Monday, September 21, 2015

Shakespeare and Science Fiction

In class last week, one of the students wanted to know if there were any works of science fiction based on Shakespeare's plays. Only one obvious example came to mind.

The 1950s science fiction film, Forbidden Planet, is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Don't be fooled by the movie poster -- this is the best science fiction film of the 1950s, and one of my all-time favorites. While other movies of that era were focusing on giant monsters and invaders from outer space, Forbidden Planet could have sprung from the mind of Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov.  It has a clever plot and is true science fiction, which is something I can't say about most "science fiction" movies. It reminds me of the original Star Trek, which appeared a decade later, although Leslie Nielsen is no William Shatner (or is it the other way around?)  If you haven't see it, go watch it right now!  Even the special effects, which are primitive by present-day standards, really aren't that bad.

But aside from this one example, I couldn't come up with any other science fiction films or novels that are obvious derivatives of Shakespeare plays.  Of course, there a many titles of science fiction novels taken from Shakespeare, including:

Time Out of Joint, Philip K. Dick (quite enjoyable -- less hallucinogenic than his later work)
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury (really fantasy, not science fiction, but I'll give it a pass because I enjoyed reading it).


Unknown said...

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is, of course, full of Shakespearean quotations

Robert Scherrer said...

Yes, I had forgotten that. And the title of the TV Star Trek episode, "The Conscience of the King" is also a quote from Shakespeare (with the entire episode revolving around a troupe of Shakespearean actors).

Unknown said...

William Shatner performed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, at the age of 23 where he was cast in Henry V. Patrick Stewart was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company at the age of 25.

Kathy said...

I don't think this counts, but Asimov wrote a novella titled "Gold" near the end of his career. In it we see part of a production of King Lear using a rather odd mix of holograms, sound effects, background images and a ton of subliminal trickery.

The focus, though, is in a like production of a science fiction novel called "Three in One," whish is actually part two of Asimov's "The Gods Themselves."

Unknown said...


Star Trek has a long association with Shakespeare. In addition to the ones you note, the episodes "Catspaw" and "Elaan of Troyius" both borrow parts of Shakespeare (Macbeth and Taming of the Shrew). In addition, there are a lot of Shakespeare referents in "Is There in Truth No Beauty". There's also the episode "Dagger of the Mind", which gets its name from Macbeth. And there's a TNG episode where the crew rehearse a Shakespeare play.

Dan Simmons' Ilium/Olympos borrows much from Shakespeare. If you extend to fantasy, then Poul Anderson wrote Midsummer's Tempest, which I quite liked, and John Myers Myers used several Shakespearean characters in Silverlock

Phillip Helbig said...

Of course, one of my favourite episodes is based on one of my favourite Shakespeare quotes:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
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.