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What Song Quint Keeps Singing In Jaws (& What It Means)

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Quint’s singing of the song “Spanish Ladies” is among the most enduring moments from the 1977 classic film, Jaws. Many fans could probably quote a line or two from the song, but not so many could explain the song’s meaning or its origin. At first glance, the song comes off as nothing more than a folksy sea shanty for Robert Shaw’s Quint to sing for some color, an old-timey song for an old-fashioned character. This certainly is a part of the song’s purpose in the film, but the specific choice of “Spanish Ladies” for the character and the story deserves a closer look.

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The grizzled character of the fisherman Quint is one of the many film elements that has made Jaws often imitated but impossible to replicate for subsequent sequels and copycat films. Likewise, Quint’s propensity to sing the little ditty about sailors leaving women in Spain for their home port separates him from the rest of the land-based characters in the film. Quint’s introduction, and his self-prescribed theme song, mark him as a man of the sea, a ferryman for the second half of the story that takes place exclusively on the water, Quint’s – and the shark’s – domain. The song works well in this role, even though its actual history is quite different.


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“Spanish Ladies” has become one of the most recognizable “sea shanty” songs in modern history. An interesting distinction, given that the song technically was not originally a sea shanty at all. Despite popular images of Taika Waititi’s Blackbeard in Our Flag Means Death leading his crew in song, sea shanties trace their true (more mundane) origin to mid-19th century merchant ships. “Spanish Ladies” itself predates this, however, stemming from the Napoleonic Wars, and England’s involvement in Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. The song’s popularity in the British Navy allowed it to endure in the years after the conflict. The song’s origins in the Navy also connect to the character of Quint himself, who notably served in the United States Navy during WWII. This connection may reflect a key change in the message and lyrics of the song from its origins to its usage in Jaws.


What Quint’s Song “Spanish Ladies” Means In Jaws

Quint’s own terrifying experience as a survivor of the USS Indianapolis gives his character a grim fatalistic disposition as he faces off with the titular shark in Jaws. This possibly leads to his changing of a key lyric in the song “Spanish Ladies.” Where the original lyrics hope for a quick return to the “ladies of Spain,” Quint’s version laments that “nevermore shall we see you again.” This change of lyrics transforms the connotation of the old shanty from a wistful goodbye to a mournful one. Indeed, Quint’s lyrical amendment puts a shroud of fatalism over the entire shark hunting quest.

Throughout the film, Quint sings or hums the tune of “Spanish Ladies” as he hunts the shark. First, in jest, jovial and smiling, notably delivered to Richard Dreyfuss’s Matt Hooper after explaining how his shark cage works. But, as the hunt becomes more desperate, so do Quint’s renditions. His grim lyrics of “nevermore” become prophetic as the last time he sings the song is as the engine to his boat dies, stranding him on the water, in sight of the land that he will nevermore return to. It speaks to the excellence of Steven Spielberg and the haunting performance by Robert Shaw in that such an innocuous shanty could transform throughout Jaws into an ominous foreshadowing of a doomed expedition.


Next: The Letter Steven Spielberg Sent To Jaws: The Revenge’s Director



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