(I tried to keep this as spoiler-free as possible!)
A bit of background – “The Conscience of the King” is a Season One TOS episode based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, best known for being the Tarsus IV episode. In it, Jim Kirk is forced to confront a face from his past, Kodos the Executioner, who executed half of the colony Tarsus IV due to a famine that threatened the entirety.
Hamlet, for those unfamiliar with the play, is about a Danish prince whose father is murdered by his uncle. Hamlet only knows of the murder because his father’s ghost comes back to tell him, and this sends him on a twisted journey that leads him questioning basically everything.
“The Conscience of the King” follows the play in that it follows a similar plot and specifically proves one of the play’s themes – that using deception and violence, even to avenge loved ones, can only backfire on oneself. In the original play, every character that participates in deception ends up dead. Star Trek is a little more optimistic, thank God.
So how does the crew of the Enterprise fit into Hamlet?
Kirk, forced to confront a ghost from his past, struggles with uncertainty and is torn between taking action or letting the past stay in the past (which could be an interpretation of the line, “to be, or not to be”). He fits the role of the titular Hamlet. Also, Hamlet fakes madness to mask his true intentions, which is similar to how Kirk acts like he’s interested in Lenore to hide his investigation. (Kirk’s deception later becomes more genuine, but it still starts as a deception.)
Kodos is technically dead. He lives on only in Anton Karidian, who is but a pale reflection of the larger-than-life Executioner. Additionally, Karidian’s identity is actually uncertain for most of the play. He is therefore the Ghost; Hamlet is never sure if the Ghost is actually his dead father’s spirit or a wily devil sent to torment him.
Leighton, the dude at the start of the episode who first finds Kodos, fits the role of the guards at the start of Hamlet. He’s the first to find the Ghost and have some understanding of its true nature, and to warn Hamlet/Kirk.
McCoy is Horatio. Horatio is Hamlet’s best friend, and supports all of his decisions no matter how insane they seem. Bones stands by Jim this entire episode, never really wavering from the Loyal Friend Cut-Out, like Horatio. Also, McCoy’s middle name is Horatio, which is really subtle.
Kevin Riley, brash and quick to act, but with the same motives as Hamlet/Kirk, is Laertes. He has just as much reason to shoot Kodos as Kirk. Likewise, Laertes wants to kill Hamlet for the same reasons that Hamlet wants to kill Claudius. Hamlet and Kirk are more hesitant and thoughtful, making Hamlet/Kirk and Laertes/Riley obvious foils.
Lenore Karidian, Kodos’ daughter, is Claudius. Like Claudius, she tries to hide the truth of the Ghost/Kodos through murder. (I believe she even chooses poison to carry out a good portion of her murders.) And like Claudius, her true intentions are revealed at a play. The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King and all that.
So, who’s Spock? (Hint: It proves K/S. :D)
Spock is Hamlet/Kirk’s love interest, Ophelia. Ophelia’s main role in Hamlet is that she’s the first one to realize that something’s up with the dude. Spock fulfills this by being the only one to investigate into Kirk’s odd behavior when the captain has Karidian and the actors brought aboard.
Ophelia is also known for going mad. (She sings creepy songs about flowers and runs away and drowns in a river.) Spock, too, behaves uncharacteristically! This episode, he largely follows intuition rather than logic to figure out what’s bothering Kirk so badly. Even McCoy, who’s prone to emotionalism, is unaware of Kirk’s acting out of character.
Also, it’s worth noting that when Kirk and Lenore start (awkwardly) making out, the scene cuts to Spock looking really sad. I dunno why they do that, because it happens in “The City on the Edge of Forever” (and probably other episodes, too), but it happens.
That’s all I’ve got right now! It’s a great episode and I highly recommend it. :) If I missed anything or if you disagree with one of my points, let me know!!!
(Last bit! Both Hamlet and “The Conscience of the King” do play-ception! Hamlet at one point features a play-within-a-play-within-a-play (the tiny play that summarizes the big play that takes place within the actual play, Hamlet). Star Trek’s play-ception isn’t as grand, but we do see two (2) plays performed within the actual episode, which itself is basically a play.)
jw, am i the only one that’s not embarrassed to say they read fic irl? i see at least one post a month where people are making jokes about hiding the fact that they read fic and i just … can’t relate.
like i wouldn’t show people any nsfw fics (aside from that one time i accidentally sent my mom a blog w a nsfw fic quote as the description) but just in general everyone who knows me knows i read fic. i have even sent people quotes or had them read through my sfw ones.
“The Thousandth Man” This is a fanart for the novel Ni Var from ‘The New Voyages’ (the one where Spock is split into Human!Spock and Vulcan!Spock; it’s great! So much Spirk, and it also has an introduction by Leonard Nimoy!)
My first entry to ‘Make Trek not War’, because it’s such a Good Initiative!