Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

"The heavens speed thee in thine Enterprise!": Shakespeare in Star Trek

Patrick Stewart in Star Trek
Patrick Stewart in Star Trek
Star Trek

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Shown from left: David Warner (as Chancellor Gorkon), Christopher Plummer (as General Chang), William Shatner (as Captain James T. Kirk), Walter Koenig, Leonard Nimoy (as Captain Spock), Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan. Paramount Pictures.

For me the answer to the question “How did you first connect with Shakespeare?” is unquestionably via the landmark television series and cultural phenomenon Star Trek.

Pitched by its creator Gene Roddenberry as a “Wagon Train to the stars” led by a “space age Horatio Hornblower”, Star Trek possessed literary DNA from its conception, and no strand was as striking and prevalent as its thematic and linguistic debt to William Shakespeare.

Episode titles are borrowed from Shakespeare — “Dagger of the Mind,” “The Conscience of the King,” “All Our Yesterdays,” and “By Any Other Name” just from the original series alone — and in fact entire plot lines (from the “Catspaw” and “Elaan of Troyius” episodes) are lifted from Macbeth (including witches!) and The Taming of the Shrew, respectively. Quotations pop up from Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and the sonnets, and in one instance “the Earth poet Shakespeare” is specifically cited, indicating to me as a boy watching 60s TV that this Shakespeare fellow was cool enough to be referenced and quoted hundreds of years in the future.


Of possible anecdotal interest: I got to meet William Shatner once when I guest-starred on an episode of Boston Legal. I had no scenes with the great captain so we were only able to exchange a pleasant “hello” and “nice to meet you,” and I resisted the impulse to gush and tell him how much his performance as Captain Kirk meant to me — because I was pretty sure that if I did, the Shat would have hit this fan.

Austin Tichenor — August 27, 2019

I wrote a paper for my college Shakespeare on Film class at Mason about Shakespeare in Star Trek. Patrick Stewart was being honored with the Will Award by the Shakespeare Theatre that year and I was a volunteer taking photos. Arch Campbell did me a favor by asking Stewart about the myriad Shakespeare References in Star Trek in a taped interview for WRC-4 TV news, and he said it was because Roddenberry was a huge fan of Shakespeare. Arch made a VHS copy of the interview for me that I picked up from the station and I showed the interview in class. Thanks again, Arch!

DIANE C WILLIAMS — August 27, 2019

The latest incarnation of the series, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, is as similarly engaged with Shakespeare as its predecessors. Episode titles are borrowed from Will (“Vaulting Ambition,” “What’s Past Is Prologue,” and “Such Sweet Sorrow”), they share thematic elements, and in Season 2, ep 11, a young Lt. Spock says, “The time is out of joint; O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.” Our hero(ine)’s response: “Hamlet. Hell yeah.”

Austin Tichenor — August 29, 2019

I am a huge fan of both Star Trek and The Bard. I love how you have captured the significance of Shakespeare in the series. Most people don’t get that. My husband and I also love Reduced Shakespeare Co.! We discovered you at the Novato Renaissance Faire over 30 years ago and have been fans ever since!

Teddi Johnson — August 31, 2019

There’s a provocative new essay on this topic by Brandon Christopher. It’s called “Star Trek’s Shakespeare Problem,” and is in the just-published collection Shakespeare On Stage and Off (McGill-Queen’s University Press), edited by Kenneth Graham and Alysia Kolentsis.

Kenneth Graham — December 27, 2019

Was this line ever used in Trek? Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

Gene Rasmussen — March 2, 2020

[…] human, their values and sensibilities are overwhelmingly western – such as the show’s obsession with […]

Bezos’ Blue Origin is at odds with everything Star Trek represents | Akin Olla - zoneyx — October 13, 2021

[…] painted on the side of their lead caravan: “Survival is insufficient.” Star Trek, of course, has its own connections to Shakespeare, and one member of the Symphony (“a double major in theater in music” in the Before Times) […]

Station Eleven, Shakespeare, and artists in a pandemic — December 21, 2021