Shakespeare and Star Trek

Today I’ll be tracing the recurring themes and motifs that evolved from Shakespeare’s last solo play, “The Tempest,” and chart a course that explains the evolution of this play into the beloved Star Trek franchise.

The Roots of Star Trek in Shakespeare

  • Shakespeare’s The Tempest is based on a real story. As I said before, the story might have come from a traveler’s story about visiting the island of Bermuda in the early 1600s. The idea of Europeans going to an uncharted island, meeting the strange inhabitants, and ‘civilizing’ them, might have inspired Shakespeare to write the story of Prospero.
  • In addition to the Bermuda story, the age of English colonization had firmly begun at this time. The first English colony in America, Jamestown was settled in 1607, and The Tempest came out 1611.
  • At the same time, The King was worried about magic and trying to marry his daughter off to a prince.
  • Shakespeare wasn’t allowed to comment on contemporary issues, so instead of setting the play in England or even contemporary Europe, he set it on a fantastical island with spirits Prospero can control. His control becomes a metaphor for colonization. At the same time, we see a fantasy version of James’ daughter’s marriage in the romance between Ferdinand and Miranda. The motifs of discovering strange new worlds and encountering new races of people form the core of Star Trek and space-based science fiction in general, and an adaptation of The Tempest in the 1950s would set the template that the Enterprise and her crew would be built on.

“Forbidden planet”- The Tempest goes Sci-Fi

Forbidden Planet is a story about a dashing, adventurous captain, a curmudgeonly doctor, and a science officer who are from a United group of planets that peacefully searches for “brave new worlds,” and the people in them. Obviously, these characters are very similar to Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Spok, so clearly Star Trek owes its initial creation to the success of Forbidden Planet, which was a Sci-fi adaptation of the Tempest. The question then is if there is there more that we can say about the connection between Shakespeare and Star Trek.

Star Trek’s relationship with Shakespeare

The main connective tissue of Star Trek and The Tempest is the use of exotic locations and alien cultures to explore issues that were close to home. When people in 1600 went to see Hamlet Prince of Denmark they didn’t see an ancient legend of a Viking Prince as the original Amleth, written by Saxo Grammaticus; what they saw was a thoroughly modern story of a Renaissance Prince tackling theological issues that had only just been dreamt of by the English protestants; issues of predestination, issues of Calvinism, issues of the questions about the issue the existence of purgatory, etc. That would have been unheard of to the original audience of Prince Hamlet. The appeal was seeing a different place and time to retell an ancient legend that at the same time spoke to the present time of the 17th century. Star Trek does the same thing only looking to the future instead of the past.

Did any of TOS 5 year mission first contacts aliens show up in later Star  Trek episodes as Borg? - Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange

Like Star Trek, Shakespeare used exotic locations to examine issues that were universal, (no pun intended), issues that were very much for the consumption of his audience. Look at Star Trek; every alien race the Enterprise encounters is an allegory for some culture or idea on Earth, like the two-toned alien Lokai and Bele that represent segregation and racism, or the Klingons who represented the Soviet Union, or the Borg, who represent imperialism and authoritarianism, cults, and to a certain extent fascism,

In Star Trek, space-age technology was always secondary to character; it was always about fragmenting the human condition into different recognizable alien species. Through the characters of Dr. McCoy, Captain Kir, and Mr. Spok, Star Trek examines humanity through 3 distinct points of view; that of Kirk the wide-eyed Explorer, McCoy, the cynical doctor with a heart of gold, and the cold and logical Mr. Spock. As the series went on, the allegories to contemporary affairs grew more nuanced, like how in Star Trek 6, the conflict between the Federation and the Klingons represents the final days of the Soviet Union, and the fear on both sides of what a post-Cold War world would be like.

Star Trek The Next Generation: The Tempest, Reformed.

Why did the creators of Star Trek cast Patrick Stewart, the foremost Shakespearean actor of his time, to play the captain of the Enterprise? I would say it is because Shakespeare is a writer who follows some of the same tropes that Star Trek would later use, so the creators needed a Shakespearean actor to communicate these ideas to the audience.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation first came out in the mid-1980s; the lens through which we saw alien cultures changed significantly: Picard sees humanity and the universe through a sentimental lens; viewing all cultures with no concept of superiority or paternalism. Like Shakespeare, Picard sees these cultures as his own and all worthy of respect. That’s why these cultures are often drawn to him and embrace him as one of their own, such as in the episode where he literally lives the life of a man named Kamin on the now-dead planet of Katan, and becomes the only living man to pass on their stories:

Picard’s greatest antagonist Q is a warped mirror of Picard; somebody who sees humanity as a plaything but nonetheless is intrigued and fascinated by human nature:

Taken together, Picard and Q are like the two sides of Shakespeare’s Prospero in The Tempest. Simmilar to how Dr. Morbius represents Prospero’s ego in Forbidden Planet, Picard represents the superego- the part devoted to improving the lives of his crew and the aliens he helps, and who looks at each “brave new world,” he encounters with awe and respect.

Q however, is Prospero’s Id- a malevolent, cynical, vengeful man, (who like Prospero in the episode Deja Q, is actually banished from his rightful place in the Q Continuum). He torments and enslaves creatures for his own amusement and his curiosity about humanity is more morbid and sadistic than scientific or philosophical. With this in mind, it makes sense that Q has been such an enduring part of the Star Trek series since he is an essential component of the series’ psychological makeup.

Science fiction in general is about possibilities- looking at where we came from and where we are and asking questions about where we are going. Generally speaking, Shakespeare looked more to the past than the future, but his conclusions were pretty much the same- he saw “What a piece of work man is,” but also feared greatly for his survival. Star Trek takes these concepts and projects them out to the far future. Even though in the 24rth century humans have mastered space travel, eliminated poverty, and put aside petty prejudice, people are still people and the conflicts they have don’t change. What’s great about Star Trek is how well both choose to tell the eternal story of the human condition, looking before and after and making some truly profound discourse on what it means to be human. Perhaps the real final frontier is the same as the first- the human heart.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000: Hamlet

If you’ve never seen the show

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been on the air for over 20 years. The show originally aired in 1988 on KTMA TV in Eden Prairie MN. Since then it’s spawned over 13 seasons, (still going strong on Netflix), a huge cult following, and countless parodies in many versions of pop culture.The premise is that three guys watch bad movies and make sarcastic comments about the acting, sets, costumes, etc. The show thrives on meta-commentary, obscure references, and satirizing anything and anyone.

Crow T. Robot (Bill Corbit) trying to play the ghost of Mike’s father (Michael J. Nelson)

Full circle for the show

Kevin Murphy (right), as Fortinbras, who makes a brief appearance at the end of the episode, along with Bill Corbit and Mary Jo Pehl.

Kevin Murphy, one of the show’s creators actually had reservations of even doing the episode, as he is a big Shakespeare fan. This makes sense as I would argue that the very premise of the show lies in Shakespeare, and in particular, Hamlet. As I said in the last paragraph, the show thrives on reference humor, meta-commentary, and satire, and one person who loves that kind of humor is in fact, Shakespeare’s own drama critic- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

In Act III, Scene ii of Hamlet, there is a play within a play, where Hamlet sits back and makes sarcastic comments about how bad the production is:

Enter Prologue.

Hamlet. We shall know by this fellow. The players cannot keep counsel;
they’ll tell all.
Ophelia. Will he tell us what this show meant?2035
Hamlet. Ay, or any show that you’ll show him. Be not you asham’d to
show, he’ll not shame to tell you what it means.
Ophelia. You are naught, you are naught! I’ll mark the play.
Pro. For us, and for our tragedy,
Here stooping to your clemency,
We beg your hearing patiently. [Exit.]
Hamlet. Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?
Ophelia. ‘Tis brief, my lord.
Hamlet. As woman’s love.

Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii

If Hamlet had two robot companions, he’d essentially be doing an episode of the show!

Begin Murderer! Pox! Leave thy damnable faces and begin!

Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii.

So it’s an interesting kind of irony that after 13 years, MST3K finally got around to review the very source of their humor. Not only is Hamlet highly meta and satirical, Many educators, myself included, say that teaching Shakespeare with a healthy dose of irreverence is a good way to draw in new students and get them interested in the play:

Mystery Science Theater 3000’s “Hamlet ” episode reveals a common reaction to Hamlet that often goes unspoken by high school and college students too afraid to sound anti-intellectual. Despite this irreverent tone, however, this unique appropriation of Shakespeare adds to our understanding of a play that today very few read and even fewer see performed. As an author who reveled in making serious, yet sometimes playful, fun at human weakness, I think this respectful irreverence would have delighted the Bard were able to see it.

Dan Mills. “Mystery Science Theater 3000, Shakespeare, and Postmodern Canonization,” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, 17.2 (2015): 206-227.

3. Divisive episode

Poster for "Hamlet" 1961, starring Maxamillian Schell.
Original film artwork for “Hamlet”, 1961

This episode is somewhat controversial among the MST3K fandom. While almost everyone agrees it was a good idea for Mike and the bots to do Shakespeare, many fans question the choice to do this Shakespeare. The 1961 film was produced for German TV, and starred Maximillian Schell, (who would later win an Oscar for his performance in “Judgement at Nuremberg).”

First of all, the film is very slow and badly paced with no distinctive production choices. The sets and costumes are generic, (except for the Liberace-looking ghost), and the cinematography is competent but dull. Finally it’s Hamlet; the play that even Mike Nelson called “The greatest work of fiction ever written.” Even with the dreary set, the bad dubbing, and nonexistent pacing, it’s still a good story with magnificent dialogue, and the cast is still pretty good. Perhaps the ultimate backhanded compliment Mike Nelson and company could have handled is that even the worst production of Hamlet is very difficult to riff. Still, when the jokes land, they hit extremely well. Here are some of my favorites:

C’mon, man. We’ve seen like eight ghosts, none of ’em have been even close to my dad.

Rap artist, The Notorious K.I.N.G.”

Hamlet: To die: to sleep.
Crow: Yeah, that’s what we’re doing right now, Bub.

Hamlet: TO BE OR NOT TO BE…. and lose the name of action.

Mike: So I’m a chicken for not stabbing myself—that’s all you needed to say!

[Having stabbed an intruder behind Gertrude’s tapestry, Hamlet discovers it is not the King, but Polonius.]
Hamlet: Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool!
Crow [as Polonius]: Oh, right, it’s my fault you killed me.

My reaction

On the one hand, it’s great to watch the MST3K guys look at a piece of classic theater, especially since the show owes a lot to Shakespeare. That said, they never acknowledge this, not even during the play within a play scene. In addition, the critics are right that the film is so dreary it’s hard to make fun of. I would love to see how the bots and Mike riff on Branaugh or Gibson! Finally, maybe part of the problem was that Hamlet has already been riffed and mocked before. As the clip above from The Reduced Shakespeare Company shows, gently ribbing on the plot and characters of Hamlet has been done before. Once something becomes famous as the best or the worst, it becomes a target for mockery. I was hoping that my favorite riffers would have more fun riffing on the play that helped create their art form. That said, this show is a classic comedy series, and this episode always makes me smile.

Shakespeare on Riots

Today is March 15th, a day that history still bewares, because of the infamous day when armed, violent conspirators went to the Senate and attempted to overthrow elected rulers. For obvious reasons, this put me in mind of the heinous actions of another group of conspirators stormed another Senate and tried, unsuccessfully, to overthrow democracy.

January 6th, 2021 (which, coincidently, was Twelfth Night, one of my favorite Shakespeare-themed holidays), was a tragedy for multiple reasons. The protestors broke windows, destroyed furniture, defaced statues, broke into both chambers of Congress, and probably would have harmed lawmakers, in a violent protest of both the US presidential election and the Senate vote in Georgia that week.

Let me be clear, this was sedition and treason and everyone involved should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Anyone who says otherwise is blatantly attacking our cherished democracy, and spitting in the face of the rule of law. Unfortunately, Republicans in both chambers have been unwilling to condemn their actions for fear of alienating their base. If this is what the Republican party has come to, the party doesn’t deserve the name. A republic protects the right of the people to elect its representatives and dedicates itself to the peaceful transition of power. Left unchallenged, groups like this will bring anarchy and tyranny to our country.

How do I know this? Because it happened before. Shakespeare has long dramatized real historic events where people rise up against their governments (for better or worse). In all cases, whether protesting a famine, a war, or a cruel tyrannical usurper, the riots never accomplish anything except bringing chaos and bloodshed. Sometimes these ignorant rioters are goaded by charismatic powerful figures, but these upper-class characters are only exploiting the rioters, using their violence as a way to get power for themselves. So, let’s examine the language, tactics, and effects of rioters in three of Shakespeare’s plays: Julius Caesar, Henry VI Part III, and Sir Thomas More:

Example 1: Julius Caesar

George Ed Robertson Antony
(c) Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As I covered before in my “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” post, during Antony’s famous funeral speech, he galvanizes the Roman crowd, first to mourn Caesar, then to revenge his death. How do they do this? By burning the houses of the conspirators and rioting in the street. They even kill a man just because he has the same name as one of the conspirators:

What does this violence accomplish? Nothing. Caesar is still dead. Brutus is still alive (though on the run). Antony merely wished to punish Brutus, and get the mob to hate him while he secretly cheats them out of their money. In Act Four, Antony becomes the de facto ruler of Rome because he leveraged his performance at the funeral, and uses his newfound powers to take money away from the citizens that Caesar promised to give them in his will. He manipulated them for his own purposes and duped them for political power.

Example 2: Jack Cade in Henry VI, Part ii.

Henry VI is the only king in English history to be crowned twice, deposed twice, and buried twice (Saccio 91). As the play begins, King Henry has already lost France, lost his mind, and lost the respect of his people. Around 1455, John Hardyng wrote a contrast between Henry’s father and himself. He laments that Henry the Fifth died so soon and then exhorts Henry to keep the quarrelsome lords in his government from warring among themselves.

Withstand, good lord, the outbreak of debates.
And chastise well also the rioters
Who in each shire are now confederates
Against your peace, and all their maintainers
For truly else will fall the fairest flowers
Of your great crown and noble monarchy
Which God defend and keep through his mercy.

(Excerpt from Harding’s Chronicle, English Historical Documents, 274).

Henry’s political ineptness was why Richard of York challenged his claim to the throne. Though Richard had little legal claim as king, he believed himself to be better than Henry.

In Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Part ii, York tries to get the people’s support by engineering a crisis that he can easily solve. York dupes a man named Jack Cade to start a riot in London and demand that the magistrates crown Cade as the true king.

Biography of Richard, Duke of York, who challenged King Henry VI for his right to be king.

York and Cade start a conspiracy theory that Cade is the true heir to the throne and the royal family suppressed his claim and lied about his identity. Cade starts calling himself John Mortimer, a distant uncle of the king whom York himself admits is long dead:

The Royal National Theater’s production of Henry VI, Parts II, and 7. Jack Cade appears at about the 7-minute mark.
And this fell tempest shall not cease to rage
Until the golden circuit on my head,
Like to the glorious sun's transparent beams,
Do calm the fury of this mad-bred flaw.
And, for a minister of my intent,
I have seduced a headstrong Kentishman,
John Cade of Ashford,
To make commotion, as full well he can,
Under the title of John Mortimer.

Just like Cade and his rebels, the January 6th rioters were motivated by lies and conspiracies designed to crush their faith in their legitimate ruler. Even more disturbing, these rioters are pawns in the master plan of a corrupt political group. York doesn’t care that Cade isn’t the real king; he just wants to use Cade’s violence as an excuse to raise an army, one that he can eventually use against King Henry himself.

15th century woodcut from the War Of the Roses.

Similar to York’s lies and conspiracy-mongering, many Republicans have refused to accept the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election, and some are actual proponents of Q Anon conspiracies!

A lot of Republicans deserve blame for fanning the flames of rebellion on January 6th, but arguably former President Trump deserves most of the blame. Even Rush Limbaugh admitted that Trump spread a huge amount of conspiracy theories without believing in any of them. He does this because he wants Americans to be afraid of imaginary threats that he claims he can solve. What’s easier to solve than a problem that doesn’t exist? Much like York, Trump tried to hold onto power by pressuring his supporters to pressure the Capital, feeding them lies about election fraud, and a secret democratic Satanic cult. Thus radicalized, they resolved to do what Cade’s mob did: “Kill all the lawyers.” Unfortunately, there are a lot of lawyers in the Senate.

As Dick the Butcher points out, most people don’t actually believe Cade is truly John Mortimer, they are just so angry at the king and the oppressive English government, that they are willing to follow him in a violent mob to take their vengeance upon the monarchy. This is why they try Lord Saye and execute him just for the crime of reading and writing! Similarly, the mob attacking the capital was made up of die-hard conspiracy adherents, and people just angry at the Democratic Party.

Like I said before, Cade and his mob is just a pawn in the machinations of York. Eventually the king’s enforcer, Lord Clifford convinces most of them to abandon Cade, and Cade himself dies a humiliating death- on the run from the law and starving, Cade is murdered by a farmer after trying to steal some food. After Joe Biden became the 46th President, many of the conspiracy group Q-Anon, who had many prominent members in the January 6th riot, began to disbelieve and abandon the conspiracies of the group. However, as this news story shows, some Q-Anon supporters are die-hard adherents and will never abandon their conspiracy theories, and some, like York’s supporters, are being recruited by other extreme groups. Sadly, as York shows, sometimes a riot is a rehearsal for another riot. In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III, York finally amasses an army and challenges the Lancastrians in all-out war. Hopefully, the US government will hunt down and arrest these violent insurrectionists before they have the chance to do the same.

Example 3: Sir Thomas More

In the unfinished play “Sir Thomas More, a racist mob again attempts to attack London. This time they have no political pretenses; they want to lynch immigrants who they believe are taking English jobs. As I said in my “Who Would Shakespeare Vote For?” post, More’s speech is a perfect explanation of why this behavior cheapens and denigrated a country’s image, and weakens its ability to command respect from the rest of the world. Last time I posted a video of Sir Ian McKellen speaking this speech, but this time.. well just watch:

Play Review: “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars”

Illustration from William Shakespeare's Star Wars
Illustration from “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars”

Play review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Since Monday was May the Fourth, and since I got some encouraging comments about the previous post, I’m happy to review one of the most interesting Shakespeare spin-offs I’ve ever encountered: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher. For those of you who haven’t heard of this play, it’s basically the script of Star Wars put into Shakespearean verse. The writer clearly loves both Shakespeare and Star Wars, and puts lots of cheeky Shakespearean references in the text, such as Luke Skywalker parodying Hamlet as he steals a Stormtrooper’s uniform and Yorrick-like, holds up the helmet to his face:

“Alas poor Stormtrooper, I knew ye not,” (Doescher IV, vi, 1) The play lends itself perfectly for performance in an Elizabethan playhouse with its sparse stage directions and an Elizabethan chorus that comments on the action and tells the audience whenever action occurs offstage, such as when the Death Star gunners prepare their mighty laser to destroy the planet Alderon. I certainly got a kick out of reading this play since I too am a huge Shakespeare/ Star Wars fan. However, since this blog is meant to help us learn and appreciate Shakespeare, the question is, does this play have any value to Shakespearean students? At first I wasn’t sure, but now I say yes!

Before I read the play, I was a little apprehensive as I’ve seen Shakespearean gimmicks fall flat before; I once saw a dreadful production of Macbeth where the whole cast was made up to look like zombies for absolutely no purpose except to cash in on the zombie fad. So at first, I wondered, “Why bother translate Star Wars into Shakespearean language”? As I read on though, I realized what the author had done was give readers a rare glimpse into how Shakespeare himself wrote.

This helps prove one thing I’ve always felt about teaching Shakespeare- parody and gentle satire are a great way to deconstruct his plays into something a little easier to grasp. As I said before, Doescher’s play is full of tiny bite-size portions of real Shakespearean dialogue that allow you to digest some of The Bard’s most famous lines. Also, he’s following the same ‘recipe’ Shakespeare used in his plays and speeches, so I’m going to deconstruct some of the Shakespearean elements that Doescher employed to concoct this Shakespeare/Sci-fi classic hybrid. I’ll focus on the first play in the series: Verily A New Hope, but you can find these components in all of the plays in the Star Wars Saga.

  1. Iambic pentameter- the most obvious difference between the original Star wars is that Doescher took the dialogue and put it into the same poetic meter Shakespeare used. For those who don’t know, Iambic pentameter is a kind of unrhymed poetry with 10 syllables per line. Each line also has 5 stressed beats that strike like a heart beat- Da DUM Da DUM Da DUM Da DUM Da DUM. To keep the emphasis on the right syllables, sometimes the writer has to shift the syntax or add and subtract words to get them to fit. This is why instead of the famous: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” the Prologue at the beginning says:

“ In time so long ago begins our play,

In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.”

Doescher’s time-consuming process of translating a prose movie script into blank verse poetry is exactly Shakespeare did when he wrote his plays, only instead of movie scripts, he took the chronicles of English history to become Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, and many others. With all the work involved in crafting poetry like this, it’s no wonder he didn’t have time to think up an original story!

  1. Telling the audience what you’re doing- As I said last week, one thing to keep in mind when you read Shakespeare is that his plays were performed outdoors with no microphones, in an audience of nearly 3,000 people! It must have been extremely hard to see or hear the action onstage. Shakespeare tried to solve this problem by having characters announce what they’re doing, which would be tedious, if he didn’t also know how to spice up the dialogue with lines that reveal the character’s emotional state, like when Lord Capulet says: “My fingers itch,” to warn his daughter he’s about to hit her. Doescher captures this extremely well in the speech where Vader lifts up the Rebel Leader and begins to choke him to death:

I turn to thee, thou rebel. Aye, I lift

Thy head above my own. Thou canst now choose

To keep thy secrets lock’d safe in that head

Or else to keep thy head, and thus thy life (Doescher I, ii 6-10).

This passage explains to the reader or playgoer that Vader has lifted the man over his head, (demonstrating his cruelty and his strength), and subtly plays on the fact that Vader is looking at his head, wants the knowledge in his head, and will crush his head if the Rebel doesn’t cooperate. Shakespeare’s Richard III makes a similar threat: “Villain, set down the corpse, or by St. Paul, I’ll make a corpse of him that disobeys!”

  1. The Aside One thing Shakespeare does that few modern writers ever do is have characters talk directly to the audience; thus establishing an intimate relationship between you and a person who is confiding their secrets in you. The most striking example of this in Shakespeare’s Star Wars is R2D2, who in the movie never spoke at all, but made cute little electronic beeps and whirrs. Having R2 speak gives the reader an unexpected closeness because R2 never speaks to anyone else.
  2. Personification Shakespeare is really good at finding a clever visual metaphor for an abstract idea, and will write speeches or dialogue where characters explore the nature of that idea, a meditation if you will. One of my favorite examples from Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the scene in which Luke and his uncle debate about whether Luke will stay on the farm. Luke compares himself to a bird that’s trying to fly away, while his uncle uses farm metaphors to try and keep him to stay:

OWEN: Wilt thou here in the desert yet desert? Tis only one more season.

LUKE: Now cracks a hopeful heart, when by the land,

A man’s ambitions firmly grounded are:

So shall a bird ne’er learn to fly or soar

When wings are clipp’d by crops and roots and soil.

It’s really very clever the way Doescher mimicks Shakespeare’s wordplay here. Luke is like a bird because he’s a pilot and longs to fly. Owen is a farmer on a desert and is worried about Luke deserting him. We get a clear picture of their relationship from this scene.

  1. Chorus Shakespeare sometimes uses a Chorus to tell us what is going on in plays where the location shifts from place to place- it’s a time honored device in epic storytelling. Nowadays we use a Chorus too, we just call it a Narrator. The difference is that a Chorus also can explain the tone and the mood of the action onstage, so that you can imagine it in your own mind. Take a look at this passage where the chorus describes the famous Star Wars Cantina:

Now mark thee well, good viewer, what you see,

The creatures gather round the central bar

While hammerheads and hornéd monsters talk.

A band composed of aliens bizarre:

This is the great cantina- thou may’st gawk! (III, I, 45-49).

You can see how, unlike a narrator who would just tell you there are a bunch of aliens here, the Chorus describes the sights and sounds of the bar so you can imagine it yourself. The Chorus in Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth explicitly states that the audience needs to use their imagination to fill out the story of Henry’s conquest of France.

  1. The soliloquy A soliloquy is a speech spoken by a character alone on stage. It often has to do with a complex dilemma such as Hamlet’s “To Be Or Not To Be.”

In Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Luke and Vader have the most soliloquis and with good reason- they have the most complicated emotional journeys- Luke goes from a simple farmboy from Tatooine to a Jedi Knight, while Vader goes from a Jedi to a Sith to a father. Shakespeare’s greatest power is his ability to put complex emotional journeys like these into speeches that the characters share right with us. I loved both these speeches too much to choose, so I’m going to talk about of both. The first is a soliloquy Vader speaks after he kills the Rebel leader:

And so another dies by my own hand,

This hand, which now encas’d in blackness is

O that the fingers of this wretched hand

Had not the pain of suffring ever known. Droescher I.ii, 27-30

This speech reminds me very much of Richard III, one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains. Richard, like Vader, has his life story told in 6 installments where he slowly becomes an evil mastermind. The images of this speech conjure up parts of Vader’s life story: how he lost his hand in Episode II and now has a robotic hand in a black glove. The speech also conjures the fact that his master the Emperor is able to shoot lightning from his hands, and of course, how Vader himself is able to kill by merely gesturing with his hand. Richard has a speech where he talks about all the people he’s killed to become king, and how he now has to kill even more to stay king:

I must be married to my brother’s daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass.
Murder her brothers, and then marry her!
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin:
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye (Richard III, Act IV, Scene i)

Luke has another speech where he talks about his destiny staring at the twin suns of Tatooine, but I won’t spoil that one for you! Needless to say, it’s awesome. I bring it up because In the movie, it was John Williams’ job to literally underscore Luke’s emotions as the music swelled. Shakespeare’s gift on the other hand was to put powerful emotions and thoughts into carefully composed soliloquys that sound like music when spoken well.

So as you can see, the author’s loving parody of Shakespeare allows us a rare glimpse of how the Bard wrote; his cleverness at adapting stories, his use of verse, wordplay, metaphor, personification, choruses, and his unique ability to write characters that talk to us as if we were in on their deepest secrets.

By the way, if you’re still unconvinced on this play’s educational value, check out this link to their educational website: