Well today is May 4rth, when a lot of people have chosen to celebrate one of the most iconic movies of the 20th century: Star Wars! And why not? The story is full of conflict, introspection, love, change, the conflict between fathers and sons, and occasionally guidance from ghosts. Wait, that sounds familiar- it’s a lot like Shakespeare! Yes, the movie has a lot of parallels with the Shakespearean canon, and I’d like to share some of those similarities here. Below is a post I did for the American Shakespeare Center about how the Star Wars prequels parallel Shakespeare’s history saga of Henry the Sixth:
As I was writing William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, I was surprised to realize I had made more references to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing than any other play. Much Ado is a comedy—probably my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies—so it was strange that lines from it kept popping up in the darkest of the original Star Wars® trilogy.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is a series of parody plays written by Ian Doescher that takes the prose screenplays of the Star Wars story and transforms them into Elizabethan verse. Last time I mentioned how much I loved the cheeky references to Shakespeare and Star Wars, and how Doescher adapts the cinematic quality into Elizabethan drama very well. In my podcast, I also emphasized the way Doescher gives each character verbose Shakespearan language that works very well for radio and theater:
What I want to do with this post, (and the accompanying podcast), is to see whether this edition captures the fun, the clever wordplay, and the Shakespearean storytelling of “A New Hope,” with the second installment of the series, and if it helps to capture the shift in tone between the two movies, as Luke is tempted by the dark side and Han is betrayed and frozen by Lando.
Notes about the play
The first play in the series, “Verily, A New Hope,” took plot and structure inspiration from Henry V; it tells the story as an epic heroic story of Luke’s heroic deeds, much like how Henry V is about a king who grows from boy to man.
By the playwright’s own admission, the dialogue is stuffed with lots of re-purposed quotes from Much AdoAbout Nothing, Shakespeare’s comedy of a womanizing, self-centered soldier who becomes a devoted husband. This is appropriate since the Leia/ Han plot within the play and movie starts out with them bickering like Beatrice and Benedick. Doescher says this was an accident, but I think he might have subconsciously taken inspiration from their love affair to help structure the dialogue. In the accompanying podcast episode, I talk more about how the use of Much Ado quotes helped to flesh out the characters of Luke, Leia, and especially Han.
Movies and plays follow a similar structure where the action starts at a static place, tension rises, and finally, things get resolved at the end. A lot of the same elements are in both issues. The main difference is how they are arranged. Let’s see how Doescher translated the three-act structure of a screenplay, to the five-act structure of an Elizabethan tragedy.
As you can see, films have a 3 act structure
Elements to Watch for:
A Chorus is a short speech where a character who is not part of the action of the play introduces the plot. It functions the same way as the famous title crawl at the beginning of Star Wars.
I mentioned last time that “Verily: A New Hope” uses choruses liberally, which is appropriate because the tone of this story is so much darker, and since the action follows the journeys of Han and Luke so closely Ian doesn’t use choruses as much. I suspect this is partly because unlike The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope jumped around more between planets and locations and used wipes and other transitions heavily:
Below is a link to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Learning Zone, where you can learn about the language of the Henry V chorus.
The literary technique of stichomythia has characters who speak at more or less the same time, using slightly different forms of dialogue. Doescher uses this well as a staging device by having Vader and Luke speak similar lines as Luke plummets down the shaft after losing his lightsaber duel:
These similar lines highlight the connection these two have (no spoilers), and also emphasize that, though the actors might be physically close onstage, their characters are meant to be far apart; they wouldn’t be saying this to each other.
In Romeo and Juliet, there’s an excellent example of stichomythia in Act IV, Scene iv, right after Juliet’s parents and Nurse discovers her, apparently dead. There is a long series of laments by her parents and nurse where they are shocked and horrified at her sudden death:
Lady Capulet. Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day! 2702 Most miserable hour that e’er time saw In lasting labour of his pilgrimage! But one, poor one, one poor and loving child, But one thing to rejoice and solace in, And cruel death hath catch’d it from my sight!
Nurse. O woe! O woful, woful, woful day! Most lamentable day, most woful day, That ever, ever, I did yet behold!2710 O day! O day! O day! O hateful day! Never was seen so black a day as this: O woful day, O woful day!
Paris. Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain! Most detestable death, by thee beguil’d,2715 By cruel cruel thee quite overthrown! O love! O life! not life, but love in death!
Capulet. Despised, distressed, hated, martyr’d, kill’d! Uncomfortable time, why camest thou now To murder, murder our solemnity?2720 O child! O child! my soul, and not my child! Dead art thou! Alack! my child is dead; And with my child my joys are buried.
Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Scene v lines 2702-2723.
When I played Friar Laurence and the cast and I rehearsed this scene, the actors playing the Nurse and Juliet’s parents were struck by how similar the lines are and worried that these long passages of laments would get tedious to an audience. I realized by looking at the similar lines, the similar words (especially at the ends of lines), and the fact that Friar Laurence interrupts them at the end, led me to believe that these lines are meant to be spoken AT THE SAME TIME. This creates an effect of organized chaos where the actors seem to be wailing and ranting, but are actually speaking a carefully composed quartet of grief. Thus Doescher cleverly mimics Shakespeare’s use of stichomythia to convey Vader and Luke’s physical distance, and complementary feelings at the same time.
3. Parody Lines
The biggest appeal of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the fact that it is a parody, and I’ve said for many years that parody and gentle riffing on Shakespeare is a great way to get students to overcome their fear of Shakespeare and engage with him. Students who know Star Wars but don’t know Shakespeare will recognize the familiar characters and plots of the movies and then see how Shakespeare’s language tells the story anew. Similarly, people who know Shakespeare will recognize the way Doescher re-tools famous Shakespeare quotes to give to characters in the Star Wars Universe, like here, where he spoofs the intentionally bad speech of Snug the Joiner and gives it to the Wampa from Empire Strikes Back:
Peter Keavy as Snug the Joyner in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” 2017.
In the Educator’s guide, which I’ve attached below, Doescher tells you exactly which lines he has parodied and the plots of the original plays so the students can learn about Shakespeare through these famous speeches. Orson Wells once said that “We sit through Shakespeare in order to recognize the quotations,” and this edition gives us thrilling space battle, wonderful characters, and witty dialogue to keep us entertained while we wait.
As Doescher worked his way through all nine installments of Star Wars, he continued to expand and experiment with his storytelling. There are a couple of moments in “Empire” that work only onstage such as the aforementioned moment of stichomythia after the lightsaber duel, and the scene in Act II, Scene ii where the Imperial Walkers known as AT-ATs actually speak to each other onstage. Like the French in Henry V, it’s interesting to see the battle from the enemy’s point of view, albeit a highly biased one. I won’t reprint it here for copyright reasons, but I will put this funny sketch in as a placeholder:
Although I loved “Verily, A New Hope,” I feel that Doescher didn’t go far enough to adapt the dialogue in interesting ways and play with the stagecraft of Star Wars to make it more distinct from the film and the first installment. My favorite moment of the play was the Wampa speech which was great because it not only parodies one of my favorite speeches in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it also made the Wampa attack tonally distinct from the film- the film is tense and grim, while the Wampa speech is funny and charming. I wish Doescher had embraced the parody and silly tone he shows in this speech and applied it more to the rest of the play; we already know Empire is the darkest installment of the series, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be played like that the whole time.
What I think works best in the film is the romantic comedy between Han and Leia; Doescher does a wonderful job pointing out the parallels between Han and Leia and Benedick and Beatrice which is not only fun, but helps Star Wars fans appreciate the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing even more. This is why I’m glad Doescher took painstaking notes on how he parodied Much Ado and other plays in the guide below:
Today, April 23 is the established birthday of William Shakespeare! I have a few posts in mind, (which might be a little late), but hopefully, you still enjoy them. Check out my new play summary of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressidaon the Play Of The Month page for a start. More coming soon.
For Pride Month, I’d like to draw some focus to a celebrated LGBTQ film, based on a play that, while not Shakespearean, it was by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and one who influenced Shakespeare a lot. This film, Edward II, directed by Derek Jarman, was based on the play of the same name by Christopher […]
Before you send your kid off to summer camp, why not spend a few short hours learning Shakespeare in a low-key, no-pressure scenario! I have classes on Shakespeare’s life, Romeo and Juliet, and my celebrated Stage Combat class! Sign up now for all the fun on Outschool.com!
a sufficiently entertaining, adamantly old-fashioned adaptation that follows the play’s general outline without ever rising to the passionate intensity of its star-cross’d crazy kids By Manohla Dargis, New York Times Review 2013 Romeo and Juliet is still taught more than any other text in American high schools, and since it’s a play not a book, teachers will inevitably […]
I’m working on Part II of my Shakespeare’s Star Wars podcast and I thought I’d share some of the clips I’ve been editing together. First is a short clip of Darth Vader saying lines to express his sorrow and anger when Luke plummets down the Cloud City shaft, rather than go with his own father. […]
This is an interactive game that teaches the craft of Shakespeare’s writing and stagecraft in the form of an Elizabethan escape room. You must find the lost play of William Shakespeare before a mystery thief destroys it! Solve the clues and learn about Shakespeare’s writing and theater to uncover a historical mystery!
In this fully online, fully interactive game, you play as a member of Shakespeare’s company. You’ve just discovered that someone has stolen Shakespeare’s new play “Love’s Labors Won,” and you need to find it before the show tonight! In the course of the game, you search the Globe Theater and Shakespeare’s study. Then a mysterious note reveals that someone has stolen the play! You must figure out who it is, and find the play before the thief burns it! Through the course of the game, you will learn about Shakespeare’s theater, the secrets of how he wrote some of his great plays and beautiful poetry, and the work of his contemporaries in a fun, interactive way.
The class is organized into four parts, based on four locations where you will search for the missing play:
Part I- Search the Theater
Part I- Search the theater (website/ Slides/ Jamboard) You learn the basic parts of an Elizabethan stage (Google slides) You label the parts of the theater (Google Forms) You do a virtual tour of the theater (via Globe Theater.com) Web quest- answer 3 questions about Shakespeare’s Globe: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ (handout) You search the tiring house (the backstage area of the Globe), and find the letter from the thief (Sites).
Part II- THe Crime
A video plays where the thief declares that he’s stolen Shakespeare’s play for money and revenge. After the video, you will learn about plays, printing, and theft in Shakespeare’s day through a series of Google Slides Activity- make a folio, quarto, and octavio with just a piece of paper (handout) Web Quest- answer 3 questions about how Shakespeare’s plays were printed and the first folio (Slides) Activity 2: make an actors’ scroll or roll the way that Elizabethans might use (video) Easter egg- find a pair of gloves in the print shop and answer questions.
You’ll gain new understanding of the types of plays Shakespeare wrote and their basic plot structure via Google Slides. You’ll then take a short quiz to confirm what you learned.
-Plot Structure You’ll learn about the basic structure of Elizabethan plays via Google Slides. A second set of slides will demonstrate the plot structure of Romeo &Juliet You’ll mix and match a series of plot elements to create your own Elizabethan play via Jamboard
A hero is given some unwelcome news
He feels betrayed by those close to him
He agonizes about the ethics of killing someone close to him.
He kills someone (or banishes an honest man) and immediately falls into a downward spiral.
The hero does (this will be a mandatory choice)
The heroine disguises herself as a boy
A hero or heroine swears (s)he will never fall in love and immediately falls in love
The heroine pretends not to be interested in the hero, (but secretly loves him).
A loyal best friend is captured, sent to prison, or bewitched
The hero and heroine hate each other due to a series of misunderstandings.
The hero and heroine get married (this will be a mandatory choice).
An ambitious young man arises to challenge the king for the throne.
The old king dies, (or is murdered)
A new king becomes king
Duels and or battles
Someone dies in battle
Someone is murdered, assassinated, or sentenced to death.
New King gets married
King and Queen reign peacefully (at least for now)
Romance ( if students pick this option, they can mix and match everything (except the main character dying)
Verse practice- You’ll learn about the verse Shakespeare wrote, through a series of slides and a jam board. Activity- You will be given a series of famous lines from plays and movies, (such as a quote from a Disney Movie, a Star Wars film, or a song). You will then determine if it is an iambic pentameter line (Google Slides). Easter egg- you find a second note from the thief (Google Sites).
Part IV- THe Tavern
You will look at a series of pictures and videos about Shakespeare’s contemporaries and try to figure out which of them stole the play. Through the handout, you will conclude who the thief is. You find a dagger in the tavern and take it. Outside the tavern, you will fight the thief in a short animation. GAME OVER.
THe FIrst Class starts April 28th, 2023. CLick here to register!
This is my new trailer for my fully online, fully immersive murder mystery game based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” You play as a detective hired to solve the mystery of Juliet’s murder. You will piece together the plot and characters of Romeo and Juliet, but also use forensic science to identify clues, interrogate suspects, and examine the crime scene just like a real detective! Register now at Outschool.com SPECIAL OFFER: Get $5 off the murder mystery class with coupon code HTHESSQ76F5 until Apr 22, 2023. Get started at https://outschool.com/classes/romeo-a… and enter the coupon code at checkout.
As of right now, if you want to help support the work I do here and my podcast, you can sign up for monthly donations. I have a lot of new ideas for the podcast, but I can’t do them without your support, so please consider being a supporter now!
If you go to my podcast website, there’s now a button that says “Support this Podcast,” where you can choose your monthly rate of contribution, from $9.99 per month to as low as $1 per month! If enough people support this podcast, I’ll start taking requests and giving out rewards to my generous supporters. In short, if you support me, I’ll create content designed to your interests so you can feel that this is YOUR podcast.
Thanks for reading, and please consider donating today!
I’m pleased to announce my brand-new, fully immersive, fully online murder mystery game! Similar to my “Macbeth” and “Interactive Guide To London,” course, the course is a series of slides, videos, digital activities, and websites that you explore and complete based on your knowledge of a Shakespeare play. Unlike that course, this one also includes real-life science experiments and handy guides to both the play “Romeo and Juliet” and forensic science!
Background on the game
Through a series of slides, you’ll learn that you are playing the part of a detective, hired by Juliet’s parents to investigate her sudden death. You’ll read her obituary, look at a crime scene photo, and the story so far.
Parts of the course:
The class is divided into 8 parts that students can complete at their own pace over a 4-week period. Once you are signed up for the class, you will receive a link to a Nearpod Presentation that has links to all the online activities. You will also receive a detective case file, that will serve as your notes as you record your discoveries through the mystery. Finally, I will provide you with a course cheat sheet and a list of resources in case you need help through the various activities.
Week 1: The Scene Of the Crime
The student will learn, not only about the plot of “Romeo and Juliet,” but also the way real detectives and forensic scientists follow clues and try to solve crimes, in this case, an apparent death by poisoning.
Activity 1: Poison Analysis
In a pre-recorded video, The Investigator introduces himself. He is in the middle of doing a toxicology test on the vial found near Juliet’s bed. He explains that most poisons are either highly acidic or highly alkali (aka, bases). Testing the liquid’s PH will help you determine if the substance is poisonous or not. In a short simulation via Nearpod, you will test multiple liquids for acidity or alkalinity. You’ll even learn how to test substances in your own home for acidity and for alkaline properties!
Week 2: Crime Scene Investigation
Using the Nearpod slides and a linked website, you’ll figure out what happened to Juliet’s cousin Tybalt the day before her own mysterious death.
Activity 3: Unlock Juliet’s Computer
Using Shakespeare’s text, you will decode a secret password to unlock Juliet’s website (Google Sites). Using Juliet’s (fake) Twitter account, you will read her account of the events of the play thus far. Each tweet is paraphrased from a line of Shakespearean dialogue. Once you’ve read the fake tweets, you can play a game where you match them with the real Shakespearean dialogue.
Activity 4: Fingerprint Analysis
You will ‘scan’ a fingerprint found on the vial found in Juliet’s bed. The website will tell you who it’s from and you will record it in your case file. You’ll also learn how to take your own fingerprints, and the characteristics real detectives look for when analyzing them.
Week 4: Construct a Timeline/ Make the Arrest:
Using your case file, you will write the sequence of events thus far in your case file and write down information about the suspects (the characters in the play), in the format of a police dossier.
The activities will enrich the student(s)’ understanding of the plot and characters of “Romeo and Juliet” using the format of a murder mystery In addition, the students will learn the methods practiced by detectives, investigators, and forensic scientists when they solve real crimes including toxicology, fingerprint analysis, CSI, and interrogation techniques.
As you probably know, I love to review children’s adaptations of Shakespeare (whether direct or indirect). “The Lion King,” (Hamlet), “Encanto” (King Lear), and of course, the many adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet,” are mainstays on this website: Gnomio and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss, even Pocahontas have their basic plot and characters firmly rooted in Verona Italy.
Then one day by chance, I found this book in a local park, and I knew I had to review it!
This is a simple re-telling of the story of Shakespeare’s play that focuses on just the young lovers. You feel for these cute little animals and in a way, making them a kitty and a dog smitten with puppy love, makes them more understandable and sympathetic than Shakespeare’s youthful teenagers, who indulge in violent delights without using their human reason.
What It Keeps
The book keeps the feud between the two families, has the young lovers meet in disguise at a ball, fall in love on a balcony, get married, and amazingly, DIE! Laden still manages to tell the story in a kid-friendly way, though giving it tragic weight.
The book opens with a rhyming prologue, which, although it isn’t in sonnet form, has the same function as Shakespeare’s prologue- to explain the plot before we see it played out in the book, thus giving the whole story a sense of dramatic irony. Plus, as you can see, Laden also imitates Shakespeare’s love of wordplay with metaphors and puns, (a tale of tails), and alliteration to give the dialogue some wit and effervescence. Reading it gave me giggles like I’d just popped open some champagne.
What it changes: Spoiler alert
All throughout, Laden makes small changes to simplify the plot and remove characters that don’t directly impact the main plot. The characters of Lord/Lady Capulet and Lord/Lady Montegue, The Nurse, Paris, Peter, the servants, and the friars are completely absent, turning an already brief play into an even more compressed story.
Like a lot of animal retellings I’ve seen of this story, the author recasts the human leads as animals that are natural enemies- in this case, cats and dogs. This makes the story easier for kids to understand- as I’ve said before, it’s often difficult to keep track of who belongs to which house in Shakespeare’s version. All you need to know is that Romeo and his brothers are cats and Juliet’s family are dogs.
Funnily enough, my daughter actually complained that the story would’ve been better if Juliet were a cat instead of Romeo, which I agree with for very specific reasons. The character of Tybalt is named after a character from a prose story called “Reynard the Fox,” who had the epithet, Prince of CATS. Mercutio annoys Tybalt by taunting him with this title before challenging him to a duel:
Tybalt: What would you with me? Mercutio: Good Prince of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives! Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene i.
It would’ve been a funny Shakespeare easter egg to have Juliet and Tybalt be portrayed as cats, but I understand why they went with dogs- Drooliet is a hilarious pun, and having Tybalt be a vicious, rabid dog helps set him up as a fearsome antagonist.
I suppose you’re wondering, how can the author keep Shakespeare’s tragic ending in a children’s book? Well, like Shroedinger’s cat, she manages to make Romeow die and not die at the same time. He gives Drooliet one of his 9 lives, allowing them both to ‘die’ and then come back for a happy ending. It’s a brilliant way to nod at the original, while also keeping the kid-friendly tone.
This book is really fun and very enjoyable for kids, parents, and teachers who want to introduce kids to Shakespeare at an early age!
Just below you can watch the book being read by actress Hayle Duff: