The Best Literary References in The Smiths’ Lyrics

Posted by Sarah Fox

When it comes to contemporary literature, the Smiths are pretty much everywhere. Between Charlie listening to “Asleep” on repeat in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Eleanor and Park falling in love with the Smiths blaring in their ears in Eleanor and Park, it seems writers have a thing for referencing the Smiths. Which only makes sense, given how much the Smiths love to allude to literature and writers.

Song: “Shakespeare’s Sister”

Lyrics: Title and “young bones groan/and the rocks below say/ ‘throw your skinny body down, son’”

Literary Reference:  A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, in her famous feminist text, speculates what would happen if Shakespeare had a sister, Judith. Well, it is not a good time for her. She is not allowed a proper education and is never able to express herself through her writing, so she kills herself. The Smiths allude to Judith’s suicide in “Shakespeare’s Sister.” In his case, the suicide seems to be driven from losing a love instead of a lost voice.


Song: “Cemetery Gates”

Lyrics: “A dreaded sunny day/so I meet you at the cemetery gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side/while Wilde is on mine”

Literary Reference: John Keats, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde

While we don’t understand how someone can dread a sunny day, we can understand how Père Lachaise Cemetery is a place where you want to wander. The Smiths also seem to share our tendency to want to have literary death matches (a la MTV’s Celebrity Death Match). We do feel like we have gotten the short end of the stick. While we do have two great poets on our side, Oscar Wilde is the best. Who else could live such a decadent lifestyle and still write really great fairytales?


Song: “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”

Lyrics: “As Anthony said to Cleopatra/as he opened a crate of ale,/’Oh I say, some girls are bigger than others.’”

Literary Reference: Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

We do not remember Anthony commenting on the size of women in Shakespeare, but the comment could have made the cutting room floor. The nonsensical nature of his commentary might also be explained by the crate of ale.


Song: “Bigmouth Strikes Again”

Lyrics: “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt/as the flames rose to her Roman nose/and her Walkman started to melt”

Literary Reference: Various hagiography on Joan of Arc

It seems the Smiths have finally solved the great question: was Joan of Arc crazy or was she a saint? The answer seems to be neither. She just had some really intense headphones.  It definitely highlights a lost opportunity for the creators of Joan of Arcadia; can you imagine amount of product placement for headphones they could have had if they went with the Smiths’ theory?


Song: “How Soon Is Now”

Lyrics: “I am the son and heir/of nothing in particular”

Literary Reference: Middlemarch by George Eliot 

Simon Goddard suggest that the line was inspired by a description of Fred as an “inevitable heir to nothing in particular” in Middlemarch, and we cannot agree more. While Fred does get to find love with Mary, the character in the Smiths song does not. He goes to clubs and, because of his terrible shyness, leaves alone. It also might have helped if he did not advertise his lack of inheritance or charisma.

Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox is an editor, writer, writing consultant, and pop culture enthusiast. Besides regularly contributing to Quirk Books’ blog, she has published an edition of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. You can find her online at