…until you have read him in the original Klingon.” Thus spake Chancellor Gorkon of the Klingon Empire in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, itself a title lifted from Hamlet‘s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, which speaks of “[…]death – / The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns […]” (III.i.1771-3).
The conceit – that Klingons wrote Shakespeare and that humans somehow stole him in the 16th century – speaks to the sort of paranoid, desperate attempts to ‘claim’ authors practiced in cases like T.S. Eliot (American-born, wrote all his poems in voluntary exile in England) or Nabokov (lived as a Russian, then an American, then as an itinerant European, some of the best novels happened in each phase).
Producing a great artist is a cultural and/or racial coup; aggressively trying to define them as ‘from your set’ is sneaky cultural warfare. Try to walk five paces in Stratford-Upon-Avon without being reminded that “he did literally all his memorable work in London – but he died here.
Shakespeare himself is translated constantly into other languages – even into French, where (obviously TOTALLY JEALOUS) writers like Voltaire – I know, who? – for years accused him of unsophisticated and bawdy fart jokes (true but wonderful), sloppy prose (a contemptible lie) and making too much fun of the French people (not even vaguely a criticism outside of France). A more serious piece on translation and Shakespeare may well follow.
But of course, for now, the only people more culturally sensitive than the French…are, you guessed it, the glorious Klingons. In any event, the proud Klingon text (in Klingon script above) is here romanized, followed by its proud and ferocious translation into the filthy Terran tongue by noted Klingon scholar and translator Nick Nicholas:
“taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vIqelnIS.
quv’a’, yabDaq San vaQ cha, pu’ je SIQDI’?
pagh, Seng bIQ’a’Hey SuvmeH nuHmey SuqDI’,
‘ej, Suvmo’, rInmoHDI’? Hegh. Qong — Qong— neH
‘ej QongDI’, tIq ‘oy’, wa’SanID Daw”e’ je
cho’nISbogh porghDaj rInmoHlaH net Har.
yIn mevbogh mIwvam’e’ wIruchqangbej.
Hegh. Qong. QongDI’ chaq naj. toH, waQlaw’ ghu’vam! ;
HeghDaq maQongtaHvIS, tugh nuq wInajlaH,
volchaHmajvo’ jubbe’wI’ bep wIwoDDI’;
‘e’ wIqelDI’, maHeDnIS. Qugh DISIQnIS,
SIQmoHmo’ qechvam. Qugh yIn nI’moH ‘oH.”
“It either endures, or it does not endure. Now, I must consider this sentence.
Is it honourable, when one endures the torpedoes and war-blades of aggressive fate?
Or, when one obtains weapons to fight a seeming ocean of troubles,
And when, by fighting, one finishes them? One dies. One sleeps. One merely sleeps.
And when one sleeps, its is believed that one can finish the pain of the heart
And the thousand revolts which one’s body must succeed to.
We are certainly willing to initiate this way to finish life.
One dies. One sleeps. When one sleeps, perhaps one dreams. Well, this situation seems to be the obstacle!
What we can soon dream of, while sleeping in death,
Having thrown away from our shoulders the cargo of the mortal —
When we consider that, we must retreat. We must endure disasters,
Because this idea makes us endure them. It lengthens the life of the disasters.”
Perhaps it’s silly, and in a made-up fantasy language; still, there’s something of a compliment in the fact that even the dourest race of hard-handed warriors in the Alpha Quadrant want a piece of our playwright – along with our subjugation to the cruel whims of their bloodthirsty armies.