Shakespeare, in the original Klingon

Shakespeare in the original Klingon. 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
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.

Did you celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode last week? You’ll be happy to know that Star Trek has a place in the Folger collection!

Like most libraries, the Folger has a collection development policy that helps us choose what materials to acquire; this makes sure that we use our budget and our space effectively. We have several major areas that we focus on: materials that help us understand the world Shakespeare wrote in (such as personal letters and 16th-century recipe collections), materials that demonstrate the impact Shakespeare has had on popular culture (such as many of the items featured in our exhibits this year), and of course, editions of Shakespeare’s works themselves.

We especially try to collect editions of Hamlet: we have over 500 printed copies of that play alone, including manuscript copies, promptbooks used in plays as early as the 18th century, translations in several dozen languages, and even a copy in the original Klingon!

You read that right, the original Klingon! At least, that’s what its introduction says. This volume is actually a translation produced by the Klingon Language Institute in the mid-1990s, and published in paperback in 2000. Luckily, it shows the English and Klingon Hamlets on facing pages, if your Klingon is a little rusty.

The Klingon Hamlet was inspired by a popular line in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in which the Klingon chancellor Gorkon comments to Captain Kirk that “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.” (The phrase “the undiscovered country” is itself a phrase from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” – or in Klingon, “taH pagh taHbe'” – soliloquy.) The Folger owns The Undiscovered Country, on both VHS and DVD, as it’s one of many examples of Shakespearean themes, and even direct allusions, in television shows and movies.

Undiscovered country VHS & DVD

Many of us have memorized lines from Shakespeare for school recitations – if you’re up for a new challenge, try it in Klingon!

One Comment


  • One of the special editions of the DVD for the film includes a full video extra called Klingons and Shakespeare where they show some of our being performed on stage. I can’t find the information on just which version it is, but you may want to look for it for your collection. In the meantime, someone has posted it to YouTube: https://youtu.be/RF0k4qV1I1Y


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