To Be Or Not To Be?
"You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon," Chancellor Gorkon told the Enterprise crew in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Weep no more, my ladies, because Pocket Books has reprinted Hamlet, or Khamlet, restored to proper dialect by the Klingon Language Institute. It's delightful, though I would not recommend it to first-year English lit students because the text lacks the traditional copious footnotes referring to events in European history and Greek mythology...plus, I don't have a clue about the differences between the Klingon Folio and Quarto versions of the play.
The Klingon edition does have helpful endnotes, explaining that "tennis" is a form of target practice and translating "You are a fishmonger" as "Your species (mut) is Ferengi." "He must build churches" has apparently been misunderstood for hundreds of years from the original "He must name planets." Most importantly, the notes explain metaphors like "Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven...," which means "If I saw Fek'lhr while I was in Paradise..." Why Paradise, rather than Sto-Vo-Kor? It is questions like these that have made Hamlet the classic it is today.
How important is this project? Very, according to linguists who note that Klingon is the first constructed language to produce a translation of this scope. Plus it has great sentimental value for contemporary Klingon speakers.
"It was the first book in tlhIngan Hol," points out r'Hul, a Washington, D.C.-area Klingon who goes by Rachel Wyman in English and is named on the Klingon CD-ROM. "It was created by the blood, sweat and tears of the grammarians of the KLI just for the pleasure of doing it. We did our own hardcover printing years ago. And they are some of the most treasured possessions of the members. Now it's finally out through Pocket Books and folks can see what an incredible endeavor it was - there were so many words that had no translation into tlhIngan Hol, so they had to go with the intent, the feeling."
You may pick up some helpful Klingon phrases, such as "To-morrow is St. Valentine's day" ("DaHjaj 'oH bangjaj'e'. nuqneH!") and "What a piece of work is man" (translated as "A Klingon is an impressive specimen"). Despite some obvious parallels about honor and kinship ties, I find it bizarre that Klingons identify so strongly with the Oedipal narrative of the Prince of Denmark - oops, the Son of the Emperor of Qo'nos. But who could be displeased with the image of a mad girl with a ridged forehead collecting flowers in the hem of her long dress?
"The translation was true to character intent," observes r'Hul. "Ophelia and mommy dearest aren't exactly the best of female role models, but Gertrude seems to characterize how people believe a woman in a warrior culture would act - willing to kill if necessary. There is a Klingon tradition of marrying your victim's widow. (Remember Quark?) Murdering your brother & marrying his wife is no biggie. He's keeping it all in the house; it's not like an outside house is causing the problems. So the rest of the court would think it strange if Hamlet balked at accepting a new lord. I've always thought that whole family was in serious need of a psychiatrist who makes them communicate. Klingons are notorious for not communicating and being just a wee bit psycho. Perfect fit."
The cover of the Pocket Books edition features a bat'leth-carrying actor, in Renaissance-looking garb interwoven with Klingon symbols, holding a ridged skull. There is a drawing of the Klingon author inside as well. It is a relief to be able to set aside the question of whether Bacon, Marlowe, or De Vere really wrote the Bard's plays and celebrate the true genius of Wil'yam Shex'pir, whose prescient knowledge of future Terran computers (explained in the endnotes) can only be labeled astounding.
"Don't concern yourself with temporal anomalies of how you can be reading this play," advises KLI director Lawrence M. Schoen in the preface, and it's sound advice. Klingon iambic pentameter flows trippingly, if you can pronounce it.
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Trek Book Reviews