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Paul McCartney and George Harrison became lifelong friends while attending the same school in Liverpool. Both struggled to pay attention in school, as their primary interest was music. However, Paul McCartney said he had one professor who introduced him to an author that made him fall in love with literature. 

Paul McCartney had a great literature teacher who showed him Chaucer

Paul McCartney reads his book 'High in the Clouds' at Waterstone's in London
Paul McCartney | J.Tregidgo/WireImage

Going to school in the 1950s was a much different environment than it is now. Corporal punishment was still legal in schools in the U.K., so teachers had some harsh methods of discipline for their students. In an interview on This Cultural Life podcast, McCartney said school was tough back then because teachers were allowed to “whack” you.

“[I was] a bit of a skiver really, but [only] until you had to knuckle down,” he said. “Teachers were pretty brutal in those days, you know. They were allowed to whack you, and so they did. And then there was a period where I was getting very near exams. I didn’t do brilliantly, but, you know, those couple of years, I paid attention a bit more.”

However, he had an English teacher he deeply admired named Alan Durband. According to Paul, Durban had been taught at Cambridge and wanted to show the kids advanced, intellectual authors like Chaucer. Many students weren’t interested in the author, but McCartney developed an interest in Chaucer after reading The Miller’s Tale. He loved that he was somewhat dirty, and it led to a further passion for literature. 

“He was great, he was a very good teacher, and he got me to get interested by telling me about The Miller’s Tale, and when I read it, I thought, ‘this is great,’” McCartney shared. “It’s really dirty, and it gave me a lot of respect for Chaucer, and then it got me interested in other bits of literature.”

McCartney also developed a passion for plays

After reading Chaucer, he became an avid reader and especially enjoyed reading and watching plays. He began reading Shakespeare and found a passion for Hamlet, to the point where he thought about directing an adaptation of the play. 

“I became really interested in going to the Royal Court in Liverpool and watching plays and reading plays,” McCartney continued. “He’d done the thing that great teachers do. Salome, you know, plays that were considered to be good. I did Hamlet and Henry V. The great thing is that you had to learn bits, so to this day, when we’re talking Shakespeare [I can quote him]. So it gave respect for great literature. At one point, I was thinking I would love to direct a few plays. Hamlet was one. I’d be hopeless.”

Many of his Beatles’ songs are inspired by literature


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Reading poetry, plays, and classic literature can lead to a better sense of storytelling, grammar, and rhyme scheme that benefits songwriting. Paul McCartney and John Lennon both infused literature into their writings, especially the works of Lewis Carroll, as many Beatles songs contain references to Alice in Wonderland.

McCartney also worked his love of Hamlet into his music. In his book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, the singer discussed the classic Beatles song “Let it Be.” While he has claimed the title came to him from his mother in a dream, he also said a line from Hamlet could have inspired it. He memorized some of the verses for school, so it might have been in his head subconsciously. 

“There are a couple of lines from late in the play: ‘O, I could tell you — But let it be. Horatio, I am dead,’” McCartney stated. “I suspect those lines had subconsciously planted themselves in my memory.”