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Shakespeare in Klingon

In recognition of First Contact Day, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust commemorates first contact between outer space and William Shakespeare.

Kelsey Ridge
Hamlet in Klingon

One of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's more remarkable texts is Hamlet, restored to the original Klingon, written by Nick Nicholas and Andrew Strader as part of the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project of the Klingon Language Institute. This project seeks to restore the original Klingon texts of the writer Wil’yam Shex’pir, whose works through Federation propaganda were claimed to have been written by a “conveniently remote medieval Terran.”  The Restoration has also restored Much Ado About Nothing to paghmo' tIn mIS (lit. The Confusion Is Great Because of Nothing.)

The Restoration project draws its inspiration from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when Chancellor Gorkon remarks “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”  General Chang, who understands Khamlet as a play about the dangers of a weakened and ineffectual society, quotes a portion of the play important to Terrans, though not the most important speech to a Klingon audience. The Klingon Language Institute's director, Lawrence M. Schoen, notes about Gorkon's comment: “Nobody blinks. Which can only be interpreted to mean that everybody agreed with what he said.”

Hamlet in Klingon

The Klingon language used in these translations was invented for the Star Trek franchise by linguist Marc Okrand, known in some circles for his work on Native American languages and in other circles for the creation of Atlantean and Klingon.  The language, guttural and direct, draws on Native American languages, Chinese, and some South Asian dialects, as well as Okrand’s imagination.

Star Trek VI was meant to involve a great deal of Shakespeare both in English and Klingon, for which Marc Okrand provided translations.  However, by the time they began to film, the original Klingon had to be returned to English or cut. The director asked Okrand for the Klingon for “To be or not to be.” The problem: Klingon had no infinitive “to be.” Okrand settled on the translation, “yIn pagh yInbe,” “to live or not live,” and he was sent to the actor playing General Chang, to teach him the line. The actor was none other than veteran Shakespearian Christopher Plummer. Plummer found the suggested translation “a little too timid,” and requested a change. Okrand eventually upgraded the verb suffix "taH", meaning "to continue doing", into a verb, and so Shakespeare was re-born: “To continue or not to continue, to go on or not to go on.”

Hamlet in Klingon
A portrait of Shex’pir

This text includes prefatory materials explaining the history of the Terran propaganda claiming Shakespeare as one of their own, the cultural unrest present in the Klingon Empire when Shex’pir wrote Khamlet and his other works, and an analysis of how the play reflects Klingon values and comments on Klingon society. It also includes a portrait of Shex’pir, complete with a ridged forehead, by Gennie Summers and a dedication to Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek), who “may or may not have approved of what we’ve done, but we hope he’d have liked it in either case.”

Nicholas’ and Strader’s translation has indeed been performed.  Excerpts from the Klingon Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing were performed as a fundraiser by the Washington Shakespeare Company where Marc Okrand served as chairman.  Klingon Hamlet was also performed in its entirety by Commedia Beauregard, the theatre company also known for their Klingon Christmas Carol.  It posed one particular challenge: prior to working on the production, most of their cast, including their Hamlet, did not speak any Klingon. That, however, proved no bar to a successful performance.

This translation boldly goes where no one has gone before.

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