Paul McCartney Reveals How Shakespeare Influenced His Songwriting

Paul McCartney is somewhat of a poet as his songs contain beautiful rhythmic patterns with rhymes and flows that blend together to create an iconic track. This rhyming pattern is similar to what is often seen in Shakespeare’s work, who McCartney credits as being an accidental influence on his songwriting technique. 

Paul McCartney attended a public school for boys in Liverpool

Paul McCartney performs on the New World Tour at the Docklands Arena in London in 1993
Paul McCartney | Brian Rasic/Getty Images

Paul McCartney grew up in a working-class family in Liverpool. His family couldn’t afford to pay for his education, but he was lucky enough to be enrolled in the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys. McCartney received an excellent education at his school and developed a love for books and poetry at school. In an interview with Barnes & Noble’s James Daunt, McCartney discussed his early education at the institution. 

“It was a really good free education where the first year, I was learning Latin and Spanish and all the other subjects,” McCartney recalled. “Second year, it was Latin, Spanish, and German. So, you know, just in two years, I’m engaged…And then I’m finding books because I had a really good teacher, Alan Durband.”

Paul McCartney says learning Shakespeare influenced his songwriting

Everyone has read Shakespeare in school, and whether his words are understood, it is undeniable how his rhyming couplets influenced poetry and songwriting moving forward. McCartney was impressed by Shakespeare’s techniques and didn’t realize how they influenced his songwriting until years later. 

“Unwittingly, you know, because I didn’t really know I was going to do much with my songwriting. That was just a little hobby,” McCartney told Daunt. “I do think that is true that the meter of some of these things, I mean, one of the things I learned was that Shakespeare often uses rhyming couplets, and I always thought that was kind of an interesting idea…Unconsciously, I ended up ending one of my songs, “and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make,” not realizing that that’s where I picked it up.”

Shakespeare was also an influence on ‘Let it Be’

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Paul McCartney has often said that the inspiration for “Let it Be” came from a dream where his mother came to visit him. He was in a state of worry in his life, and his mother, who died when he was young, told him not to worry and to “let it be.” However, in his 2021 book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, McCartney says that a speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet was also an inspiration for the title. 

“One interesting thing about ‘Let It Be’ that I was reminded of only recently is that, while I was studying English literature at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys with my favorite teacher, Alan Durband, I read Hamlet,” Paul recalled. “In those days you had to learn speeches by heart because you had to be able to carry them into the exam and quote them. There are a couple of lines from late in the play: ‘O, I could tell you — But let it be. Horatio, I am dead.’ I suspect those lines had subconsciously planted themselves in my memory.”