Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shakespeare's Enduring Legacy, Imaginatively Extended to A.D. 2363

“Hide & Q.” By C. J. Holland and Gene Roddenberry. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Denise Crosby, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, and John de Lancie. Dir. Cliff Bole. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 1, episode 10. Syndicated television. 23 November 1987. DVD. Paramount, 2002.

The second Shakespeare reference in The Next Generation takes place in the second episode (for which, q.v.). The third reference comes along with the second appearance of the entity known as Q.

Q is an omniscient, omnipotent entity who shows up periodically to tease or to test the human beings on the Enterprise. In this scene, he's thumbing through Picard's Globe Illustrated Shakespeare . He give us a bit of Hamlet, followed by a modernized-to-the-year-2363 version of Jaques' "All the world's a stage" speech from As You LIke It. A sampling of Macbeth follows, to which Picard responds with some more Hamlet, specifically, this:
What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty. In form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel—in apprehension how like a god!
Picard says he's saying this sincerely—without Hamlet's irony and without (though he doesn't say this outright) Hamlet's "Yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust" that tends to take the edge off the lines. When Picard compares man to a god, Q (who is an omniscient, omnipotent entity, remember—something of a god himself) is appalled. And rightly so!

What we tend to forget about that speech, especially when it's taken out of context, is that Hamlet is talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have already admitted that they are working for the King. Although Hamlet's purposes in uttering this in particular to people he knows will report what he says to his nemesis are unclear, it is clear that we can't take it at face value. At face value, it's quite an appalling claim!

I prefer the passage that may lie at the back of it: Psalm 8:3-5.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
But back to the scene in question. Here it is!

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest