Verily, the Force is strong with this one

Book of Star Wars verse set to turn students on to Shakespeare

Stephen Exley

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"Neither a borrower nor a lender be", a warning uttered by Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet, has become one of the most famous lines in the history of English literature.

But the advice has been roundly ignored by one author, who has borrowed the Bard's characteristic style of iambic pentameter to retell the story of a more intergalactic cultural phenomenon.

While the mere concept of William Shakespeare's Star Wars may be enough to have literary purists reaching for their lightsabres, US author Ian Doescher is hoping that his take on Shakespearean verse could be used in the classroom as a prelude to introducing Macbeth, Othello and King Lear to a reluctant younger audience.

"Shakespeare already has a reputation for being rather elite and stodgy," Mr Doescher said. "I think young people . see unfamiliar words like `fardels' and `codpiece' and `sithence' and they just assume they won't be able to do it.

"I hope my book might be a gateway for students into Shakespeare. They already know the storyline, so they won't have trouble following what is happening, and reading the book will expose them to iambic pentameter, some of Shakespeare's basic vocabulary and a handful of literary devices."

Fans of the Bard will instantly recognise how some of his most famous quotes have been tweaked to fit a galaxy populated by Jedi, Wookiees and droids.

"Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not," proclaims Luke Skywalker, before pondering whether his victim was a "man of inf'nite jest or cruelty" in a scene bearing more than a passing resemblance to Hamlet's discovery of the skull of the jester Yorick.

Skywalker goes on to give a stirring speech reminiscent of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, which begins "Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears". And there is a clear nod towards Macbeth when his comrade Han Solo asks, "Is this an ast'roid field I see before me?"

Star Wars fans will be reassured to hear that loveable droid R2-D2 still communicates mostly through unintelligible noises. "Beep beepBeep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!" the robot exclaims in Act I, scene I.

The section of the book that Mr Doescher most enjoyed transposing into verse - subtitled "Verily, A New Hope" - was the conversation between Obi- Wan Kenobi and Han Solo, in which Solo says he doesn't believe in "the Force" (see panel, below).

"I have a background in theology, so it was natural to turn that scene into an extended metaphor about Han as a lone pilgrim on his own journey of faith in blasters and good luck," he said.

The author told TES he had been inspired to write the book after reading 2009 parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - a "mash-up" splicing the genteel word of Jane Austen with elements of the zombie horror genre - before attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last July.

Mr Doescher believes teachers could draw on the parallels between Star Wars and Shakespeare's plays to engage younger students: "Both are filled with adventure, questions of destiny, comic and dramatic characters, clear ideas about good and evil, and big themes like death, loss, justice and so on.

"Both Shakespeare and Star Wars made lasting impacts on English-speaking culture, and bits of both have become part of our everyday vocabulary. I imagine a class might read William Shakespeare's Star Wars before jumping into Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth or Hamlet. I would love to see that happen."

The book was welcomed by Rob Campbell, principal and English teacher at Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire, England. "Those of us who were brought up with the original films or the re-releases are going to be incredibly excited. If there's enthusiasm from the teachers, you can make most things rock and roll for the students, too," he said.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars will be published by Quirk Books on 2 July.

The way of the Jedi

"A Jedi is not made of fear or hate,

But must a nobler countenance display.

It is a lesson learn'd in times gone by

That shall I teach myself unto this day.

Full many years I've spent with thoughts of this -

This instant when Darth Vader I'd confront.

But now my thirst for retribution's cold,

While sweet forgiveness doth my spirit taste."

Obi-Wan Kenobi in William Shakespeare's Star Wars.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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