I was recently told that Star Trek episodes are built on a structure inspired by Shakespeare's plays. I tried to verify this claim, but have been unable to find a reference that compares the two. So, my question - how much do Star Trek episodes have in common with Shakespearean plays?
It's hard to tell what you're referring to exactly, but all shows generally follow the same format Shakespeare (and indeed, all normal plays) take: a series of acts (usually 3 for 30 minute shows and 5 for 60 minute shows) broken into scenes.
For TV, acts generally have a central aspect tying them together, just like a play. Acts are usually separated by commercial breaks: a plot point will generally resolve itself before the commercial break, or transition into a different plot point (e.g. via the use of a commercial break cliffhanger).
But it's a bit of a misdirect to say something's based on Shakespeare because it shares similar elements. The reason many things relate to Shakespeare is because Shakespeare created well-crafted plays based on centuries of knowledge on the subject dating all the way back to Antiquity. It's no different than in music where almost everything generally follows the same principles used in classical music.
There are lots of Shakespeare quotes in Star Trek if that's what you mean. See these references:
- SHAKESPEARE IN THE STAR TREK UNIVERSE
- Memorable quotes for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- William Shakespeare at Memory Alpha
My personal favorite, from Star Trek VI is: "You haven't heard Shakespeare until you've heard it in the original Klingon." (Chancellor Gorkon)
Structure. Shakespeare's plays have been divided into more acts. Lots of screenwriting now has been formalized to 3 act structure. Some very old movies used a Shakespearean structure. Some episodes of the original Star Trek seem to have that kind of structure. Action with a comic relief secondary plot or vice versa. Suspense heightened by switching between settings. We wonder what's happening on the planet while we're on the ship. Will the ship be destroyed while we're on the planet? Formalized structure is a little like putting dots on a painting but it can be helpful to know before writing. I like the 5 act structure as a way to think about it.