Bard to the bone: A Star (Wars) is born

Ian Doescher has built a mini-empire of modern pop stories retold in Shakespearean style. (Read through the history plays with him, online.)

Ian Doescher’s favorite Shakespeare line comes from Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2. “If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.” I find this line most relatable in this moment as we all are forced to contend with matters out of our control. Sickness, political unrest, racial tension; while these forces are ever present in 2021, they are also ever present in Shakespeare’s work. In focusing on Shakespeare’s universality, verse and literary devices, Doescher has carved out a place for himself as the bard of reframing modern classics as poetic tales.

Portland author Ian Doescher: modern pop classics with a Shakespeare beat.

Since the beginning of his William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series of books in 2013, the Portland writer has been exploring this literary niche within a niche. Doescher has always loved writing, though his background is in music and theology (with a B.A. in music from Yale, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary and ordainment from the Presbyterian Church, this background is extensive). But he never thought he would find himself here. Academic writing, maybe. Pop culture as Shakespeare stories, no way.

What do you get when you combine rewatching the Star Wars trilogy, reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and taking a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival? If you’re Doescher, you get William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Ian is a prolific writer with work spanning the Star Wars Universe, Mean Girls, Back to the Future, Clueless, A Christmas Carol, Deadpool, and Frankenstein. He is also co-author,  with Jacopo della Quercia, of MacTrump: A Shakespearean Tragicomedy of the Trump Administration. In addition, he’s completed a four- part volume covering the complete Avengers series, coming out in July.  

Doescher writes for an audience of Shakespeare lovers and skeptics alike. He scatters familiar literary devices throughout his work like Easter eggs, and fans of Shakespeare’s work enjoy his writing for its use of verse. Fans of the source material can escape into the worlds they enjoy through reimaginings of classic movie moments and characters. For example, from Much Ado About Mean Girls, 

“It is the one night in the year entire 
When lasses are array’d most wantonly 
And other girls say nothing of the fault,
For all declare ’tis nothing but a costume. 
The boldest lasses dress in lingerie 
And furry ears of little animals. 
Yet none did tell me of th’unspoken rule 
By which a lass may wear a strumpet’s outfit. 
Thus, like a soul awoken from the grave,
I have arriv’d array’d beneath death’s veil.”

Doescher’s work is often used in schools as a “bridge” into Shakespeare. “You can get a little bit of a taste of iambic pentameter and some of the literary devices,” he explains, “but it’s still not as hard as Shakespeare.” Doescher believes that too often young people are bored by Shakespeare in schools because of the cultural baggage around the work. He sees a self-fulfilling prophecy in which students come to the works of Shakespeare intimidated, and feel as though they don’t “get it.” As an actor (having studied the style of Shakespeare performance and performing with a Shakespeare troupe during college with other people as crazy I was to stay up until 11 p.m. to hold rehearsals) I am inclined to agree with him. I have experienced first hand the cultural tendency to take Shakespeare too seriously in public schooling. The tendency is to revere the work to the point that it becomes unapproachable. Doescher’s work appreciates the language, while remaining tongue-in-cheek and so much fun.

Pop goes the Shakespeare: a smattering of Doescher’s universes.

As I read Doescher’s work, I found myself noticing iambic pentameter all around me. He sticks to iambic pentameter more than Shakespeare did, but occasionally uses other literary devices. For example, when writing Yoda’s dialogue in verse he decided to write all of the Jedi Master’s lines in haiku. Shakespeare, of course, never wrote haikus, but this device keeps true to the project by “having fun and giving people something unexpected.” 

Doescher begins his writing process by translating the text of the source material to verse. He then begins to pepper in soliloquies and asides as a means of capturing visual moments in the films through words. Many people say Shakespeare’s verse is like jazz. When proofing manuscripts, Doescher can be found tapping out syllables on his desk (a skill he began at as a young boy) to check his lines. In this sense his degree in music overlays his work as a writer, creating a drumbeat under which the words can play.

In the aftermath of Covid-19, Doescher has taken his work online. “The Shakespeare 2020 Project” is, he says, “a public read-through of Shakespeare’s works that attracted 6,000 participants in its first year, and continues today.” For some, it’s even been therapeutic: He’s “heard from many many people how much [the project] helped them get through the year.” The project’s current evolution allows anyone who wants to read and dive into the text of Shakespeare’s histories to join Doescher online in doing so. If you are interested in getting involved, you can do so at shakespeare2020.com

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