The Klingon Hamlet
|Author||William Shakespeare (original story)|
|Original title||Hamlet Prince of Denmark: The Restored Klingon Version|
|Cover artist||Phil Foglio|
|Language||English / Klingon|
The Klingon Hamlet (full title: The Tragedy of Khamlet, Son of the Emperor of Qo'noS) is a translation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet into Klingon, a constructed language first appearing in the television series Star Trek.
The play was translated over several years by Nick Nicholas and Andrew Strader of the "Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project", with feedback and editorial assistance from Mark Shoulson, d'Armond Speers, and Will Martin. The impetus for the project came from a line from the motion picture Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in which the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon stated, "You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon." According to a disclaimer, the project is written in a satirical style implied by Chancellor Gorkon's quote — that Shakespeare was actually a Klingon (named "Wil'yam Sheq'spir") writing about an attempted coup in the Klingon empire.
In a scene from the film Star Trek VI a dinner is held for the Klingon chancellor, Gorkon. He makes a toast to "the undiscovered country...the future". Spock, recognising the quotation, responds, "Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1", to which Gorkon replies with his statement about the "original" Klingon text of Shakespeare. Though Gorkon does not quote from the "original" Klingon text, another character, Chang quotes the Klingon words "taH pagh taHbe'" (To be, or not to be). The film is filled with other quotations and references to Shakespeare.
The film's director Nicholas Meyer said the idea for having the Klingons claim Shakespeare as their own was based on Nazi Germany's attempt to claim the Bard as German before World War II. A similar scene appears in the wartime British film "Pimpernel" Smith (1941) in which a German general quotes Shakespeare, saying “'To be or not to be', as our great German poet said." The idea had also already been used by Vladimir Nabokov in his novel Pnin, the eponymous hero of which taught his American college class that Shakespeare was much more moving "in the original Russian."
Style and format
The English version of the play appears alongside its "original Klingon" text. The "original Klingon" version differs from the English version in ways that reflect the play's history as supposedly originating from Klingon culture. Reference sections in the book show how literal translations of the Klingon body text have had to be "adapted" to make it intelligible for human readers in the supposedly "translated" English version.
The introduction adopts a faux-academic style, explaining that Klingon origin of the play is evident from the fact that the plot is based on predominantly Klingon themes and motifs as opposed to human themes and motifs. Human culture was too primitive to have produced such a work during the time period in which it is set. A comparison of the "spontaneous, direct and vibrant verse" of the Klingon version with the "flaccid, ponderous convoluted meanderings" of the English version, make it obvious that the latter is a derivative work. The introduction also claims that the notion that Shakespeare was a human poet living in the late 16th century was invented after the United Federation of Planets instigated a large propaganda campaign in order to rally the human population against Klingons, "hoping by this falsification of history to discredit the achievements of Klingon culture".
- Smith, Kay (2004). "Hamlet, Part Eight, The Revenge or Sampling Shakespeare in a Postmodern World". College Literature 31 (4): 137.
- Nicholas Meyer; Denny Flinn. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Special Collectors Edition: Audio Commentary (DVD; Disc 1/2). Paramount Pictures.
- Barbara Hodgdon, W. B. Worthen, A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance, John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p.443.
- Introduction, The Klingon Hamlet: Star Trek All Series, Simon and Schuster, 2012.
- KLI Projects