If I asked you to think about “Shakespeare and Science Fiction” you’d probably go with Forbidden Planet (a spacey version of The Tempest). If you’re more TV inclined you’d probably go with Star Trek, maybe even name the episode entitled “The Conscience of the King” outright. That’s the one that features a near perfect inversion of the traveling actors sequence in Hamlet (as well as part of the production of the play itself).
And yeah, Shakespeare himself may appear as a character in Science Fiction stories. Isaac Asimov’s The Immortal Bard is perhaps my favourite example of that. But no actual Science Fiction can be found in any play by William Shakespeare. Right?
Shakespeare’s plays have many fantastic elements (ghosts, magic, witches, prophecy), but those are all Fantasy tropes, not SF. Not one the the plays of William Shakespeare could possibly qualify as Science Fiction outright. Right?
But then, I was thinking about the very Philip K. Dickness of the opening sequence of Shakespeare’s farcical romp called The Taming Of The Shrew. It’s called “The Induction” and features a character named Christopher Sly, a drunkard, who while unconscious, is abducted from the street where he lays and is taken into a mischievous Lord’s home. There, he’s put to bed, and when awakened, is told by the household’s servants that he’s been “asleep” for fifteen years, that he is the lord of the manor, and that he has a beautiful young wife! All the household’s servants are in on the jape and obey his every command. The Lord who arranged this practical joke says,
Persuade him that he hath been lunatic;
And when he says he is, say that he dreams,
For he is nothing but a mighty lord.
This do and do it kindly, gentle sirs:
It will be pastime passing excellent,
If it be husbanded with modesty.
Only then, once the ridiculous question of identity is hatched does The Taming of the Shrew begin (performed by a troupe of traveling actors who visit Christopher Sly’s manor). We’ve talked about Fictional Fictional Characters, on the SFFaudio Podcast before, this is a case of a fictional fictional play. The actors in the play are playing actors in a play.
“Christopher Sly’s presence as a spectator in Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew makes the entire drama of wife-taming into a mere science fiction spectacle of household order.” -From the introduction to Poor Women in Shakespeare by Fiona McNeill
I’m betting that’s as close as The Taming Of The Shrew gets to Science Fiction.
This is all apropos of some recent reading of the play proper and a visit to RadioArchive.cc where you’ll be able to find a terrific sounding 1988, BBC Radio 3 dramatization that faithfully adapts the play to audio.
The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare; Adapted by Jeremy Mortimer; Performed by a full cast
CD or MP3 (via TORRENT) – Approx. 2 Hours [RADIO PLAY]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 3 / BBC Radio 7
Broadcast: 1988 / 2005
Publisher: BBC Audio
This hearty comedy has always been a favourite with audiences. Three suitors pursue Bianca Minola, but her father won’t let her marry until her older sister, Katherine, is married. Kate is wilful, loud, volatile and above all, shrewish. Her suitor Petruchio is stern, jolly, and somewhat odd. A match made in heaven?
Bob Peck, Cheryl Campbell, Moira Leslie, Robert Glenister, Stephen Tompkinson, Douglas Hodge, Christopher Fairbank, Michael Deacon, Anthony Jackson, Willam Simons, John Badley, and Paul Copley
Directed by Jeremy Mortimer
Music composed by Mia Soteriou
Posted by Jesse Willis