The Bard and the bridge of the Enterprise (or Why a Scifi Nerd Loves Shakespeare)

Yesterday I announced my New Year’s resolution to read the complete works of Shakespeare in 2012. Two points to clear up about that: what Shakespeare has to do with my science/science fiction/fantasy nerdiness and the story of what lead to my resolution. When I said you could blame it on Charlie Rose and his series of shows called “Why Shakespeare?” that wasn’t entirely fair. You’d also have to blame it on Star Trek and my great Aunt Fritzie.

The Bard got his hooks in me at an early age. It all started becauseMiniature volume of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew we had this set of miniature books in our house. Still have them. (Picture at right.) I would pick them up and examine them long before I could read a word on their pages just because of their size. I thought, “If they’re so small they must be made for kids.” Also, their covers were interesting: each book bound in a different color and texture of leather. Then, inside, filmy thin pages like those in my Bible so I thought they must be important books. My mom told me I could look at them if I was careful. The set had been given to her by my great Aunt Fritzie who at one time worked as a cook for the Barrymores.  I had no idea who the Barrymores were or why there was an illustration the beginning of each book showing a young, but balding man with ruffles around his neck. I didn’t really care; I just wanted to be able to read the little books. Once or twice a year, I would try to read one of them, but even after I’d learned to read well in school, I couldn’t make heads not tails of what was going on in those pages. (FYI: the Barrymores mentioned were Drew Barrymore’s grandparents. Her grandfather John Barrymore, noted for his stage portrayals of Hamlet and Richard III.)

Third grade, fourth grade fifth grade, still not much luck. I knew each of the little books contained one of Shakespeare’s plays, but aside from the titles and figuring out that dramatis personae was the list of characters, the contents remained a mystery. Then…

Star Trek. First show I begged my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch. Little did I know that while glued to the TV set following the voyages of the starship Enterprise, the Bard was beginning to seep into my brain. As Duane Morin wrote in his Shakespeare Geek blog, “Every good geek knows that Star Trek is loaded with Shakespeare references.” “Dagger of the Mind,” “Conscience of the King,” “All Our Yesterdays,” “By Any Other Name” —all episode titles from the original series and all references to Shakespeare.  The trend continued in the movies. The title Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country refers to Hamlet’s famous “to be or note to be” soliloquy: “…the dread of something after death,/The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn/No Traveller returns…”

So fellow nerds, the Bard’s probably already got his hooks in you, too. Next time you quote Star Trek, remember you just may be quoting Shakespeare.

By the time Star Trek the Next Generation arrived, I’d read many of the Bard’s plays, see most of the film versions, even caught a few stage performances. Watching the first episode of STTNG, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the new series, but I was willing to give it a try because of Picard’s love of both Shakespearean drama and “tea, hot, Earl Grey” —both loves of mine. In short, a perfect circle: Star Trek leading to my love of Shakespeare, Shakespeare leading me back to Star Trek.

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