Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 126
What would it be like if Shakespeare had written Mean Girls? How about Back to the Future?
In 2013, Quirk Books began releasing a series of books by Ian Doescher that reimagined the Star Wars films as if they had been written by Shakespeare, featuring iambic pentameter and all the other literary devices we associate with the Bard.
Doescher has run out of Star Wars films for now, so he’s left the “galaxy far, far away” and turned his attention to two different films. Doescher’s newest books are William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls and William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back to the Future. We talk to Doescher about how he chooses films to adapt, his writing process, and how his kids react when he points out naturally-occurring iambic pentameter (they aren’t impressed). Ian Doescher is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
Listen to our interview with Ian Doescher about William Shakespeare's Star Wars.
From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published July 23, 2019. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode, “What Imitation You Can Borrow,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Andrew Bates at Voice Tracks West in Studio City, California and from Ryan Mock, Kelsey Woods, and Laurilee Stapleton at Digital One Studios in Portland, Oregon.
MICHAEL WITMORE: Marty McFly drives off in the DeLorean and Doc Brown exclaims,
A crash of drums, a flash of light, my time.
Machine flies out of sight! I work’d; it works!
All that remaineth are two fiery streaks,
And of triumph all creation speaks!
And, you know one thing. The king of Pop Shakespeare is writing again.
WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s Director. In 2013, Quirk Books began releasing a quixotic, but remarkably clever series written by a marketing executive from Portland, Oregon. The books re-imagined the Star Wars films as if they had been written by William Shakespeare. Not only in iambic pentameter but featuring all the other literary devices we associate with Shakespeare’s work. The writer was Ian Doescher.
But, for all its vastness, Star Wars is a finite universe. And, so, Ian has had to turn from a galaxy far, far away to a world much closer to home. In 2019, he published the first two books in a series called Pop Shakespeare that transforms the scripts of other classic movies into Shakespearean style drama. Those two books are titled, William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back to the Future, and William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls.
We talked with Ian in 2015 and we’ve invited him back to talk about his process and just where he comes up with his monumentally dexterous devices.
We call this podcast episode "What Imitation You Can Borrow." Ian Doescher is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
BARBARA BOGAEV: I was gonna ask you why you chose these two films, and then I thought, it’s obvious. They’re the best and the second best movies ever made.
[CLIP from Mean Girls. Rachel McAdams is Regina George.]
REGINA GEORGE: Get in loser, we’re going shopping.
[CLIP from Back to the Future. Michael J. Fox is Marty McFly.]
MARTY MCFLY: Dad— Dad— Daddy-o.
[CLIP from Mean Girls. Amanda Seyfried is Karen Smith and Lacey Chabert is Gretchen Wieners.]
KAREN SMITH: So, if you’re from Africa, why are you white?
GRETCHEN WIENERS: Oh my god, Karen. You can’t just ask people why they’re white.
[CLIP from Back to the Future. Crispin Glover is George McFly.]
GEORGE MCFLY: Lorraine, my density has brought me to you.
[CLIP from Mean Girls.]
REGINA: Gretchen, stop trying to make “fetch” happen. It’s not going to happen.
IAN DOESCHER: They are both great movies.
BOGAEV: Yeah, I was thinking that I’ve watched these movies periodically over the years and they seem to have—They just hold up. You know? They seem to have just an enduring timelessness to them in a way.
DOESCHER: Yeah, both of them—I mean, watching Back to the Future, which was made almost 35 years ago, it is still a movie that holds up and feels… it feels timeless in a way. And I’ve always wondered if that’s because most of the movie takes place in 1955, although you get some scenes in the '80s that feel a little '80s, not overly much. Most of the movie is in 1955, which was the past in 1985 and it’s still the past for us now. So I think that helps with its timelessness. And Mean Girls feels like it could’ve been made this year.
BOGAEV: Exactly. I guess to get to the Shakespeare part of this, I wondered if you’re choosing titles because you hear something in them that says to you, “this one would work in iambic pentameter.”
DOESCHER: I think there’s almost sort of a formula for choosing which films to dig into, and it has to be a good story, and it has to have rich characters, and ideally has to have some lines that are fairly well known by the fans of these movies. But I think just about any movie that has really good characters and a really strong story line would be a worthy selection for the Pop Shakespeare series.
BOGAEV: Yeah, and certainly with Mean Girls you have that dynamic between all the girls, and also, just right out of the gate, you have Cady, the Lindsay Lohan character. She seems a natural Miranda from the Tempest. In fact, you have some lines that speak to that, "Oh, brave new world." That she’s entering of American public high school. And, then you have Regina is this Katherine from Taming of the Shrew.
DOESCHER: Sure. It was a choice I made early on with Mean Girls to say. Unlike my other Shakespearean adaptations, where different characters borrow from anywhere and everywhere in Shakespeare, I decided that each of these characters in Mean Girls was actually going to have her parallel in Shakespeare. So, Cady is my Miranda and Regina is my Kate. And that added a new sort of barrier around what I could do, but it was also really fruitful because it helps enrich the characters in Mean Girls so that they are sort of more deeply Shakespearean, if that makes sense.
BOGAEV: Exactly, and then you even have Regina’s mom, the Amy Poehler role.
[CLIP from Mean Girls. Amy Poehler plays Mrs. George.]
MRS. GEORGE: What is the 411? What has everybody been up to?
BOGAEV: But, she’s Lady Macbeth. She says, "Screw your courage to the sticking place."
DOESCHER: Which I felt a little bit bad about because Amy Poehler is so sweet and Lady Macbeth is not. But, I figured that anybody who—
BOGAEV: I think we get it.
DOESCHER: —who had raised Regina, you know, maybe had a dark side to her.
BOGAEV: And, there’s also this built-in Shakespeare element to Mean Girls. There’s the Julius Caesar riff.
[CLIP from Mean Girls. Lacey Chabert is Gretchen Wieners.]
GRETCHEN WIENERS: Why should Caesar get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet.
BOGAEV: Gretchen goes nuts in class.
DOESCHER: Right. Right.
BOGAEV: And, you have loads of fun with it in the book. In fact, could you read that for us?
DOESCHER: Sure. So, this is Gretchen’s line when she’s realizing that she’s been sort of betrayed by Regina. Here’s what she says,
O, when I am again in English class,
I know what is the report that I shall make.
We study Caesar and his mighty acts.
I’ll lay him low, for who is Caesar, ay?
And, wherefore should great Caesar be allowed
To stomp and lumbar like a giant brood
Whilst we do hide from his enormous feet,
Attempting fearfully to stay unscathed?
Whence cometh all the honors he hath earned?
Consider Brutus. Is he not as fine,
As smart, as likeable as Caesar, too?
WIENERS: Brutus is just as cute as Caesar. Okay, Brutus is just as smart as Caesar. People totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar.
When did it happen that a single person
became the boss of everyone around?
‘Tis not what our proud Rome doth stand for, nay.
WIENERS: Because that’s not what Rome is about! We should totally just stab Caesar!
We should therefore stab Caesar, stab and stab,
And let his blood flow down in righteous streams.
CADY HERON: Gretchen Wieners had cracked.
BOGAEV: I like the stab and stab and stab. So you read these books in schools, right? That must get a big reaction.
DOESCHER: Yeah, so, it’s interesting with Mean Girls. It’s a movie about high school and most high schoolers in the schools I’ve visited have seen it. And yet there are still some passages that I find, myself, a little hesitant to read aloud in high school, because of some of the content.
BOGAEV: Oh, really, like what?
DOESCHER: Oh, I mean, like, Coach Carr, when he’s giving his Sex-Ed lesson. This is a speech that I would read before an adult audience.
[CLIP from Mean Girls. Dwayne Hill is Coach Carr.]
COACH CARR: Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die. Don’t have sex in the missionary position.
Remember this. ‘Tis best to not have sex
Lest pregnancy and death on you befall.
Have neither sex with partners standing up,
Nor sex in the position missionary.
Have neither sex in canine style fashion,
Nor sex involving mouths or derrieres.
Have neither sex and neither have ye fun.
Nor heavy petting. This is also out.
Avow to me you shall have none of sex.
Now, whoever shalt take rubbers, plenty.
So, it’s that kinda thing where it’s like, I feel funny doing that in front of a high school crowd.
BOGAEV: I bet you do, but you wrote it. Do you have a target demographic? I mean, are you writing with a particular audience, you know, Shakespeare geek? Or are you picturing yourself at a certain age?
DOESCHER: I think I am picturing myself to an extent because it’s that person who loves Shakespeare, but also loves pop culture. And, sort of, making fun of pop culture and having a good time with it, especially with my early books. Those are the books that I wish existed, and therefore it seemed natural that I would be the one who wrote them.
BOGAEV: Yes. I think it really gets to something interesting about Shakespeare, which is still thought of as high culture now. But, you know, originally was very low culture. So, that low-brow, high-brow thing that your mash-up really hits some sweet spot there, I think.
DOESCHER: Yeah, well, and that’s the interesting thing, right? That’s why I love that I get the chance to bring these books to schools. So, there are teachers who tell me that they are using these to introduce their kids to Shakespeare. Because I know that I was somewhat unusual in being a high school student who fell in love with Shakespeare really early on. That’s not the case for everyone. I think there is this sort of fear when students approach Shakespeare because he has this reputation for being difficult to understand and being high-brow as you say. The reality is that he was writing the popular entertainment of his day. I think if he were alive today, he would be writing Mean Girls and Back to the Future and things like that.
Mean Girls is, sort of, if you took all of Shakespeare’s best female characters and stuck them in a room together. Mean Girls is kind of what would happen. And, so, hopefully my books give kids a chance to experience Shakespeare a little bit, and see, hey, this could actually be fun. So, that when they’re jumping into real Shakespeare, it’s less of a deep dive and more of something that feels familiar, and they can start to sense how entertaining Shakespeare is.
BOGAEV: Well, is that why then you have in the back of your books this kind of little reader’s guide where you explain what specifically that you’ve copied or adapted from Shakespeare?
DOESCHER: Yes, exactly. I mean, the reader’s guide is really for anyone who’s new to Shakespeare, or just new to this language to get some idea for what is this? What have I done? It allows them to, in some ways, sort of look under the hood of what I, as an author, am doing in terms of different literary devices that I’m trying to use that Shakespeare also used, and to whet their appetite for Shakespeare.
BOGAEV: Yeah. Let’s talk about some of the devices and some of the techniques. For instance, rhyming couplets at the end of scenes. Just to give an example—and we haven’t talked about Back to the Future, yet—at the end of the scene where Doc figures out that Marty has disrupted the time-space continuum and that they have to make sure that George and Lorraine meet at the high school dance, Doc says,
"No more shall we be led by happenstance.
Make certain that he takes her to the dance."
I read these and I remember all of the times I’ve been in the theater and they hit the end of the scene with that rhyming couplet and I don’t even hear the couplet. I don’t even hear the words. To me, it’s just like, “Okay, they’re gettin’ off the stage now.” Is that—
BOGAEV: Is that what kind of the function it serves for you?
DOESCHER: Most of the time I think the rhyming couplet is tying a little bow on the scene, you know, in some way. It is in some way sort of summing up what’s happened and maybe looking a little bit forward to what’s going to happen. Early on when I first started writing these books, this was one of the many things that I said to myself, “Shakespeare did this and I want make sure, as a way of honoring him that I’m trying to be consistent.”
BOGAEV: And, speaking of rhyming, how do you choose when to make something rhyme or almost rhyme?
DOESCHER: Most of the time my rhymes are only happening in the couplets at the end of the scenes. And then there are sometimes when I’m including a character who, often it’s a chorus type of character—and I think that actually comes from the very first set of chorus lines that I wrote, which were the yellow crawl that goes up the screen at the start of Star Wars became a Shakespearean sonnet coming out of the voice of the chorus. And because it was in sonnet form, therefore it had to rhyme, and so, therefore, every time the chorus came back then, the chorus was rhyming.
BOGAEV: And, speaking of the Star Wars books, a lovely thing in those is that you put in soliloquies to give voice to characters whose voices we don’t hear in the films. For instance, you have soliloquies to R2-D2. And when I got to these books, I thought, oh well, that’s not gonna happen here. But you do do it. In Back to the Future, you give a soliloquy to Einstein, the dog, in a footnote, which was fun.
BOGAEV: And, you also give the Libyan terrorist a soliloquy.
[CLIP from Back to the Future. Christopher Lloyd is Dr. Emmett Brown.]
DOC BROWN: Oh my god. They found me. I don’t know how, but they found me.
DOESCHER: In the movie, Doc Brown says, "The Libyans."
DOC BROWN: The Libyans!
DOESCHER: You know, these are scary people who are just pure villains. They come to do bad things. And they don’t get… I mean, they say a few phrases, back and forth to each other, but nothing in English. There’s nothing that suggests that these are anything but one-dimensional bad guys. Right?
BOGAEV: Right, and that’s what terrorists were in 1985 in popular culture. Yeah, that’s just how you did it.
DOESCHER: Exactly. Yes.
BOGAEV: But your terrorist goes full-on Shylock. In fact, could you read that for us? I think that’s great.
DOESCHER: Sure, this is the Libyan after… There are two Libyans who enter in a van, and this is what one Libyan says:
When ye behold me, see no enemy.
And, neither let thy bias typecast me
And call me monster, villainous and crude.
My homeland, which I love, is quite a marvel,
A culture beautiful and flourishing.
Our Tuareg music sends our feet to dance.
Our pipes resound in stirring melodies
With drums that mark the beating of our hearts.
How I love feasts of Shorba and Bazin,
Prepared the way my family did eat them,
Made from tomatoes, red as summer sun.
Our country is a home to the Sahara,
The desert of a thousand tales and songs,
Whose vast forbidding sand banks are renowned.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beameth on Aleppo pine.
But, other lands have sunlight, too.
Moreover, the skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
Nay, call me not an enemy, my friend,
For I am one who’d gladly welcome peace.
Yet, when the time for peace hath fled and gone,
When others do betray us wrongfully,
shall we not act? Hath not a Libyan eyes?
Hath not a Libyan his hands and organs,
Dimensions, senses, passions and affections?
Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons
And subject to the same diseases?
Healed by the same means, both warmed and cooled, too,
By the same winter and the same summer as yourselves?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
Or, if you tickle us, do we not laugh?
Hey, if you poison us, do we not die?
And, if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
BOGAEV: How did that come to you, that idea?
DOESCHER: I needed to give some sort of voice to the fact that these are real people. And, to me, it’s sort of the sense that there are two sides to every story. Yes, the movie paints them as… I mean, they were collecting plutonium and they were making bombs with it. Doc Brown was hired to do that. But, still, it’s this sense of, these are people who have real histories and real pasts and a real homeland that they love.
BOGAEV: And you also give a bit of King Lear to the Libyans. It plays off the dialogue in the actual movie, after the terrorist shoots Doc, Marty screams.
[CLIP from Back to the Future. Michael J. Fox is Marty McFly.]
MARTY MCFLY: No! Bastards!
BOGAEV: And you wrote,
Nay, bastard base!
Why bastard? Wherefore, base?"
DOESCHER: Right. That one is sort of a favorite of mine, I would say. When the bastard comes up in a screenplay, to be able to quote Edmund back at them. You know, hey, nobody likes being called a bastard. Why would I? So, yeah, to give a little bit of that sense, I think, is kind of always appropriate when someone’s called a bastard.
BOGAEV: Yeah, they kinda handed that one to you.
DOESCHER: Yes, exactly. Yep. Yep. That’s it.
BOGAEV: You also use a rhetorical device called anaphora and that is the repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning of successive clauses for emphasis. And, one place that you do it is with Lorraine, Marty’s mom when she’s reminiscing about the Enchantment Beneath the Sea night. She says first evening of romance, first memories together, first moments of a long life. And, another good example is in Mean Girls when Damian, who is Janis’s friend and sidekick, and he talks about how much he loves pink, and this is one of those iconic moments in the film, too.
[CLIP from Mean Girls. Amanda Seyfried is Karen Smith, Lizzy Caplan is Janic Ian, Lindsay Lohan is Cady Heron, Daniel Franzese and is Damian.]
KAREN SMITH: On Wednesdays we wear pink.
JANICE IAN: Oh my god! Okay, you have to do it okay? And then you have to tell me all the horrible things that Regina says.
CADY HERON: Regina seems sweet.
JANICE: Regina George is not sweet! She’s a scum-sucking road whore. She ruined my life.
DAMIAN: She’s fabulous, but she’s evil.
GIRL: Hey get out of here!
DAMIAN: Oh my god, Danny DeVito, I love your work!
CADY: Why do you hate her?
JANICE: What do you mean?
CADY: Regina. You seem to really hate her.
JANICE: Yes. What’s your question?
CADY: Well, my question is, why?
DAMIAN: Regina started this rumor that Janice—
JANICE: Damian! Shall we not? No, look, this isn’t about hating her, okay? I just think that it would be a fun little experiment if you were to hang out with them and tell us everything that they say.
CADY: What do we even talk about?
JANICE: Hair products.
DAMIAN: Ashton Kutcher.
CADY: Is that a band?
JANICE: Can you just do it, please?
CADY: Okay, fine. Do you have anything pink?
BOGAEV: Can you read that, Damian’s little pink bit?
DOESCHER: Yeah. So, he says,
Pink is the pigment of a welcomed soul.
Pink is the cheek that blusheth when in love.
Pink is the underside of newborn feet.
Pink is the lush camellia on the bush.
And, then he goes on to say,
And, thou wouldst deck thyself in luscious pink,
then Damian shall be thy source and guide.
BOGAEV: That’s a very Damian flavor. How do you choose where to use anaphora? What are you going for with it?
DOESCHER: It’s often a moment where I want to emphasize something about what a character has just said. You know, and that case is a perfect example, because Damian is talking about his love of pink. In the movie, I don’t remember what his exact line is.
[CLIP from Mean Girls. Daniel Franzese is Damian.]
DAMIAN: And I want my pink shirt back!
DOESCHER: This idea of pink to me, rewriting it, it feels like, oh, it needs some sort of additional emphasis. So let’s have him wax poetic for a moment about pink and how much he loves it, and anaphora is often a really good device for that kind of thing.
BOGAEV: Well, so, you started this whole endeavor with Star Wars which is not a comedy. And here you have these two books, these two films, which are comedies— both of them, really… Mean Girls in a different way than Back to the Future. There’s a rhythm to comedy and there’s a rhythm to Shakespeare. How compatible are they or how compatible did you find them?
DOESCHER: I mean, in general, I find them pretty compatible. There are, in general… if you have a sparring dialogue between two people in a comedy, that’s something that works very well in Shakespeare. One liners often work well in Shakespeare. There are moments, I would say, where in translating something into iambic pentameter, you lose the sense of something in a comic scene that is in a modern film. But, generally, I think it works.
BOGAEV: Well, I was gonna say, it’s really hard. I mean, one of the most iconic lines from Mean Girls is, "Stop tryin’ to make fetch happen. It’s not gonna happen." You put it in iambic pentameter and it reads,
"Nay, Gretchen. Fetch shall never catch.
Stop hosting an event no one attends."
DOESCHER: Exactly, I mean, right…
BOGAEV: I read that and I thought, it is hard to make bitchy things snap in iambic pentameter.
DOESCHER: Right. Exactly, and that’s one where it’s just hard to get the exact same zing. I tried to sort of spice it up with the line about hosting an event that nobody attends as sort of this added little way to frame what she’s saying. But, you’re right. It does lack that sort of zinger quality it has in the movie.
BOGAEV: Did you tinker with that line a lot?
DOESCHER: Yes. It’s funny. Some lines just come so easily and so naturally, and other lines I will sit there and agonize over.
BOGAEV: What came naturally? Can you think of an example?
DOESCHER: Oh, I mean, I would say the very last line of Back to the Future. When I was a kid, I remember watching Back to the Future, and rewinding over and over Christopher Lloyd’s last line, "Where we’re going, we don’t need roads." Right? Just, such a cool line and then the DeLorean flies off.
DOESCHER: But, my retelling of it which says,
"Be ready for audacious episodes.
Whither we go we have no need of roads."
That one I would say came pretty quickly and it’s probably because I’d been thinking about it for years.
BOGAEV: It does make me curious, though, if, in writing these books, that you found things that are funny to you in a new way because of the Shakespeare.
DOESCHER: Yes. Whenever I’m writing a soliloquy, those are definitely moments when I’m seeing a character in a new light or I’m appreciating something in a new way because I’m digging in deeper on it. It’s almost like… I guess I’m finding material where I didn’t realize there was material before.
BOGAEV: Can you think of an example?
DOESCHER: Well, even something like in Back to the Future, George McFly is an aspiring writer in 1955. And, of course, in the new version of 1985 that he goes back to, he is a successful writer. I had never actually read this, or I’m sorry, had not watched Back to the Future as an author before coming back to this movie to write this book. And, so, the way he talks about his insecurities about people reading his writing, all of a sudden, struck me with new force. So, rather than just translate his lines into iambic pentameter, I felt free in the Shakespearean context to give him some longer lines, and sort of elaborate on his feelings. So he gets this little speech that also, it’s one of the Easter eggs that I’ve thrown in, because it’s an acrostic speech. What his lines in the movie make me think of is what I think many, if not all, writers feel which is the sense of impostor syndrome, right? So, I gave him a speech where the lines, the first letter of each line spell out impostor syndrome.
If I should let a reader see my tale,
My secret visions and my fantasies,
Pretending it is worthy of their time
Or that they might enjoy the world I build,
Such venture would be dangerous, indeed.
To write or to create is to be brave.
Each work of art an act of courage, too.
Releasing it to critics is too far.
Say that on reading it they said, 'Aha
You are no writer. Nay, you are a fraud.
No publisher will ever look on this,
Declare it finely writ and print the drivel.
Relinquish all thy dreams you worthless rogue,
Or you shall surely be a laughing stock.’
Me thinks the harsh rejection would destroy me,
Eviscerated by opinion’s blade.
BOGAEV: Well, that is very obscure, that whole bit about the first letters spelling out impostor. That is really funny. I mean, you’re anticipating my question which is that you are so deep into the wordplay, and the references between Shakespeare, and the movies that I can imagine you getting very caught up in your own cleverness. You know what I mean? Does that ever happen?
DOESCHER: Absolutely, yeah.
BOGAEV: You know, you just can’t help but pat yourself on the back?
DOESCHER: There are definitely times. I would say the very first time it happened was when I was writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and I wrote my first ever scene between two characters that was not in the movie at all. It’s these two stormtroopers who are standing outside, sort of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern kind-of-thing, almost. You know, where one of them has figured out what’s going on and the other one tells him to calm down and, “don’t get these conspiracy theories in your head,” essentially. And, then they get called inside, and they’re killed, right? After I wrote that I remember kind of giggling to myself and asking my wife to read it. She was like, "That’s nice, honey," because she doesn’t care about Star Wars.
But, yeah, I mean, so there are those moments, right? There’s an example in my most recent Star Wars book I have the code-breaker who is a minor character in the movie, but is sort of a James Bond-esque kind of character. He has this speech where, again, it’s an acrostic speech. There are two things going on in the speech. It’s an acrostic speech that spells international man of mystery down the left hand side. And each line of his speech uses the title of a James Bond movie. So, I start with Dr. No and work my way all the way down to Spectre, and that’s the kind of thing where…Yeah. I mean, there is a little bit of a sense after I finish of, like, “Okay, good job. Good job. That was well done.”
BOGAEV: I’m getting such a window into your psyche.
DOESCHER: Into my nerdy, geeky world. Yep. Yeah.
BOGAEV: Well, what other Shakespearean-esque adaptations have you considered? Pulp Fiction? I hope.
DOESCHER: Pulp Fiction could be a lot of fun. The one that I sort of dream about doing is The Princess Bride, as one of those movies that I grew up with and I think you could have such fun. I have a friend who told me for years that he thinks I should do William Shakespeare’s The Godfather. And, so, this year, for his birthday in August… He’s a very good friend. I have written it just for him.
DOESCHER: That was a fun one.
DOESCHER: He’ll have the only edition of that in the world.
BOGAEV: Well, so, Ian, what’s next?
DOESCHER: On October 1, I have a new book coming out called Mactrump, which is a Shakespearean telling of the first two years of the Trump presidency.
DOESCHER: It is co-authored with a man who goes by the pen name Jacopo della Quercia and he and I worked on this together in sort of a flurry of madness. So, in the early part of this year. Quirk Books is putting it out in October.
BOGAEV: And, so, I imagine we’re gonna see a lot of Julius Caesar in there. What else? I mean…
BOGAEV: What did you leap to immediately?
DOESCHER: Certainly Caesar, certainly Macbeth.
BOGAEV: Titus, Macbeth.
DOESCHER: A good amount. Titus, maybe a little bit. Yeah, there’s sprinklings of Lear, certainly. There’s sprinklings of a lot of different Shakespeare in there, of course. But it was a lot of fun to write and certainly something different than what I’ve done before.
BOGAEV: Wow. Okay. Well, Mactrump. I can’t wait to read that.
DOESCHER: So, yeah, again, it’s that combination of what has good characters, what has a good story line, yeah.
BOGAEV: Well, now whenever you go see a movie, do you immediately turn all the dialogue into iambic pentameter in your head?
DOESCHER: I definitely notice if there is naturally, what I call naturally occurring iambic pentameter in a movie. So, if a character says a line and it happens to be in iambic pentameter, I notice it. And, usually if I’m watching that movie with my family, I’ll say, “Hey, that was iambic pentameter.” I also do it in conversation. Like, when my kids says something and, “Hey son, that was iambic pentameter.” They roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, Dad.”
BOGAEV: Right. Well, the kind of…
DOESCHER: "I did that just for you, Dad."
BOGAEV: Conversely, you could do other famous literary geniuses, you know, write like them. You could… Maybe, Edgar Allen Poe you could do at the drop of a hat. You could become like the Robin Williams, or the Dana Carvey of writers.
DOESCHER: It’s a fun idea and I’ve thought about what other writers styles might I actually be able to imitate in that way. The thing about Shakespeare, though, is that there’s something about his style that is so, sort of instantly recognizable. I mean, if you flip through the pages of one of my books, it looks like… I mean, it’s a play, right? It looks like a work by Shakespeare. And, there are some words that we sort of associate with Shakespeare, and…
DOESCHER: Yeah, right. Exactly. "Forsooth," right? The things that we all sort of say when we’re trying to be Shakespeare-like, right? And, so, in some ways he is easier to imitate if you can do the iambic pentameter, and literary device and things like that, easier to imitate than another author might be.
BOGAEV: Well, and a fitting place to end it being a Shakespeare podcast. It is not a Robin Williams or an Edgar Allen Poe podcast. So, thank you so much for that. And, thank you so much for the good times and for the conversation. It was a lot of fun.
DOESCHER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
MICHAEL WITMORE: Ian Doescher holds a BA in Music from Yale University, a Masters of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a PhD from Union Theological Seminary. He’s best known as the author of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series.
His new books, William Shakespeare’s Get Thee Back to the Future, and William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Mean Girls are the first in the new Pop Shakespeare series from Quirk Books. They were published in 2019. Ian Doescher was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
Our podcast episode, "What Imitation You Can Borrow," was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the Associate Producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Pastor. Ben Lauer is the Web Producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Andrew Bates at Voice Tracks West in Studio City, California and from Ryan Mock, Kelsey Woods and Laurilee Stapleton at Digital One Studios in Portland, Oregon.
I imagine you’re enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited. If I’m right about that, and if you’re looking for a way to let other people know about this podcast, there’s an easy way to do it. Just, leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts. Thank you.
Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge in the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. And, if you find yourself visiting Washington DC., we hope you’ll visit us on Capitol Hill, see a performance in our Elizabethan theater, and come face to face with one of our first folios, the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s plays. We hope to see you here.
Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director, Michael Witmore.