Shakespeare and Star Trek
“ALL THE GALAXY’S A STAGE”:
SHAKESPEARE IN THE STAR TREK UNIVERSE
In the classic Star Trek episode “Catspaw,” the intrepid crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise beams down to the surface of the planet Pyris VII. Once on the ground, they investigate and are confronted by three witches who chant: “Winds shall rise / and fog descend / So leave here all / or meet your end.” At this point, the logical character Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy) replies, “Very bad poetry, Captain.” Thus, we have not only a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but also a rather wry comment on the immortal bard’s rhyming ability.
Shakespeare and the science fiction series Star Trek have always been linked together in an almost symbiotic bond. Characters in the series quote the bard, episodes are titled after his works, and stories are adapted to fit the outer space locales. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by the noted Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation) has a worn copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare handy. Alien species such as the race known as the Klingons, created for the show, quote Hamlet, both in English and in their own fictional language. If Shakespeare is the foundation for modern theater, it is only fitting that he becomes the basis for drama in the future.
With all the gratuitous use of Shakespeare language and imagery in the series (including its four spin-offs, a successful franchise of feature films and a short lived animated series), is there an underlying reason to the use of the Bard’s works? Does the combination of classic literature and pop-culture sci-fi result in something greater than the sum of its parts? According to Stephen M. Buhler, the use of Shakespeare in the Star Trek universe, specifically the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, serves to define which characters are the villains (Buhler 18). In general, he says the contemporary popular film use of characters who have the ability to quote Shakespeare is used as a device to establish moral ambiguity and to symbolize personal viciousness (Buhler 18). Here he relies on the many quotes of the villain of the film, General Chang (Christopher Plummer) and the chameleon shape-shifter Marta (supermodel Iman) (Buhler 22).
However, not every Shakespeare-spewing character is evil and Mary Buhl Dutta argues that, instead, the use of Shakespeare in the original Star Trek series served as endorsement for the male-centric, Americanized ideal of a typical Shakespeare hero (Dutta 38). Within the progress of the series, the lead character of Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) “becomes” Macbeth, Hamlet, Ferdinand, and Petruchio. Always the hero, he has the ability to defeat the villain, even when his Shakespearean counterpart could not. For example, Dutta points out that in the episode “Catspaw,” Kirk is essentially Macbeth (Dutta 40), yet here he has the ability to resist the evil pressure of the Lady Macbeth figure of Sylvia, unlike the original Macbeth.
Marc Houlahan furthers this theory by arguing that the use of Shakespeare in Star Trek is not only an endorsement but rather a continuation of America’s attempts to Americanize Shakespeare (Houlahan 29). As the financing of BBC’s official versions of Shakespeare, by four major American corporations (Time-Life, Exxon, Metropolitan Life Insurance and the Morgan Guarantee Trust Company) and the creation of the Folger’s Shakespeare Library (located between the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.) serve to show America’s attempt to claim Shakespeare as their own, so does Star Trek‘s use of the Bard’s materials (Houlahan 29). Thus he uses again the film Star Trek VI to illustrate the assumption the Captain Kirk and the system of government that he works for, The United Federation of Planets, is a representation of America. Thus, Kirk’s use of Shakespeare, as well as General Chang’s serve as an attempt to mainstream Shakespeare for a primarily American audience (Houlahan 30).
Going in a totally different direction, Emily Hegarty argues that the use of Shakespeare in The Next Generation serves as a symbol of high-culture (Hegarty 55). She writes, “It [the series] uses Shakespearean allusion to underwrite repressive and elitist ideological gestures within its populist format.” (Hegarty 55) She uses the example of a Next Generation episode “The Perfect Mate,” in which Captain Picard uses Shakespeare sonnets to express desire, confirming the ideology that Shakespeare is the quintessential symbol of love poetry in our culture (Hegarty 56).
With all the use of Shakespeare in Star Trek, you would think that the symbolism would be lost and eventually become stale and in fact, it has. Fewer references to Shakespeare are found in the last three series spin-offs, Deep Space Nine,Voyager and Enterprise. However, within the framework of the original series, The Next Generation series and the films, Shakespeare has become an integral part of the universe that the show inhabits. It uses Shakespeare as a springboard to discuss new ideas and to maintain a connection with the future and the past.
SHAKESPEARE REFERENCES IN STAR TREK
STAR TREK (The Original Series 1966-1969)
“Dagger of the Mind”
The title is a reference to Macbeth.
“The Conscience of the King”
The title is a reference to Hamlet.There is more in this episode as the main plot concerns a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors.
“All Our Yesterdays”
The title refers to Macbeth.
“By Any Other Name”
The title is a loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Kirk makes additional reference while talking with a woman as he holds out a rose-like flower and says, “As the Earth poet Shakespeare wrote, ‘That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'”
“Whom Gods Destroy”
The character of Marta quotes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.
“Elaan of Troyius”
Here the plot is lifted straight from The Taming of the Shrew with Kirk play the part of Petruchio.
The plot of this episode borrows parts of Macbeth.
STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1973-1975)
“How Shaper Than A Serpent’s Tooth”
The title is taken from a passage in King Lear.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-1994)
“Encounter at Farpoint”
Just a brief 2 Henry VI quotation by Captain Picard: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” (IV.ii.74).
“The Naked Now”
The Android Data recreates Shylock’s court monologue from Merchant of Venice, asking, “When you prick me do I not … leak?”
“Hide and Q”
Q mistakenly quotes As You Like It, saying “All the galaxy is a stage.” Picard calls him on it. Later Picard quotes Hamlet: “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!” (II.ii.304-308).
As the episode opens, Data and Picard are performing a scene from Henry V in the holodeck with Data as Henry and Picard playing Williams (a combination of the character of Williams and Court).
“Sins of the Father”
The title is taken from Merchant of Venice.
“Menage A Troi”
In this episode Picard frequently quotes Shakespeare’s Sonnets and a little Othello.
The title is taken from Hamlet (I.v.112).
“Time’s Arrow Part II”
Trapped in the past (San Francisco in the 1880s) Captain Picard explains their seemingly odd behavior by explaining that they are practicing a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They later rehearse Act II Scene i with Riker as Oberon, Data as Puck and Beverly Crusher as First Fairy.
“Thine Own Self”
The title is take from Polonius’ advice in Hamlet.
The episode opens with Data performing the final scene in the The Tempest as Prospero. Also, much of the plot is taken from The Tempest as well as character names. (An interesting note is that this is one of the series’ final episodes and the use of the play is seen as an homage, since it is widely believed that The Tempest is Shakespeare’s own farewell to the theater.)
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (1993-1999)
The title is take from The Tempest.
“Heart of Stone”
The title is taken from Twelfth Night.
“Once More Into the Breach”
The title is taken from Henry V.
“The Dogs of War”
Here the title is taken from Julius Caesar.
[N.B. Richard Payne from the UK supplies a missed DS9 quotation (May 2004):
“The Die is Cast”
The title is from Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars.
Tain: “How could this happen?”
Garak: “The fault, dear Tain, is not in our stars but in ourselves. Something I learned from Dr. Bashir.”
(paraphrased from Julius Caesar I.ii)
(This just happens to be one of my favourite quotes from Shakespeare. )]
STAR TREK: VOYAGER (1995-2001)
The title is taken from Hamlet.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
The only Shakespeare reference here is Dr. McCoy, who again quotes Hamlet: “Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!” (I.iv.3).
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
First, the title is from Hamlet (III.i.80), but not only that — one character, General Chang (Christopher Plummer) constantly quotes Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (II.ii.184), 2 Henry IV (III.ii.212), Richard II (III.ii.155-56), Henry V (III.i..1; III.i.32), Julius Caesar (III.ii.168; III.i.60; III.i.274), The Tempest (III.i..148), Merchant of Venice (III.i.56-63), and Hamlet (V.ii.10-11; I.iii.78; V.i..163; III.i.58-60; III.i.57). The character of Martia (Iman), a shapeshifter, quotes from Hamlet when she says, “I thought I would assume a pleasing shape” (II.ii.612).
SHAKESPEARE IN KLINGON
Sonnet #18 — “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
qaDelmeH bov tuj pem vIlo’choHQo’.
SoH ‘IH ‘ej belmoH law’, ‘oH belmoH puS.
jar vagh tIpuq DIHo’bogh Sang SuS ro’.
‘ej ratlhtaHmeH bov tuj leSpoH luvuS.
rut tujqu’ bochtaHvIS chal mIn Dun qu’ .
rut DotlhDaj SuD wov HurghmoHmeH, HuvHa’.
‘ej reH Hoch ‘IHvo’ Sab Hoch ‘IH, net tu’.
‘u’ He choHmo’, San jochmo’ joq quvHa’.
‘ach not wovHa’choH jubbogh bovlIj tuj,
‘ej not ghomHa’choH Hochvetlh ‘IH Daghajbogh,
‘ej “QIbwIjDaq bIleng” not mIy Hegh nuj,
bovmey DaDontaHvIS, DojwI’ nIHajbogh!
tlhuHlaH ‘ej legh, wej ‘e’ lumevchugh nuv,
vaj yIntaH bomvam, ‘ej DuyInmoH quv.
Translated by Nick Nicholas. KLI, 1994.
Khamlet (Hamlet) III.i.55ff. (“To be, or not to be….”)
Khamlet: taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vIqelnIS.
quv’a’, yabDaq San vaQ cha, pu’ je SIQDI’?
pagh, Seng bIQ’a’Hey SuvmeH nuHmey SuqDI’,
‘ej, Suvmo’, rInmoHDI’? Hegh. Qong — Qong neH —
‘ej QongDI’, tIq ‘oy’, wa’SanID Daw”e’ je
cho’nISbogh porghDaj rInmoHlaH net Har.
Translated by Nick Nicholas & Andrew Strader. KLI, 1995.
David Brown of the UK adds the following in e-mail correspondence (January 2007):
There is also dialogue from The Tempest spoken by Miranda and “Spock-Kollos” in the Original Series episode “Is There In Truth No Beauty” (itself a play on Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”). There may be wider links with The Tempest in this episode: e.g., the character of Miranda, and Kollos = Caliban (both horrendously ugly on the outside, but sympathetic underneath).
The final dialogue between Kirk and Miranda about the rose and the thorn also has a Shakespearian sound to it, as in Henry IV Part I: “Hath not thy rose a thorn…?” (II.iv).
Another one, from the Original Series: in “Plato’s Stepchildren” Kirk, while under the telekinetic power of the Platonians (sic) quotes from Sonnet 57: “Being your slave, what should I do but tend / Upon the hours and times of your desire?” (The Sci Fi channel is repeating the shows every night, so I can’t help noticing quotes from the Bard coming thick and fast!)