Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

With The Tempest, opening tomorrow, Julie Taymor and Helen Mirren bring a splashy fantasy vibe to the Bard. But science fiction and fantasy have been playing with Shakespeare forever. Here are the greatest Shakespeare homages and cover versions in SF.

Romeo And Juliet: The War: Stan "The Man" Lee's latest project, this comic retells the Shakespeare play in the distant future. (Pictured above.) According to Deadline, the Empire of Verona becomes the most powerful territory on Earth, thanks to the cyborg Montagues and the genetically enhanced Capulets — until the two families of supersoldiers start fighting amongst themselves. It's action in the mighty Shakespearean manner!

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Star Trek, "The Conscience of the King": A Shakespearean actor comes on board the Enterprise — but is he secretly the former dictator who condemned many of his people, including members of Kirk's and Riley's families, to death? The only way to find out is with lots of Shakespearean speechifying, plus tons of snippets of MacBeth, Hamlet and Julius Caesar. This is possibly the greatest Shakespeare riff on Trek, but the show has been obsessed with Will for years — including the whole "Henry V" riff in Star Trek: TNG, and the Klingon Hamlet. Here's a fairly exhaustive list of all the Shakespeare references and riffs in the various Star Treks.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Forbidden Planet: Perhaps the best-known scifi adaptation of Shakespeare's work, Forbidden Planet transplants the action of The Tempest to the near-deserted planet Altair IV. Philologist Edward Morbius takes the place of the sorcerer Prospero and his daughter Altaira stands in for the beautiful, sheltered Miranda. The magic and spirits of the original play are replaced with alien technology; just as the now-dead witch Sycorax enslaved the sprite Ariel and birthed Caliban, so too did the extinct Krell build the technology that created Robby the Robot and the Creature from the Id.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Shakespeare in Doctor Who: William Shakespeare himself makes a brief appearance on the Time-Space Visualizer in the episode "The Chase," and the Doctor mentions having met him in "City of Death," but Shakepeare doesn't actually meet the Doctor on screen until "The Shakespeare Code." Being the genius of the human condition that he is, Will quickly pegs the Doctor as an alien and Martha Jones as a traveler from the future. In the meantime, the mystery of the lost play Love's Labour's Won is solved (it was sucked through a portal into another dimension), and the episode cheekily suggests that Shakespeare got the idea for the name "Sycorax" from the Doctor, and not the other way around. The Doctor alludes to several other off-screen meetings with the poet, and the two hang out in the novel The Empire of Glass and the audiodrama "The Kingmaker."

Isaac Asimov "The Immortal Bard": As in Doctor Who, Isaac Asimov supposes that Shakespeare has some special power to comprehend the future beyond that of mere mortals. In his story, a physics professor claims that he can transport people from the past to the present. Though he tried it with many illustrious minds – Galileo, Archimedes, Isaac Newton – Shakespeare was the only one who could wrap his mind around modern society. Of course, it all goes to pot when he enrolls Will in a colleague's course on Shakespearean literature. It wouldn't be Asimov's last meeting with the man; in 1970, he published a two-volume guide to Shakespeare's plays.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead: What's better than Tom Stoppard's postmodern riff on Hamlet, in which two bit players take center stage at last? How about a version of Stoppard's epic, in which Shakespeare was a vampire? This film was featured in the Slamdance Film Festival last year. Here's the official synopsis:

Julian Marsh (Hoffman) is an out of work ladies man who lands a job directing a bizarre adaption of Hamlet. After casting his best friend (Lemche) and his ex-girlfriend (Aoki) in the show, Julian finds himself in the middle of a two thousand year old conspiracy that explains the connection between Shakespeare, the Holy Grail and some seriously sexy vampires. It turns out that the play was actually written by a master vampire named Theo Horace (Ventimiglia) and it's up to Julian to recover the Grail in order to reverse the vampire's curse... If only being undead wasn't so much God-damned fun!

Frank Ramirez "The Merchant of Stratford": Ever wondered just how Shakespeare deals with all those time travelers? When the first time traveler decides to head back to 1615 Stratford, he finds that Shakespeare has already set up a cottage industry as a time travel tourist attraction. After getting time travelers from all different eras to bring him works of science fiction, Shakespeare starts selling his own collected works to the people of the future, including his unpublished science fiction novel Go-Captains in Nostrilla, based on Cordwainer Smith's novel.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Romeo x Juliet: Set in a future city that hovers above a devastated Earth, the anime series keeps the themes of star-crossed lovers from warring families, but plays with the characters and their roles. Romeo is still an idle young nobleman who falls for Rosaline, then Juliet, but Juliet is an orphan, hardened by life under the oppressive Lord Montague. As the love story gets tangled up in the tale of rebellion and revenge, characters from other Shakespeare plays keep wandering in: Portia, Ophelia, Emilia, and Hermione.

Harry Harrison "A Fragment of Manuscript": Harrison imagines that Shakespeare meant for some of his plays to be science fiction in the first place. In his story, he discovers a manuscript for the original version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which, he learns, was a work of science fiction rather than a work of fantasy. But the Bard recognizes that he is too far ahead of his time for his contemporary audience, and has attached a note to revise the script accordingly.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

The works of Dan Simmons: Dan Simmons' works frequently reference, or outright borrow from, Shakespeare. In his duology Ilium/Olympos, his characters encounter the wizard Prospero and the mad Caliban — and in the second book, Simmons basically warps The Tempest into his own story. Here's an exegesis of some of the Tempest references in the book. And of course, Simmons quotes Shakespeare in the title of his novel Muse of Fire. Simmons writes about his love of Shakespeare here.

William Sanders "The Undiscovered": Sanders puts Shakespeare across the ocean, where, in the company of a Cherokee tribe, he becomes "Spearshaker." Doing what he does best, he tries to stage a production of Hamlet for the members of the tribe, but, contrary to theories on the universalness of Shakespeare, they don't really get what he's trying to do.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Harry Turtledove, Ruled Britannia: Shakespeare also finds his way into Turtledove's alternate history novel about the Spanish occupation of England during the Elizabethan period. English revolutionaries tap Shakespeare to compose a play about Boudicca, an ancient queen who led a rebellion against occupying Roman forces, hoping to stir up similar revolutionary attitudes. This leaves Turtledove to try his hand at composing lines in the style of Shakespeare.

Nick O'Donohoe, Too, Too Solid Flesh: In a future where theater has mostly died out, a troupe of android actors performs Hamlet every night. But, because the androids were constructed specifically for their roles, they tend to stay in character even when they're off-duty. And when the troupe's designer and manager turns up dead, the Hamlet actor decides to investigate the mystery.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

King Lear: Jean-Luc Godard's film takes place in a parallel universe where Chernobyl has destroyed much of human civilization, notably works of art. William Shakespeare Jr.the Fifth (Peter Sellers) has been tasked with restoring his illustrious ancestor's work to the human canon. In the course of his work he encounters the gangster Don Learo (Burgess Meredith) and his daughter Cordelia (Molly Ringwald). Fortunately for Mr. Shakespeare, on the rare occasions this pair speaks to one another, it is in lines from King Lear, which Shakespeare conveniently records in his notebook.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Zombie Shakespeare in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror III: Is the end of Zombie Shakespeare? Good question! Actually, there have been multiple zombie versions of Shakespeare plays on stage lately, including Twelfth Night of the Living Dead and Living Dead in Denmark. Why should Jane Austen have all the fun?

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Hamlet 2: In this under-the-radar indie comedy, a high-school teacher tries to recharge his school's failing drama program by staging a sequel to Hamlet, in which all of the characters' deaths are undone thanks to time travel. In fact, both Hamlet and Jesus are able to use time travel not just to avoid death, but to repair their daddy issues. Rock Me Sexy Jesus indeed!

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Twilight Zone, "The Bard": According to the great Bardfilm blog, "The Twilight Zone offers a Shakespeare brought back from the great beyond to help a failing tele-script writer. And Shakespeare doesn't look too happy to be in 1963 or to be in The Twilight Zone." Unfortunately, television executives don't appreciate Shakespeare's genius, and keep wanting to dumb down his work. And a young Burt Reynolds cusses Shakespeare out for not loving Tennessee Williams. Poor Will.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

A billion stage productions set in the future. Too many to list here. There's a post-apocalyptic MacBeth, there's a Richard III set in the year 2134, and so on. With tons of troupes and student groups relocating Shakespeare's classics to the present day or to random periods in the more recent past, it's also tempting to put on spacesuits and put As You Like It in space. Why can't Arden be a planet?

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Sandman, "A Midsummer Night's Dream": We discover the real origins of Shakespeare's play in issue #19 of Sandman, which won the World Fantasy Award. Dream meets Shakespeare and utters the phrase, "What fools these mortals be." Thanks to MondoVampire for the reminder.

Time Flies: In this 1944 comedy movie, a failed music hall performer and flim-flam man uses a professor's time machine to go back in time with the professor and American comedy duo Susie and Bill. They travel back to Shakespeare's time and at one point, Susie runs into the Bard, who's suffering from writers' block. And Susie winds up quoting a lot of Shakespeare's most famous lines to him — and if you're guessing that Shakespeare starts writing them down, you're pretty sharp. Ah, predestination paradox, thou art as loopy as a dozen yellow garters.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Gnomeo and Juliet: Garden gnomes come to life when nobody's watching, in this film coming out next year. No, really. But it features new songs by Elton John, including an Elton/Lady Gaga duet. Still not excited? Well, it's gnomes in love in spite of their feuding owners, and James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are the titular gnome couple. What are you, made of stone?

Henry 5: Another upcoming project, this is a post-apocalyptic retelling of the Prince of Denmark's play, featuring Michael Caine, Ray Winston and Gerard Depardieu.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Blackadder Back and Forth: You can watch the whole scene here. Blackadder is traveling through time in this one-off special, and he meets the Bard, getting his signature and then giving him a good thrashing for all the pain he's going to cause for the next four hundred years.

Fantasy Island, "Room and Bard": A horror movie star who's frustrated with her career comes to the island, and Mr. Rourke brings the poet of Avon forward in time to write a play for her, to allow her to become a "serious actress."

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Sabrina the Teenage Witch, "Jealousy": Trying to learn how to deal with feelings of envy, and so she summons Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare to tell her that someone's essay is badly written. (You can watch the whole thing here, starting at about 7:00.)

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

I Dream of Jeannie, "The Girl Who Never Had a Birthday": Shakespeare is one of Jeannie's best friends, so she invites him to her big party, and Shakespeare tells Major Nelson that he reminds the Bard of his old friend Yorick. (?) (It starts about two minutes in here.)

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Manga Shakespeare: Hamlet: It's the year 2017, and we've destroyed the environment (as usual.) We're living in a "cyberworld" where futuristic war is a constant danger. But Denmark has managed to grow prosperous and fight off all challengers. Hamlet is happily living in this cyberworld, until he meets the ghost of his father, and the rest is bones and silence and speeches and poison and stuff.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair: Fforde's debut novel takes place in an alternate 1985, in an England where the debate about whether Francis Bacon, not Shakespeare, had written the Bard's plays. In the end, someone has to go back in time to discover the truth — only to find that nobody will cop to it. And there are Will-Speak machines, officially known as the Shakespeare Soliloquy Vending Automaton, which do just what that sounds like. There's also a key setpiece which takes place in a factory full of busts of William Shakespeare in various stages of completion.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World: In one of the most famous dystopian (or false utopian) novels of all time, John the Savage cherishes a banned copy of Shakespeare's plays, and learns a lot about human nature from them. And of course, the book takes its title from Miranda's famous quote from The Tempest.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Were The World Mine. This fantasy movie is a play on A Midsummer Night's Dream. A gay high school student, Timothy, gets cast as Puck in Shakespeare's play — leading to the hilarious exchange: "My son's a fairy." "Oh?" "In a play." "Oh." "And in real life, too." Timothy becomes obsessed with Shakespeare's words, until he creates a real-life love potion to make the jock fall in love with him - but it makes everybody else in town see through his eyes, too. Soon the rugby coach is falling for the principal, and the the principal's wife is hot for Timothy's mom.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Scotland, PA: MacBeth is already a fantasy, with witches who seem to have weird powers — but this indie movie transposes the action to a fast-food restaurant in the 1970s, while amping the weirdness up a few dozen percent. Including the reliably freaktastic Christopher Walken as a spooky cop, MacDuff, but also a trio of "witches" led by Timothy "Speed" Levitch. (Similarly, Hamlet 2000 starring Ethan Hawke, becomes a kind of urban fantasy set in modenr-day New York.)

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Stratford Man novels by Elizabeth Bear. In this duology, Queen Mab rules the kingdom of Faerie — and after Queen Elizabeth's spy, Christopher Marlowe, is killed, his successor, Will Shakespeare, lacks Marlowe's ability to weave magic into his plays. So Queen Mab has to raise Marlowe to serve as Shakespeare's tutor. Thanks to Cicadagirl for the suggestion.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

ShakespeaRe-TOld: This BBC production transposes four of Shakespeare's plays to the modern day, including the supernatural MacBeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream — which includes magical "eye drops" that make you fall in love. Featuring actors like Billie Piper and James McAvoy — yes, the guy from that gnome movie.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Romie-0 and Julie-8: They're androids! In the future! And their respective corporate owners have decreed a ban on these robots falling in love with each other due to the corporate rivalry. A shifty character named Gizmo helps them run away to the garbage planet Trash-O-Lot, where they meet a garbage monster called Sparepartski. Eventually, they get away and actually convince their feuding corporate owners to have a merger, with the two of them happily united as corporate mascots — what do you want? It's a cartoon!

Caliban's Hour by Tad Williams. A retelling of The Tempest from Caliban's point of view. Thanks to Brianfowler713 for this one!

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Let Me In: Owen is reading Romeo and Juliet for school, and when he gets together with the cute vampire Abby, they start quoting the play to each other a lot. This play is so important to appreciating Matt Reeves' U.S. version of this Swedish vampire story, they gave out a copy of the Shakespeare play with the movie's press kits.

Coolest Shakespeare Riffs in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Tromeo and Juliet: Annnnd... we pretty much left the best for last. As the name suggests, this is a Troma production, but it's also co-directed by James Gunn, director of Slither and the forthcoming Super. And you'll be shocked — shocked! — to discover that there's a Penis Monster that plays a huge role in the story. And Juliet's dad ties her up in a plexiglas cage. And the apothecary's potion doesn't fake Juliet's death, it turns her into a horrifying cow monster. And there's (sort of) a happy ending. But really it must be seen to be believed.

Portions of this post originally appeared in this post by Lauren Davis.

Other Sources: Absolute Shakespeare, The BardFilm blog, the Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare in Popular Culture, Amazon, IMDB, Wikipedia,