While Star Trek may be set in the twenty-second century and beyond, humanity still maintains a proud connection to its greatest historical achievements. This includes the literary work of William Shakespeare, which is alluded to throughout the Franchise’s history.
One way that Earth’s most famous Bard is honored is through the titles of certain Trek episodes. Here are ten Star Trek episodes with titles that allude to the work of Shakespeare.
All Our Yesterdays – The Original Series
The Star Trek: The Original Series season 3 episode “All Our Yesterdays” has a title taken from Macbeth Act 5 Scene VII, from the titular character’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech. This fertile dialogue also inspired the titles of many non-Trek works. These include one of William Faulkner’s most well-known novels, The Sound and the Fury, and Signifying Rappers by David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello.
In the TOS episode, the penultimate episode of the third season, the title is used to refer to the fact that Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Bones (DeForest Kelly), and Kirk (William Shatner) are trapped in two different eras of the doomed planet Sarpeidon’s past.
How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth – The Animated Series
There are many allusions to Earth’s history in the Star Trek: The Animated Series season 2 episode “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth.” These include the title, taken from Act 1 Scene IV of King Lear. They also include the fact that the alien entity they encounter claims to be Kukulkan, an ancient Earth deity.
In King Lear, the eponymous King states, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / To have a thankless child!” The line refers to the experience of having ungrateful offspring. The title of the penultimate episode of TAS season 2 parallels this meaning closely. Kukulkan feels like a parental figure to humanity. He is alarmed to learn that humans have outgrown the need to worship such deities and views them as ungrateful.
Sins of the Father – The Next Generation
The Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3 episode “Sins of the Father” may be a Biblical reference, but it’s one of the many pieces that Shakespeare borrowed when weaving his vast literary tapestry. In the opening line of The Merchant of Venice Act 5 Scene I, Launcelot states that “the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”
Another TNG episode with a title that alludes to Shakespeare is season 7’s “Thine Own Self.” Taken from Hamlet Act I Scene 3, the oft-quoted line is spoken by Polonius. While the statement is usually used to urge people to “be themselves,” added context from the play makes it a more dubious assertion than it might at first appear. In the context of the TNG episode, this could allude to the fact that a power surge overloads Data’s positronic brain. As a result, he spends the episode believing he is someone he is not.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Shakespeare appears all over the Star Trek canon. However, 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country might hold the most references. The title itself alludes to a line from Hamlet‘s most famous soliloquy, from Act III Scene 1. But that is far from the only Shakespearian reference in the movie.
Beginning with the dinner table scene, The Undiscovered Country is filled with references in dialogue to Shakespeare. These include the movie’s villain, Chang (Christopher Plummer), asserting that you cannot experience Shakespeare “until you have read him in the original Klingon.” Just one of many additional examples is Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) making reference to “a brave new world,” a phrase taken from The Tempest Act 5 Scene I.
In his soliloquy, Hamlet is alluding to the afterlife when he refers to the “undiscover’d country.” This hints at the fact that this is the final big screen voyage for Kirk’s Enterprise crew.
Once More Unto the Breach – Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 7 episode 7, “Once More Unto the Breach,” features not just a Shakespearian title, but the original Klingon himself, Kor (John Colicos). After portraying the very first lead Klingon in Trek, Kor, in the 1967 episode “Errand of Mercy,” Colicos reprised the role in 1998 for DS9. The title, taken from the opening line of King Henry V Act II Scene 4, embodies the eponymous King’s attempt to inspire his troops into battle. This works for the DS9 episode on multiple levels, including the return Colicos made to the Franchise after so many years away.
Another DS9 episode with a title taken from Shakespeare is season 7’s “The Dogs of War.” This line comes from Julius Caesar Act III Scene 2, in which Mark Antony states, “Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.” The line was also alluded to in dialogue by Chang in The Undiscovered Country. It was then referred to by Captain Dorg (Colton Dunn) in the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode “wej Duj,” the only Trek title to be presented in the original Klingon.
Mortal Coil – Voyager
In the Star Trek: Voyager season 4 episode “Mortal Coil” alludes to Hamlet‘s Act 3 Scene I soliloquy. The eponymous Prince of Denmark makes a statement about having “shuffled off this mortal coil,” meaning to have died.
In this episode, Neelix (Ethan Phillips) dies for 19 hours before being revived. His failure to recall experiencing an afterlife during this period causes him to have a crisis of faith. The is ultimately resolved thanks to Naomi Wildman (Brooke Stephens), a young human who Neelix mentors, affording his life meaning in spite of its finite nature.
Such Sweet Sorrow – Discovery
The Star Trek: Discovery season 2 two-part finale, “Such Sweet Sorrow,” pays homage to one of the most well-known lines in all of Shakespeare’s work. Taken from Act II Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, the line is spoken by Juliet during the famous balcony scene. While the season finale saw Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) leaving Spock (Ethan Peck), Pike (Anson Mount), and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) behind. The sorrow is sweet because as audience members, we will meet them in their spin-off.
Another Disco episode that takes its title from Shakespeare is season 1 episode 13, “What’s Past is Prologue.” This line is taken from Sebastian’s dialogue in Act II Scene 1 of The Tempest, reputed to be Shakespeare’s final play. Such sweet sorrow, indeed.
Where Pleasant Fountains Lie – Lower Decks
The Lower Decks season 2 episode “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” alludes to one of Shakespeare’s many bawdy lines. This title is adapted from the poem Venus and Adonis, which contains the quote “where the pleasant fountains lie.” The stanza features a metaphor in which the speaker implores her lover to head lower if kisses on the mouth prove too “dry.”
But that isn’t the only bawdy Shakespearian allusion to make its way into a title of a Lower Decks episode. Season 1’s “Much Ado About Boimler” alludes to the title of the play Much Ado About Nothing. Interestingly, the wordplay in both of these references alludes to the same part of human anatomy. Now that’s boldly going for some second contact!
A Quality of Mercy – Strange New Worlds
The season 1 finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, “A Quality of Mercy,” may allude to Portia’s Act IV Scene 1 speech about “the quality of mercy” in A Merchant of Venice. Her speech represents a disguised Portia’s futile attempt to appeal to Shylock’s morality.
In the SNW episode, a “What If…?” story shows us the events of TOS season 1’s “Balance of Terror” with Pike in command of the Enterprise instead of Kirk. By contrast to Kirk’s actions in the TOS episode, Pike plays the role of a Portia surrogate in “A Quality of Mercy.” This is because he makes a futile attempt to appear to the better nature of those on the opposite side of the negotiation table.
All the World’s a Stage – Prodigy
All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances; / And one man in his time plays many parts[.]
These lines could refer to the theatrical nature of the Enderprizian society. But they could also allude to the intergenerational thematic concerns that are at the heart of Prodigy‘s storytelling.
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