Today, April 23rd, 2016, the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of the death of legendary playwright, actor, and superhero William Shakespeare. Seeing as there is no record of his exact date of birth, and seeing as he was baptized on the 26th, April 23rd also came to be accepted as Shakespeare’s birthday.
On this Shakespeare Day, four hundred years after the Immortal Bard shuffled off this mortal coil, theaters and literary scholars worldwide are raising a glass to the man who wrote, adapted, and inspired so many stories about love, life, death, and baking your sworn enemies into pie (thanks, Titus Andronicus).
Shakespeare’s stories and characters are timeless and universal, as evidenced by the fact that we are still finding new and inventive ways to adapt his plays. Even though the language can sometimes be difficult to understand, and his work is often the bane of high school students everywhere, there is no medium nor corner of the earth untouched by his quill. In the past century, we have seen Shakespeare’s influence spread to media such as movies, television, comic books, board games, and video games. As technology in this digital age evolves, so does how we look at and adapt Shakespeare’s legacy.
As brevity is the soul of wit, I will mention only eight of the Bard’s appearances in geeky media. The following are some of our most cherished and most anticipated nerdy nods to Shakespeare’s genius, whether we’ve been loving them for years or we’re looking forward to loving them in the future.
Jean-Luc Picard: The Shakespearean Scholar
In season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation, entitled “Ménage à Troi,” Captain Jean-Luc Picard dramatically recites Shakespearean sonnets, as well as lines from Othello, to rescue a woman “imprisoned” on a Ferengi ship. The lady in question being Counselor Troi’s mother, Lwaxana, the episode is fraught with familial confrontation. While Picard’s speech is only one of Star Trek‘s many references to the Bard, watching Sir Patrick Stewart perform Shakespeare with such expert understanding and emotion, as he always does, is enough to make this moment particularly memorable.
The Doctor and the Bard
On the subject of television shows that frequently reference Shakespeare, Doctor Who‘s mechanism of time travel has allowed for multiple opportunities to revisit Shakespeare’s time. In the third season of Nu-Who, the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones travel in the TARDIS to Elizabethan England where they meet a surprisingly attractive and clean William Shakespeare. With the help of the Doctor and Martha, Shakespeare is able to foil an evil plot by improvising new ending lines to his play Love’s Labour’s Won. A busy day for a young, struggling playwright.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars
Ian Doescher got the idea for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars after reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, re-watching Star Wars, and attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival all in the span of a few months. These three concepts converged in Doescher’s mind, and he wrote a series of plays in Elizabethan English, with Shakespearean stage directions, covering the plots of the Star Wars films. He even managed to improve the prequels.
Both a comic book series and a board game, Kill Shakespeare follows Shakespearean heroes Hamlet, Juliet, and Othello, among others, as they search for the reclusive wizard known as William Shakespeare. It is believed that Shakespeare will be able to help them defeat some of the plays’ most frightening and dynamic villains, led by Richard III, Lady Macbeth, and Iago. The board game turns this story into a semi-cooperative battle of good versus evil; however, only one character truly comes out on top.
Council of Verona
A card game based around the players’ skills of bluffing and deduction, Council of Verona takes place in fair Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s drama and cautionary tale (don’t marry someone you just met, especially if you’re both basically tweens), Romeo and Juliet. Players act as members of the council, trying to fill its ranks with their favorites and exile their enemies, emulating the hatred between the Montagues and the Capulets in the play.
To Be or Not to Be: You Decide
The creator of Dinosaur Comics, Ryan North, made a choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet. It’s called To Be or Not to Be, and the book’s art is created by Kate Beaton, Mike Krahulik, Matthew Inman, Zach Weiner, and more. Now available as a gamebook, the adventure lets you play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet Sr., and DO BASICALLY WHATEVER YOU WANT. Bear in mind that Ophelia has a -1 weakness against water before you make your decision.
The Time is Out of Joint in Elsinore
Coming in fall of this year for PC, Mac, and Linux, Elsinore is a time-looping video game focusing on player choice where you play as Ophelia from Hamlet. You awaken from a vision in which you learn that, in four days, everyone in the castle will be dead. Not only that but you must live through these same four days over and over again, Groundhog Day style, trying seemingly endlessly to prevent Shakespeare’s tragedy from taking place.
Play the Knave in Virtual Reality
A motion-capture video game for Windows, currently in its prototype stage, Play the Knave was developed by UC Davis’ ModLab to bring the act of performing Shakespeare to video games. The game is a “cross between machinima and karaoke,” where users read aloud lines from Shakespeare’s plays while controlling on-screen avatars with their movements. They choose which scene to perform, which digital stage to stand on, and which avatar to control. With a bevy of other options to customize the performance, Play the Knave could go a long way towards creating a new generation of Shakespearean scholars. Check out the game in action here.
How will you be celebrating Shakespeare Day this year? What are your favorite references to Shakespeare in geeky media? Let’s engage in a dialogue in the comments section below.