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On Eminem and Shakespeare

August 28, 2011

Please bear with me. The headline isn’t designed just to get a reaction – I really am about to compare Slim Shady and Shakespeare.

Okay. Here’s the background. I’m getting through a whole heap of Shakespeare revision and essays by listening to various playlists. I happen to be reading through Hamlet when a song by Eminem came on.

Cleaning Out My Closet.

I stopped writing, re-started the track and listened again. Very carefully. Attentive to the iambic pattern of the lyrics, aware – suddenly – of a certain pentameter to Eminem’s work.

It was the third verse in particular that struck me most.

  1. I have underlined the use of sibilance and some alliterative rhymes
  2. I have italicised the internal rhymes
  3. I have emboldened the consonance, or mild-consonance. Please note there is also the continued use of assonance throughout.


“Now I would never diss my own momma just to get recognition

take a second to listen who you think this record is dissing

but put yourself in my position

Just try to envision

Witnessing your momma popping prescription

pills in the kitchen

Bitching that someone’s always

going through her purse and shit’s missing

going through public housing systems

victim of Munchausen Syndrome

My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn’t

til I grew up

now I grew up

It makes you sick to your stomach doesn’t it?

Wasn’t it the reason you made that CD for me, ma?”


And so on and so on. Stunning isn’t it? The full song can be found here:


Now, not exactly compare and contrast time but read the following extract from Act 1, Scene 2 of Hamlet.

William Shakespeare also uses consonance, assonance and sibilant rhymes.

Remember, this young Prince is also experiencing a few mother issues:


O that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew;
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t, ah, fie, ’tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this –
But two months dead, nay, not so much, not two!
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on. And yet within a month –
Let me not think on’t. Frailty, thy name is woman.
A little month, or e’er those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father’s body
Like Niobe, all tears, why she, even she –
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer – married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to good
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.
Or, if you would like to see it performed by a very Eminem-looking Kenneth Brannagh…


The famous Ben Jonson quote about William Shakespeare says it all: “He was not of an age, but for all time!”


From → Shakespeare, Writing

  1. Damien permalink

    A most interesting comparison of two writers, each with dexterity of expression and an inate sense of rhythm. Purists would no doubt froth at the thought that you might make comparison between Shakespeare and Shady (“this Hyperion to a satyr” indeed) but that would be to dismiss the power of the words used. Language evolves and times change; the need for human beings to express and make sense of their existence is constant. Context is all. Personally, I prefer the Hamlet, but I can appreciate and admire the Eminem track for the reasons you indicate above. But perhaps we over-analyse these things? I suspect that both writers have a natural ability to shape language to their own ends and in their own idioms. Imagine if they were contemporaries…what a mash-up that would be!

  2. cool. i’ve heard the comparison before, and i love your analysis of Cleaning Out My Closet.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. On Eminem and Shakespeare « Take One Step Back | Shakespearelovepoems
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