Monday, July 29, 2013

Shakespeare In Star Trek 1: Conscience of the King

So, way back in January, when the world was new and I hadn't been living, breathing, sleeping and dreaming Star Trek for seven months, I watched the TOS episode Conscience of the King and thought, "Gee when it's time for my Shakespeare camp, I'll start a whole series of posts about Shakespeare in Star Trek and this will be the first one." And now it's time for that to happen. So... here it is. The very first post in my Shakespeare/Star Trek series.

The tenth episode of The Original Series, Dagger of the Mind is a reference to Shakespeare itself but only in title only. The twelfth episode, Conscience of the King, set off a tradition of allusions to and plots from Shakespeare within the Star Trek cannon. TOS would feature several more Shakespearean references in both the series and films and TNG would pick up right were it left off with Data seeking humanity through his own portrayal of Shakespeare's famous characters. DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise would all go on to feature references to the bard but it all started here.


In the opening we get some players in Renaissance garb performing Macbeth. The lead actor is suspected of being Kodos The Executioner, who took control over an Earth colony several years before and ordered half the population terminated. Kirk was one of the few people to have seen his face and, when one of the other survivors (and a personal friend of Kirk's) informs him of the Kodos conspiracy, Kirk risks everything to investigate it.

The episode is interesting in its depth and use of Shakespearean themes and lines. We get a rare glimpse into Kirk's past--a young man caught in a terrible revolution--which adds to the legend of his character almost incidentally. He risks his ship and command to seek vengeance on the murderer of so many innocent people and seduces Kodos' daughter as a means to this end. Both he, Spock, and McCoy as well as Kodos and his daughter (and freaking Lt. Riley) are all caught up in the Shakespearean drama.

Kirk acts as Hamlet, attempting to make Kodos reveal himself while Kodos, driven to grief and near-madness by his past actions is Macbeth. Lenore is a little bit Ophelia and a little bit Lady Macbeth and they're all playing their parts perfectly to a pretty Shakespearean climax.


  1. When I first started buying the VHS tapes of individual episodes back in 1985 (at $14.95 a pop! $15.55 with tax!), "The Conscience of the King" was one episode that I really didn't remember. I know I had seen it, because the image of Riley pointing a phaser was familiar, but it seemed pretty new to me, and that was an exciting thing.

    Since I only bought about one episode a month (hoping for and usually getting 3 or 4 for birthdays or Christmas) I watched this one a lot my junior year of college, as I only had six or seven episodes at the time. And the funny thing was my roommates and several other guys on the floor would watch it too. A group of testosterone fueled dudes watching this talky, non-action episode on a Sunday afternoon--pretty impressive, if you ask me (of course, pretty Lenore might have had something to do with it)!

  2. I don't think I've seen this episode before. But I really enjoyed this entry, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the Shakespeare in Star Trek blogs!


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