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Bard in Klingons for earthlings

world Updated: Aug 30, 2010 01:53 IST

Don’t you love that remarkable moment when roSenQatlh and ghIlDenSten exit the stage and Khamlet is left alone to deliver the immortal words: “baQa’, Qovpatlh, toy’wl”a’ qal je jIH”?

No? Well, it always kills on Kronos. That’s the home planet of the Klingons, the hostile race that antagonises the Federation heroes of Star Trek. We learned back in ‘91 in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that the Klingons love them some Shakespeare. Or as he’s known to his ridged-foreheaded devotees in the space-alien community: Wil’yam Shex’pir. The line above might be more familiar to earthlings as “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” But now, we Terrans have an opportunity to savour Shex’pir as the Klingons do. The Washington Shakespeare Company, that Arlington outpost of offbeat treatments of classic plays, is going where no D.C. enterprise has ever quite gone before, offering up a whole evening of Shakespeare — in Klingon.

At the company’s annual benefit Sept. 25 in Rosslyn, selections from Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing will be performed in the language that was invented for the Klingon characters of the Star Trek films. Actors will be speaking the verse in two languages, English and Klingon, and the lines in each will correspond to the Bard’s signature meter: iambic pentameter. The translations are courtesy of the Klingon Language Institute, a Pennsylvania group that published The Klingon Hamlet several years ago, in addition to composing the Klingon version of Much Ado About Nothing.

Of course, when considering this curious approach to Shakespeare -- eccentric even by the idiosyncratic standards of contemporary niche theatre —the question inevitably arises: Why? As it turns out, the troupe has an answer so logical it might satisfy Mr. Spock. The chairman of Washington Shakespeare’s board just happens to be the man who invented Klingonspeak for the films: Marc Okrand, a longtime linguist at the Vienna-based National Captioning Institute. Then, too, Shakespeare sci-fi style appeals to the whimsical impulses of the company’s longtime artistic director, Christopher Henley.

“It kind of fits into our company identity, of trying to breathe some fresh air into the classics, of doing something really, really different with them,” he says. “It seems a way to say that we’re not as reverent as other companies in town.”

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