ah) well if I ever caused you trouble.
Oh no, I never meant to do you harm.
Martin skips the whole “fortune” thing when he’s talking about trouble. For Martin, trouble is all about sadness and regret. “I never meant,” the speaker says again and again, and it tears my heart out. Martin never sinks to Shakespeare’s level of metaphor, and analogy.
The verdict? Yeah, Chris Martin.
4. “The Scientist” (Coldplay) vs. “Romeo and Juliet” (Shakespeare)
Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliet”:
Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
Okay, I have to give it up to Shakespeare. This is pretty clever. Usually when somebody says “good night,” they mean it as synonym for “good bye,” or “so long.” But, this time, Shakespeare turns “good night” on its head. Instead of leaving after saying “good night,” he keeps talking. Very clever.
Chris Martin in “The Scientist”:
Running in circles,
Chasing our tails,
Coming back as we are.
Martin’s also using familiar phrases here, such as “running in circles,” or “chasing our tails,” or “coming back as we are.” But, unlike Shakespeare, he doesn’t see the need in subverting their meanings. “Running in circles” means “running in circles.” In terms of familiar phrases: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
The verdict? Gotta give this one to Chris.
3. “Clocks” (Coldplay) vs. “Twelfth Night” (Shakespeare)
via Rossetti Archive
Shakespeare in “Twelfth Night”:
Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.
While I agree with the sentiment, Shakespeare’s making some elementary school-level mistakes here. You never have to repeat words…never!
Chris Martin in “Clocks”:
You are, you are
You are, you are
You are, you are
This line really eschews analysis. The beauty here is the ambiguity. You are? You are what? Martin refuses to provide a simple answer. It’s left to the listener to find out what they are.
The verdict? Christopher. Anthony. Martin.
2. “Viva la Vida” (Coldplay) vs. “Julius Caesar” (Shakespeare)
via Den of Geek
Shakespeare in “Julius Caesar”:
Of all the wonders that I have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
The content here really is potent. Talking about “death” and “fear,” Shakespeare clearly isn’t afraid of tackling serious issues. The thing is, it’s a little on the nose. Let’s see how a master deals with these themes…
Chris Martin in “Viva la Vida”:
One minute I held the key,
Next the walls were closed on me.
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand
Check out Martin’s metaphors. The speaker’s “castles” (i.e., his life) are built on “pillars of salt and pillars of sand” (i.e., impermanent materials). By being indirect when talking about “death” and actually using metaphors, Martin proves himself as the superior writer in regards to the topic of death.
The verdict? It’s Chris.
1. “Fix You” (Coldplay) vs. “Taming of the Shrew” (Shakespeare)
Shakespeare in “Taming of the Shrew”:
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And no obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
Take a breath, Shakespeare!
Chris Martin in “Fix You”:
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
This is a classic example of “less is more.” To be honest, I don’t even know what Shakespeare’s quote says above. But how about Martin’s image of “ignite your bones.” It summons this picture of exploding bodies, and then he follows it up with the touching, “I will try to fix you.” Try. That’s all he can do. Try.
And the final verdict…
Look, it’s almost unfair to compare the two. Not many people even knew Shakespeare wrote plays, whereas Coldplay has sold over 90 million records worldwide. And that’s what this comes down to. Shakespeare might have written a bunch of plays and sonnets in his lifetime, but more people listen to the words of Chris Martin.
So, no, Jay-Z. Chris Martin is not a modern day Shakespeare. He’s better.
Feature images courtesy of GQ and The Mary Sue.