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Swift or Shakespeare: Exploring the Surprising Connections between Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale and Taylor Swift’s Most Popular Songs

When reading the quote, “Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone,” one might assume that Shakespeare wrote it. However, Taylor Swift, a world-renowned pop singer, actually wrote that particular line in her song “Love Story.” But diving deeper into her pieces, we can see even more parallels between Swift and Shakespeare.

For example, some of Taylor Swift's most famous songs, including "Cardigan" and "Out of the Woods," both delve into themes of betrayal, jealousy, and rebirth while also highlighting the unpredictable nature of human relationships. In particular, “Cardigan” describes the comfort one finds while reflecting on the past and represents the feeling of heartbreak. Similarly, “Out of the Woods” portrays a tumultuous relationship that results in personal growth and embracing the present moment. 

Looking closely, one can see that Taylor Swift’s songs “Cardigan” and “Out of the Woods,” as well as their accompanying music videos, strongly connect to William Shakespeare’s famous play, A Winter’s Tale, because they showcase themes of jealousy and personal growth. Additionally, all of the works demonstrate the tendency for failed relationships to result in positive character development eventually.


Both "Cardigan" and A Winter's Tale explore the themes of betrayal and jealousy, showcasing the loss one feels when coping with a failed relationship. For example, in "Cardigan," Swift's lyrics depict a romantic relationship that turns sour as the narrator experiences betrayal by their lover. More specifically, James, the teenage protagonist mentioned in the song, cheats on his girlfriend, Betty, which pressures him to seek redemption. Throughout “Cardigan,” Taylor Swift summarizes the beginning comfort in the relationship, stating, “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan, under someone's bed, You put me on and said I was your favorite.” The image of an old cardigan represents the comfort and security found in reminiscing, as well as the personal growth associated with embracing the present. Therefore, the cardigan symbolizes Betty’s feelings toward James, who made her comfortable before his infidelity. Further, the lyrics “You drew stars around my scars, But now I'm bleeding” represent how James allowed Betty to accept her insecurities. 

However, James’ betrayal ultimately ruined Betty’s progress of opening up and moving on from her trauma. 

Similarly, The Winter's Tale examines the destructive nature of jealousy and the dire consequences it holds on relationships. The play presents the character of King Leontes, a Sicilian King whose disillusionment and jealousy lead to the betrayal of Hermione and Mamillius, his wife and son, respectively. King Leontes equates Hermoine’s generosity towards King Polixenes, a Bohemian King and friend of Leontes, as an act of infidelity. Ultimately, Leontes sentences his wife to a trial. Hermione's heartfelt plea for her innocence reflects the pain of betrayal as she states, "It shall scarce boot me to say 'not guilty': mine integrity being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it, be so received" (Act III, Scene II). Hermione expresses her frustration and helplessness as her testimony and integrity are disregarded as lies by Leontes. Mamillius, Leontes’s son, also falls victim to his father’s disillusionment and falls ill due to the stress of the trial. In the end, Hermoine and Mamillius die due to Leontes’ actions, representing how jealousy results in destructive consequences. Throughout the rest of the play, Leontes grieves the death of his family members and changes his mindset to heal internally. Therefore, in both “Cardigan” and A Winter’s Tale, the protagonists’ shattered relationships express the human desire to dwell in the past and seek personal growth after difficult periods.

While betrayal and jealousy play prominent roles in both works, the themes of rebirth and redemption also hold much value in character development. For instance, in the song "Out of the Woods," Swift's lyrics describe a tumultuous relationship that pushes her to the brink but ultimately leads to self-discovery and growth. The accompanying music video further reinforces the concept of personal growth by visually depicting a journey through a forest, symbolizing the process of emerging from difficult circumstances. Additionally, the lyrics reflect a transformative journey in which one overcomes challenges and emerges more vital. In particular, the song "Remesongwhen we couldn't take the heat, I walked out, I said I'm setting you free" signifies a pivotal moment of breaking free from a suffocating situation, marking the beginning of the rebirth process. By symbolizing the narrator's newfound courage to leave behind what no longer serves them, the song highlights the transformative development achieved when one moves forward. Additionally, the line "The monsters turned out to be just trees" signifies a shift in perspective, revealing that the fears and obstacles faced were not as daunting as initially perceived. The song's lyrics also convey resilience and determination, highlighting the struggles faced while finding oneself after a failed relationship. In A Winter's Tale, Hermione's character experiences a similar kind of rebirth despite being wrongfully accused of infidelity by her husband, Leontes. Hermione remains steadfast in her integrity and virtue, and through her unwavering strength, she transforms, metaphorically being reborn and emerging from the darkness into the light. Moreover, Leontes embodies the power of forgiveness, redemption, and second chances as he reinvents himself after recognizing his disillusionment.

In summary, Taylor Swift's songs "Cardigan" and "Out of the Woods" explore themes of betrayal, jealousy, and rebirth, aligning with the themes found in A Winter's Tale. Through the lyrics, music videos, and underlying messages, Swift offers a contemporary perspective on these timeless themes. Both works emphasize the destructive nature of betrayal and jealousy, highlighting the transformative power of overcoming adversity and finding redemption in the present moment.

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