Monday, February 18, 2013
Cult-TV Theme Watch: Shakespeare
Although the poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) died five hundred years ago, the Bard of Avon has nonetheless made a huge impact on cult-television history. Actors portraying the playwright have appeared on several occasions (in I Dream of Jeannie, The Simpsons, The Twilight Zone and Doctor Who), but his works have also been performed on-screen and referenced in several programs (Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and again, Doctor Who).
In the fourth season Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964) episode by Rod Serling titled “The Bard,” a desperate writer, played by Jack Weston, uses black magic to conjure Shakespeare in the flesh. His hope is that the Bard will help him write a quality television special. Shakespeare is vexed in the episode, however by nonsensical rewrite demands, and by the presence of a Marlon Brando-esque method actor, Rocky Rhodes, played by Burt Reynolds.
William Shakespeare was also at the center of an alien invasion in “The Shakespeare Code,” a serial from the third season of the revived Doctor Who (2005 - ). In this story, the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and his new companion Martha (Freema Agyeman) visit Elizabethan England just as Shakespeare is working on his sequel, titled Love’s Labour’s Won. Sheakespeare’s work, however, is corrupted by the presence of three Carrionites, alien sorceresses who hope to encode the play’s dialogue with language that -- when spoken aloud -- will restore their destroyed world and race. His encounter with the Carrionites inspires Shakespeare to create the three witches of MacBeth.
The Star Trek (1966 -1969) franchise has featured a long relationship with Shakespeare and the playwright’s works. Many episodes of the series are titled with phrases derived from Shakespeare. “Dagger of the Mind” (MacBeth), “The Conscience of the King” (Hamlet) and “By Any Other Name” (Romeo and Juliet) all arise from the Bard’s plays. Similarly, the Original Series episode “Conscience of the King” follows an interplanetary Shakespeare Company that may be affiliated with the monstrous figure from history, Kodos the Executioner. In the episode’s final act, we get to see the company perform Hamlet aboard the starship Enterprise.
Similarly, the third season episode of the series, “Elaan of Troyius” has often been described as a space age version of Taming of the Shrew.
Star Trek’s follow-up series, The Next Generation (1987 – 1994) boasted the audacity to cast a Shakespearean actor, Patrick Stewart, as its lead character, Captain Picard. Accordingly, many episodes featured Shakespeare allusions. Such references appeared in “Encounter at Farpoint” (Henry VI), “The Naked Now” (Merchant of Venice), “Hide and Q” (Hamlet), and “Time’s Arrow” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
On-screen, Shakespeare’s Henry V appeared as a holodeck program, initiated by Data (Brent Spiner) in the third season episode, “The Defector.” In a seventh season story, “Emergence,” Data was also seen to be portraying Prospero in a production of The Tempest.
Other franchises have also flirted with the Bard’s work. The first and only season of Man from Atlantis (1977 – 1978) featured an episode called “The Naked Montague” revealed that the story of Romeo and Juliet was true. In this episode, Lisa Eilbacher portrayed Juliet, and John Shea was Romeo.
Similarly, Moonlighting’s third season in 1986 featured a comic take on Taming with the Shrew, titled, appropriately “Atomic Shakespeare.