So, I’ve been one of the biggest proponents of this belief for about a decade now, and as much as I scream it from the rooftops, no one seems to listen. And though I know I’m not the first to say this…
I’m making it official. Because once it’s posted in a blog, it becomes the truth. You know what I mean? It’s like on that State Farm commercial. “They can’t put anything on the internet that’s not true.” Right? Right?!
Anyway, as the title says, I wholeheartedly believe that two of my all-time favorite things in life are in actuality the exact same thing! (In the vein of Superman/Clark Kent, Batman/Bruce Wayne, or Green Arrow/ Oliver Queen)
In this series I am going to list out 8 different reasons why the Genius of Star Trek is really just the Genius of the Bard himself repackaged.
Reason 8 can be found here
Star Trek and Shakespeare #7 – The 5 Act Play
Ok, so everyone knows about this old ditty.
And, you’re probably thinking, “So, what? Every story follows the 5 stages of a plot.”
To this I say, “Yes, mostly, and this concept is taught in every English class and has been since the beginning of time.” (I’m speculating here. I wasn’t there.)
But what I’m talking about is so much more than Exposition to Denouement. What I’m talking about it is a structured design which mirrors one another in both feel and scope. The 5 Acts of both Star Trek and Shakespeare follow a distinct pattern.
In each and every Shakespeare play, the end goal for the protagonist is always given in the first Act.
In Hamlet, his father’s ghost tells him he needs to avenge his death.
In Macbeth, Macbeth and his wife learn that they will become King and Queen.
In King Lear, Cordelia is banished and Regan, Goneril, and Edmund all divulge their intentions for greatness.
In Julius Caesar, Cassius begins his quest to get Brutus to join the conspiracy.
Some Naysayers may claim that this is simply the exposition, but I believe it is more than that. It is not just setting up characters and storylines, but also weaving a realistic story that draws in the audience.
How does Star Trek do this? In two parts actually. First the teaser, then the opening Act. To illustrate my points, let me use two popular episodes.
First, Space Seed from TOS.
Here in the teaser the Enterprise discovers a 200 year old Earth vessel with systems oddly still running. After the theme song and the credits, an away team beams over to the ship to discover that the people in cryogenic stasis are still alive, revives one and brings him back to the ship. Obviously, the goal now is for the crew to figure out who these people are.
Second, Darmok from TNG.
Here in the teaser the Enterprise is directed to an uninhabited system by a signal that is an attempt at communication. But when the crew makes contact, Captain Picard is beamed to a planet with the captain from the alien ship and neither can understand each other. After the theme song and credits, Picard and the alien captain begin to survive on the surface and make a break through in communication. The goal: figure out the reason for the signal and find a way to communicate.
ACT 2-The Villains Gather Enemies
By the second act, the good guys and the bad guys have already been established, sort of, and now it is time for the bad guys to start putting motion to their plans.
In Hamlet, Claudius brings in Rosencranz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet.
In Macbeth, Macbeth kills Duncan.
In King Lear, Regan, Goneril, and Edmund all trick their parents into giving them more power.
In Julius Caesar, The conspirators commit to a plan to kill Caesar.
Here, once again, detractors to my theory may claim that this is simply the rising action, but nay I say. Focus on the action of the villains; that is which binds these acts.
In Star Trek?
Khan begins to turn some of the Kirk’s crew to his side including the Historian McGivers.
Picard hears the roar of an unknown beast and wonders if the other captain knows they are not alone.
In the third act, the bad guys are ready to make good on their plans.
In Hamlet, Claudius stops the play within a play telling Hamlet that he did, in fact, kill his brother.
In Macbeth, after killing Duncan, Macbeth turns to securing his kingship by killing his good friend Banquo.
In King Lear, Regan, Goneril, and Edmund pluck out Gloucester’s eyes while King Lear goes insane.
In Julius Caesar, The conspirators kill Caesar.
Sure, call this the climax. Say that I’m just saying the same thing in a different way. But you know I’m right. Stop fighting it.
Climax Third Act?
Khan takes over Engineering.
The energy beast attacks and nearly kills the alien captain.
When the fourth act arrives the bad guys have done their thing, but we get to see the light of hope in the darkness.
In Hamlet, Hamlet escapes Claudius’ attempt to have him killed in England and returns to take his revenge.
In Macbeth, the witches tell Macbeth he will be killed by Macduff, though he doesn’t get it.
In King Lear, Cordelia arrives as a Jesus figures and brings back Lear’s sanity meanwhile Edgar prepares to meet Edmund.
In Julius Caesar, Caesar’s ghost appears telling Brutus his end will be in Phillipi.
At this point, those of you who have been doubting me should start to see that these 5 acts are nothing like that infernal plot map and this act is not the falling action. But if you don’t, all I can say is, “Alas, there will always be haters.”
In Star Trek?
Khan holds Kirk hostage by himself.
The two captains begin to communicate.
The fifth act. We have reached it. The moment of enlightenment for us and the characters. Here, we find an end to our story, and we are left with a thought to ponder.
In Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, all die along with Hamlet, thus he secures his revenge, but he also leave us with the line, “The rest is silence” as a possible answer to his musings about death.
In Macbeth, Macduff kills Macbeth setting Malcolm back on the throne, and we learn the idea that “life is a story told by an idiot full of sound and fury,” or something to that effect.
In King Lear, Cordelia, Lear, Gloucester, Regan, Goneril, and Edmund all die and Edgar teaches us that we should say what we need to say. (John Mayer, anyone?)
In Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus commit suicide, and Antony tells us Brutus was noble for killing Caesar in that he was trying to protect the freedom of the people from tyranny. Aww.
Now that we have reached the end, if you still think this is just the denouement and the plot map, I don’t know what else to tell you….
Kirk holds a trial for Khan and maroons him on a deserted planet. And Spock’s discussion about planting seeds teaches us that our actions today will have vast consequences in the future.
Picard uses this newfound communication to establish diplomatic relations with a new alien species. And though his discussion with Riker with learn that knowledge of the past with help us with the future.
Thus we conclude another entry into our study of how Shakespeare and Star Trek are alter egos. (Bizarro world?)
And just because you made it to the end. Something special for you…