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Famously, in The Undiscovered Country has this line by Chancellor Gorkon, in response to Spock quoting Hamlet:

You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.

In fiction, there's a 'definite' answer here depending on how trustworthy you think the Klingons are...

But knowing that Shakespeare's Hamlet is inspired by the legend of Amleth of scandinavian origin, first recorded in the 12th century (in Chronicon Lethrense) and later by Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century made me wonder if David Warner, who was a member of the Royal Shakespeare company was aware of this, and read either Chronicon Lethrense, or Saxo Grammaticus' version in Gesta Danorum?

So 'original klingon' is actually 'original danish', if not where did the line come from - Warner himself or someone else?

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  • Dupe of Shakespeare "in the original Klingon"??
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 11:06
  • @Valorum I like to think of that as an in-universe Q&A pair about the klingon version of Shakespeare. I'm asking about the out-of-universe inspiration for the original quote.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 19:54
  • Surely a good answer to that question would also address the out-of-universe context for the quote?
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 20:24

1 Answer 1

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There's no evidence I've found that the line comes from Warner himself, from wikipedia:

Plummer said that while he greatly enjoyed the part of Chang, he regretted that David Warner (Chancellor Gorkon) got what Plummer considered to be the best line in the film, "You've not experienced Shakespeare until you've read him in the original Klingon". Academics have suggested several interpretations of this line, some seeing it as a joke, others as something more serious.
"How Christopher Plummer Became One of the Best Villains in Star Trek Movie History"
— Kazimierczak, Karolina (2010). "Adapting Shakespeare for "Star Trek" and "Star Trek" for Shakespeare: "The Klingon Hamlet" and the Spaces of Translation"

In fact, from the The Klingon Hamlet wikipedia page there's this very convincing quote

The film's director Nicholas Meyer said the idea for having the Klingons claim Shakespeare as their own was based on Nazi Germany's attempt to claim William Shakespeare as German before World War II. A similar scene appears in the wartime British film "Pimpernel" Smith (1941) in which a German general quotes Shakespeare, saying “'To be or not to be', as our great German poet said." The idea had also already been used by Vladimir Nabokov in his novel Pnin, the eponymous hero of which taught his American college class that Shakespeare was much more moving "in the original Russian."

Emphasis mine.

So it looks less like the actor ad-libbed the line, and more that Meyer was playing off of real-world examples of people claiming Shakespeare's work as coming from their own country.

The film the line comes from, was already inspired by real-world politics, as much of early Trek was:

Nimoy visited Meyer's house and suggested, "[What if] the wall comes down in outer space? You know, the Klingons have always been our stand-ins for the Russians ...".
Nicholas Meyer: Gorkon is Gorbachev".

So this seems more plausible an inspiration for the line.

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  • 1
    The USSR had form more generally for claiming to have invented stuff, like Baseball. nytimes.com/1987/07/20/world/…. Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 11:10
  • 1
    @PaulJohnson: Someone from ussr told me that the lightbulb was called something like The Light of Lenin (who in fairness did electrify rural russia but sure did not invent the electric light). The soviets may have done some good stuff for Russia and in some places Lenin and even Stalin are still revered.
    – releseabe
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 11:38
  • 3
    There's a James Thurber piece where someone is arguing that "jamais plus" just works better than "nevermore" - the context being French translations of Poe. The next line is, "It loses something in the original."
    – user888379
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 12:09
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    Wasn't it a recurring joke in TOS that Chekov would occasionally claim that the Russians had invented whatever-topic-was-under-discussion?
    – Sam Azon
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 15:13
  • 1
    @BradV That doesn't sound all that ridiculous - it's called "India" only because British brewers marketed it for export to India, which tells nothing of where and how it was invented before it got that name, let alone how it developed into today's craft beers. (I'm not saying it was invented in Russia, just that it's not a particularly outlandish claim.)
    – IMSoP
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 11:56

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