Shakespeare and Star Trek
The Star Trek franchise, begun in 1965, has frequently included stories inspired by and alluding to the works of William Shakespeare. The science fiction franchise includes television series, films, comic books, novels and games, and has material both Star Trek canon and non-canon. Many of the actors involved have been part of Shakespearean productions, including Patrick Stewart and Christopher Plummer.
Shakespeare's work has a strong presence in the Star Trek universe.:20:74 There are several opinions on why this is, and a 1995 issue of Extrapolation was dedicated to the subject. Suggestions and speculation include the creators' appreciation of, and pleasure in, these works; their inclusion may also signal that something is "high culture", "elitist", or "repressive". The character Jean-Luc Picard (Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart) argues that Shakespeare provides moving insights into the human condition.:223–4:15
According to Shakespearean scholar Craig Dionne, Star Trek's use of Shakespeare "mirrors a long and largely unexamined aspect of Shakespeare's 'common place' in American culture".:182 Shakespearean scholar Brandon Christopher argues that "'Shakespeare' for Star Trek should be understood not simply as a collection of culturally valued texts but as emblematic of a nineteenth-century ethos of Anglo-American world dominance repackaged for a 1980s audience.":238
The Original Series
Shatner: Well, I can't play Calpurnia (laughs). I thought I'd get Sharon Stone for that.
Mark: She actually could be difficult to get.
Shatner: Then we'll get Heather Locklear. I know her.
Mark: If you play both Caesar and Brutus, won't you have to stab yourself in the back?
Star Trek began in 1965 and used Shakespeare's works as one of many "preexisting motifs", including gangsters, the Old West, and Greco-Roman mythology.:9 William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, had previously acted in several Shakespearean plays, including Julius Caesar as Mark Antony.:246 When Shakespearean actor Christopher Plummer in the mid-1950s played the title role in Henry V in Stratford, Ontario, Shatner was his understudy, and successfully filled in for him one night when he was ill.:3 According to Shatner, that was the night he knew he was an actor. His 1968 album The Transformed Man included readings from Shakespearean plays.:20
Kirk says that Shakespeare is his favorite author.:230 The episodes "The Conscience of the King" and "Catspaw" included scenes from Shakespearean plays.:176:223 In "Requiem for Methuselah" the immortal Flint possesses a First Folio. The titles of the episodes "All Our Yesterdays," "By Any Other Name," "The Conscience of the King," and "Dagger of the Mind" are all lines from Shakespeare.
The subtitle of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) is also a Shakespeare line, from Hamlet.[a] In this film, the Klingons appreciate Shakespeare to the degree that they have decided that the playwright himself was a Klingon, and General Chang (Christopher Plummer), the film's antagonist, quotes him extensively. Shakespeare scholar Kay H. Smith says "Everybody in our ever-widening English-speaking world is expected to recognize a little Shakespeare, and Star Trek VI makes it easy by assigning almost all the quotations to one character, so we can all play the game," and that combining high and low culture can be fruitful as well as problematic.:141,148
Like several of Shakespeare's tragic heroes, Chang is a "military aristocrat",:36 and Plummer reprised the role in the computer game Star Trek: Klingon Academy (2000), where Chang gives the player's missions Shakespearean names. In the film, while attacking the Enterprise, Chang's Shakespeare quotations become so abundant that Leonard McCoy exclaims "I'd give real money if he'd shut up!" According to Smith, McCoy echoes the feelings of those in the audience who have experienced bad performances, bad teachers, and a "cultural establishment that insists on defending the cause of Shakespearean hegemony while simultaneously commodifying it." She says that Plummer's Chang has potential to be a great villain like Richard III, but falls short and becomes flat.:140–141
The film inspired the creation of The Klingon Hamlet (2000), a translation of Hamlet into the constructed Klingon language. Parts of it have been performed by the Washington Shakespeare Company. Much Ado About Nothing has also been translated.:178
The Next Generation
When Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) began in 1987, Patrick Stewart was referred to as an "unknown British Shakespearean actor" by the Los Angeles Times. TNG actor Brent Spiner put this "title" on a sign and hung it on Stewart's trailer door. Stewart's Shakespearean background was one aspect that made Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek's creator, consider him for the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Stewart, a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) 1966–1982, has said: "All the time I spent sitting around on the thrones of England as various Shakespearean kings was nothing but a preparation for sitting in the captain's chair on the Enterprise".:74
Picard keeps a collection of Shakespeare's work titled The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare, and this book is seen frequently throughout the series. It reappeared when Stewart returned to the role in Star Trek: Picard in 2020. The android Data has his own book of Shakespeare's work. Picard often quotes Shakespeare, for example when dealing with the powerful entity Q (played by John de Lancie, himself a member of the American Shakespeare Festival).:235:105
The episodes "The Defector" and "Emergence" included scenes from Shakespearean plays. In "The Defector", Stewart plays Michael Williams from Henry V as well as Picard. Spiner's character Data plays Henry V and Prospero, respectively. In "The Defector", Picard tells him: "Data, you're here to learn about the human condition and there is no better way of doing that than by embracing Shakespeare". Later in the episode, Picard asks Data about the crew's morale, since Picard, unlike Henry V, cannot easily walk disguised among the crew and gauge it himself.:223,231–234:236 In "Time's Arrow", part 2, Picard and an away team have travelled back in time to the 19th century. Picard attempts to persuade a landlady that they are, in fact, a group of actors performing A Midsummer Night's Dream.:245 In "Ménage à Troi", he has to woo Lwaxana Troi with romantic Shakespearean speech.:102:144
David Warner, who had appeared in Star Trek V and VI, played a character who tortures Picard in "Chain of Command". Stewart and Warner had met and become friends when Stewart joined the RSC in the 1960s, and one of Stewart's reasons for joining was having seen a Hamlet production with Warner in the title role.
In Diane Duane's novel Dark Mirror, Picard encounters literature from the brutal Mirror Universe. He finds Shakespeare "horribly changed in all but the parts that were already horrible". In The Merchant of Venice, Portia successfully argues for Shylock's right to a pound of flesh. Titus Andronicus, Macbeth and King Lear, however, are mostly unchanged.
Deep Space Nine
Bashir: Garak, Shakespeare is one of the giants of human literature.
Avery Brooks was an experienced Shakespearean actor before playing Commander/Captain Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9, 1993).:246 In 2005 he played the title role of Othello. Eight years earlier Stewart had played that role at the same stage in Washington, D.C., in a production that reversed the racial roles of Othello and Iago.:3 René Auberjonois (who plays Odo in DS9) said that "Actors with a background in the larger-than-life works of Shakespeare — or even musical comedy — adapt easily to non-real characters and bring a sense of truth to them". Actor Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir) stated that everyone in the DS9 cast had done more Shakespeare than he had had hot dinners.:22
Robert O'Reilly (the Klingon Gowron in TNG and DS9) said that doing a lot of Shakespeare was helpful for playing a Klingon. Richard Herd, who played another Klingon, agreed that he found his character very Shakespearean.
In the episode "Improbable Cause", the characters Garak and Julian Bashir discuss the merits of Shakespeare and Julius Caesar, Garak being very skeptical. However, he quotes the play in the following episode, "The Die Is Cast", showing new understanding.:234–235
Shakespeare is mostly absent in Star Trek: Voyager (1995) and Star Trek: Enterprise (2001). The Voyager episode "Mortal Coil " is named after a line in Hamlet. In the Enterprise episode "Cogenitor", an alien captain receives a gift of Earth literature, including Shakespeare.:107
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