Today is William Shakespeare’s quasi-official birthday, and the madcaps at the local publishing house Quirk Books, in Old City, are celebrating with not one, but two new movie-Shakespeare mashups.
Get Thee … Back to the Future! is a bardification of the beloved 1985 fantasy flick, and Much Ado About Mean Girls makes strange bedfellows of Tina Fey’s 2004 teen comedy and Shakespeare. They sell for $12.99 apiece.
They’re the latest titles from the Philly publishers who have given the world everything from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2011). Not to mention the galactically successful Shakespeare’s Star Wars series (starting in 2013), rendering the nine major Star Wars episodes in faithful iambic pentameter blank verse — faithful both to Shakespeare and to Star Wars.
The two new titles take the Shakespeare mashup series, by Quirk author Ian Doescher, beyond the Star Wars universe.
Remember that deathless moment when Doc (Christopher Lloyd) in Back to the Future says of his hyper-hopped-up DeLorean, “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious [expletive]!”?
In Get Thee … Back to the Future! thus we read it written:
If ev’ry calculation is correct,
When this — my baby, source of all my hopes —
Doth hit upon the speed of eighty-eight,
In miles per hour, then Marty, verily,
Thine eyes shalt witness stuff most serious.
Whence came this crazy idea, to transmogrify thus the style and art of Shakespeare? “In the summer of 2012, I had the idea,” Doescher says by phone, “and I sent an e-mail to Jason Rekulak, who was then the editor at Quirk, and I pitched it, and he said he’d look at it. I sent him the first act, and he wrote back, saying, ‘I really want to do this!’”
What? That easy? “I really want to tell freelancers, ‘Don’t take me for an example,’” Doescher says. “‘This is really not the way it’s supposed to go in publishing.’"
But Quirk is like that: See a good idea, run with it. A franchise was born.
“Ian is amazing,” says Brett Cohen, president and publisher at Quirk. “He does it all so quickly — it’s crazy. Last year, when the Eagles were in the Super Bowl, we asked him to rewrite the fight song, and he did, and we released it the week of the game.”
A few lines from that parody, which went out on social media:
Fight, Eagles, fight, a touchdown shall you score,
First 1, then 2, then 3, and even more!
Go hit them low, where it shall hurt the most,
Then hit them high, whence Patriots do boast.
Doescher’s great talent, Cohen says, is to balance the Bard with the movie getting mashed. “It would be easy for the poetry of the iambic pentameter to overpower it, but no, the story stays at the heart of the book,” Cohen says, “which is smart.”
To wit, in Much Ado About Mean Girls, the high school ladies cut one another to shreds as follows:
REGINA [To Lea]: By all that is divine, thy lovely skirt –
How didst thou come by such a lovely thing?
CADY [aside]: Regina’s words, they echo in mine ears!
She once with these same words did praise my bracelet.
LEA: ’Twas once my mother’s, in the nineteen eighties.
REGINA: A vintage piece – adorable it is! [Exit Lea.]
[To Cady:]: The skirt is uglier than hell’s own heart.
CADY [aside]: A two-fac’d lady, wicked through and through.
Quirk keeps its catalog of new releases small and focused, at about 25 titles a year — “although we’re not slavish about it,” Cohen says. “We’ll do 30 in a year if we have 30 great titles.” Beyond the Shakespeare mashups, other new Quirk confections this year include Find Momo Across Europe, which is the fourth in a series of photographic hide-and-seek books, and Stuff Every Cannabisseur Should Know, a little book about weed.
But while Quirk does much more than mashups, the will to mash is strong. The Old City offices are bedecked with mashup covers — not for publication, just part of office culture. Remember Fey’s book Bossypants? On one wall we find a Gritty-orange cover with Fey’s image above the title Grittypants. Nearby, Maurice Sendak gets mashed up into Where the Gritty Things Are.
Quirk, in fact, pitched both of the new Shakespeare titles to Doeschler, not the other way around. Back to the Future felt like a natural, Doescher says. “It’s got that epic, fantasy quality.
"Mean Girls is completely different, of course, but it’s been a movie and a Broadway musical, and I thought it was a great suggestion, a funny idea in its own right. With Mean Girls, really, it fits Shakespeare. It’s like if he decided to put all his best female characters in a play, and you had Beatrice slinging her witty insults, Miranda being innocent, Lady Macbeth being ambitious and vicious.”
Doescher got the poetry bug early, falling in love with Dr. Seuss and also The Night Before Christmas, even trying a sonnet or two in school.
And it’s no jest: These Shakespeare mashups do get used in schools. Adam Watson is digital learning coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools in Shelby County, Ky., a little east of Louisville. In a bookstore one day, he spied the first Shakespeare/Star Wars mashup, Verily a New Hope.
“As an English teacher in high school, the wheels started spinning,” Watson says. ” I thought, ‘Here’s a way to make Shakespeare fresh and introduce his work to students.’ ”
Watson went on to create and post a 15-day unit using the book. Quirk learned of it and, with Watson’s help, has created William Shakespeare’s Star Wars in the Classroom, posting Watson’s lesson plans gratis, along with instructor’s guides for each quirky episode. (Note: This site is not to be confused with the separate Disney site titled Star Wars in the Classroom, focused on the original films and books.)
Teachers all over the place use his lesson plans, including role-playing of scenes, which he says the students truly enjoy. “It’s good to know it has academic validity,” Watson says. “It was as inspiring to teach it as it was to discover it.”
Will these scripts ever reach the stage? You’d have to get the rights from Disney and so forth, so it seems unlikely. But people in the Star Wars and cosplay world verily do stage these works in their own homes.
C. David Dent of Edgewater, Md., writes through Facebook that he and fellow Star Wars fans delight in living-room read-throughs. “We did IV, V, VI and I (in that order as I am a classic trilogy fan),” he writes. Translation: They began with the first-released Star Wars stories of the 1970s and early ’80s, then followed with the first episode, 1999’s Phantom Menace, rendered by Doescher as The Phantom That Is a Menace.
“From a Star Wars fandom perspective,” Dent writes, “they hit all of the prime moments of the film without losing the conceit that it is supposed to be a stage play. Some of which can be kind of hilarious (substituting rolling chairs for X-wing fighters, for instance).
And now fans of Mean Girls and Back to the Future may be reading them in class or acting them out in living rooms. As Doc so stirringly concludes in Act 5, Scene 2, lines 128-129 of Get Thee … Back to the Future!:
Be ready for audacious episodes —