Friday, 22 March 2013

How Taylor Swift's 'Love Story' is a Rewriting of 'Romeo and Juliet' - a perfect example of transplantational appropriation

When it comes to academia, my specialism lies within adaptation and appropriation theory - I like looking at how people take plays, novels and poetry and integrate them into popular culture mediums.
The first thing you need to know is that transtextuality is a fancy word for the links between different texts.  Gerard Genette argues that a text is linked to every other text the author has read, whether the influence of that text is obvious or not.  There are five main subsections of transtextuality:

  • intertextuality (quoting from another text, or making direct reference to it)
  • the paratext (that which literally binds the text - ie. the cover, chapters etc)
  • metatextuality (where references to other texts are there to critique or comment on them)
  • architextuality (a layer of reference that is implied by the reader)
  • hypertextuality (any relationship uniting text B to an earlier text A)

Hypertextuality lends itself most easily to theories of rewriting.  Transplantational rewritings, however, are significantly similar to the metatextual subsection of transtextuality, differing in one main way.  Whereas metatextuality provides a commentary or a criticism of the original text, transplantation merely uses its legacy and position within the popular culture of its setting to support an argument or develop the narrative.  Romeo and Juliet’s legacy lies in the longevity of the two lovers; Romeo and Juliet are the ultimate couple, despite their deaths, and references to their love are part of our everyday vernacular.[1]  As a result, transplantational appropriations of the lovers and their story reoccur within popular culture through such a large variety of artistic media.

            Taylor Swift’s 2008 hit single ‘Love Story’ is one such appropriation.  The song compares the singer and her lover to Romeo and Juliet, both by referring to the lovers by name and by making references to the balcony scene and the Capulet ball:
I close my eyes and the flashback starts,
I'm standing there, on a balcony in summer air.
See the lights, see the party, the ball gowns,
See you make your way through the crowd
And say hello.[2]

However, Swift is obviously not appropriating the plot of the hypotext, as her lovers are reunited at the end of the song with a marriage proposal and a happy ending.  Jim Malec argues that her referencing tells us less about Shakespeare’s play and is instead used to develop Swift’s own narrative:
Swift utilizes metaphor and symbolism–coupled with our common knowledge of the play–to dramatize the narrator’s own ‘love story.’ That the lyric ultimately resolves into a made-for-Disney cliché doesn’t undermine the fact that, to the narrator, the complications and difficulties surrounding her affair are just as grave as Juliet’s … This is the foundation of Swift’s lyric–that any ‘love story’ is rife with complications, peaks and valleys, extreme joy and unbearable heartache. And by comparing the song’s characters to Shakespeare’s, she’s simply alluding to the idea that all love stories are fundamentally the same, regardless of their origin or outcome.[3]

[1] With a ‘Romeo’ referring to a womaniser and ‘star-crossed’ referring to a forbidden love.
[2] Taylor Swift, ‘Love Story’, Fearless (Big Machine Records, 2008).
[3] Jim Malec, ‘Taylor Swift – Love Story’, 16/09/08 (

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